Catfish & The Bottlemen were always destined for greatness, although, as frontman Van McCann tells Anthony Carew, they already knew that.
“When we first started,” recounts Catfish & The Bottlemen frontman Van McCann, “the van broke down at the side of the road. We were sat there, talking to each other, and to pick each other up we were like, ‘mate, we’re going to be selling out big arenas in fuckin’ Australia in a couple of years, let’s not worry about this! We’re gonna be sweet!'”
When Catfish & The Bottlemen began, in Llandudno, Wales, McCann was 14. He’d grown up in Widnes, before his family moved to Wales. They were all Irish and musicians (“my grandad’s nearly 90, and he’s on tour in Ireland as we speak, playing fiddle”), so the young McCann was fed his namesake – Van Morrison, the Chieftains, and the Dubliners – from birth. A childhood love of The Beatles, Kinks, T-Rex, and The Doors led to an adolescence in thrall to Oasis, Arctic Monkeys, Sterephonics and Kings Of Leon. “I always loved [music],” McCann says. “The way that, if you’re havin’ a lousy day, you can put a tune on and make you feel class.”
Like “that kid who’s just got into football, and wants to be a footballer [who’s] kickin’ a ball up against the wall all day, and when their mum says ‘come in for your dinner!’ they stay outside, still kickin’ a football”, McCann would spend all day on his guitar. He started writing “poor” songs at 13, but, by the time the band began a year later, he already was turning out songs that’d end up on Catfish & The Bottlemen LPs.
“I’d play them and people would be like: ‘Kid, you’re fucking ace! You’re mint!'” McCann recalls. “Everyone around us could see we were lovin’ it, they encouraged us. So we just threw ourselves into it. We found a new way of life: we’d write these songs, get in the van, drive around the country, and play ’em, even if there was nobody there, or if it was sold out. We never played a gig where we didn’t think we blew the place away. We’ve felt like we’ve always been good… Me and the lads have been doing this for ten years, and we’re still coming off stage, side by side, buzzin’ every night, laughin’ our heads off.”
McCann has reason to laugh. After Catfish & The Bottlemen’s debut, 2014’s The Balcony, cracked the UK Top 10, their second record, 2016’s The Ride, went to #1, and #6 in Australia. He’s about to head to Moscow to play with Richard Ashcroft (“never been, mate, I’ve only seen it in the Rocky films”), before playing a headlining show for 35,000 people in London. After returning to Australia for Splendour In The Grass and more arena-sized shows, they’re supporting Green Day on a stadium tour in the US, “we’re doing one at the Rose Bowl, in Pasadena in Los Angeles, which is like where the fuckin’ Stones play. It’s just a mad feelin.”
Anyone else in McCann’s shoes might find the whole thing surreal. But the 24-year-old – who enthusiastically offers “I love this business [the music industry]” – sees all this as the natural evolution of his band. From the very beginning, before their tour van ever broke down on the side of the road, Catfish & The Bottlemen were conceived with grand ambitions. “We wrote a plan like we were writing a film. And it’s all played out the way we thought it would,” McCann offers. “It’s nice for your folks to see you sat there as a kid in your backyard saying ‘don’t worry about me, I’m gonna do this, go here, have a #1 album, get a Brit award’. It’s weird to have said something out loud, then have it play out exactly as you said it would.”
The band are keeping their nose to the grind, too: their forthcoming album is already done, the rest of their 2017 is filled with shows, and there’ll be no downtime. “There’ll be no disappearin’ and coming back, no stoppin’ and having those big long breaks where you have to grow beards and change your sound and all that. We’ve never done anything different from the start. When we write songs, we always just do it by: ‘Is it hittin’ you? Is it proper hittin’ you? Does it feel like it’s pinnin’ you to the back wall?’ That’s the way we do it. I just love playin’, and writin’ fuckin’ massive tunes. So, we’re just gonna keep plowin’ through. The next album’s in the back pocket. It’s class. We’re already plannin’ next year, plotting with management. It’s only gonna get bigger, mate. We feel like we’re just getting’ warmed up, like we’re still in second gear. There’s a lot there for the taking. We’re just gonna carry on. Keep smashin’ it.