Catfish and the Bottlemen: “This isn’t enough for us. We want more.”

talks to front man Van McCann to find out if the band’s ambition knows any limits

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Photo credit: Jon Stone

Since Catfish and the Bottlemen played York Duchess back in June, the band has exploded. They played over thirty festival dates this summer. Nineteen of their current 30 UK gigs are sold out, on a world tour that takes them from Glasgow to Sydney and back again via San Francisco and Las Vegas. All of the band’s singles have been premiered as Zane Lowe’s ‘Hottest Record in the World’ on Radio 1, and their debut album, The Balcony, reached No. 10 in the UK Album Charts. It’s a staggering set of statistics for a band that, 12 months ago, rested in relative obscurity. After several failed attempts to contact the band due to Catfish’s absurdly busy schedule, I was fortunate enough to speak to lead singer Ryan Van McCann whilst he travelled between gigs.

Van spent his early childhood travelling around Australia; in retrospect, it was the perfect introduction to the kind of lifestyle he leads today as frontman of one of the hottest bands of the moment. He speaks with an avid romanticism when I ask about life on the road. “I suppose I fell into it even before I was in a band – I was living out of a car. I don’t know anything different. When I get home I get homesick because I’m not on the road.”
The endearing honesty with which he speaks is striking – it’s a rare quality amongst musicians when being interviewed. “I remember having these proper big headphones that were too big for my head [when I was a child]. My dad used to put them on me and play John Lennon and Van Morrison, and I just used to listen to music.”

Growing up in a family with Irish heritage, and spending a chunk of his childhood in a B&B, large family parties with singing and dancing were, he tells me, common practice. “On New Year’s Eve, in the bar at the B&B, everyone would be there just singing and dancing, and enjoying themselves.” His musical obsession did, however, come at a cost – he was expelled from school at the age of 15. Not though, he says, from disruptive behaviour, but from the knock-on effect of relentless gigging. “I’d get back from a gig at 6:00am, smelling of smoke and booze, and go straight to school. I wasn’t a little shit or anything – I was polite to the teachers and that, but I was just getting into trouble because of the band”.

When I get home I get homesick because I’m not on the road.

Since the days of falling asleep in class and smelling like a brewery, the popularity of the band has grown exponentially. Van’s unwavering modesty is unmoved by questions of his new-found fame. “We’re a tiny band compared with others. This hasn’t really even started for us yet. We want to play arenas, stadiums – this isn’t enough for us. We want more.”

Van is an extraordinarily passionate speaker, and makes clear his belief that nobody should settle for anything less than the best they can be. “If you find a girl, start dating and marry her, you  should be the best husband you can be, not just think ‘I’ll just make her happy now and again’. Whatever you do, you should be the best you can be – don’t settle for sitting on the bench at Southampton, strive for Real Madrid, or something like that.” With this man at the helm, it’s hard not to imagine Catfish fulfilling their dreams of becoming stadium headliners.

Their commercial success in the UK is impressive, but many indie or rock bands still struggle to pull their weight over in the US. The country, however, appears to have taken to Catfish and the Bottlemen. Despite the weather – which he says isn’t ideal for the Irish skin – Van loves the atmosphere over there. “It’s amazing. Everyone’s dead receptive – they’re so positive and they just want you to succeed. Everyone just wants to talk to you and have a good time …   everyone knows what we are about,  and are just singing the tunes with a smile on their face.”

This, it seems, is the band’s definitive raison d’être, and the one constant they hope to retain in the pursuit of a sold out arena. Van tells me of the band’s dogmatic approach to keeping their feet on the ground, and their mind on the task at hand – they limit themselves to £60 a week each. For Van and the rest of Catfish and the Bottlemen, it’s not about the money or the fame, but simply the music, and the happiness it brings to them and their fans.

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