Interview: Van McCann of Catfish and the Bottlemen at Kendal Calling 2014

By on Tuesday, 19th August 2014 at 11:00 am
 

One only has to spend a handful of minutes in the presence of Catfish and the Bottlemen’s slight lead singer and head honcho Van McCann to be exposed to a masterclass in extrovert charm. Everyone he passes gets a smile and a friendly “Hello, how’re you doing?”, no matter whether they’re a fellow big-name musician or simply an anonymous scribe tapping away on a keyboard that he happens to be walking past. That it’s all done with such genuine humility and joie de vivre makes the experience utterly compelling – a quality that feeds back into the band’s live performance. Politicians could learn a thing or two from him about making friends and influencing people.

TGTF caught up with McCann just an hour or so before his band’s performance at Kendal Calling 2014, which would pack the Calling Out tent to such an extent that people were spilling out of its sides, braving torrential rain and a sloppy mudbath to catch a glimpse of who are sure to be one of 2015’s big headline acts in the making.

I was looking forward to seeing you last weekend at Deer Shed – why didn’t that work out?
I know mate, tell me about it. We’ve had a really bad 2 weeks. We missed Tramlines in Sheffield as well, which is one of my favourite festivals in the world. I know the promoter quite well, he gave us our first ever gig in Sheffield and I was so gutted – we never let people down.

You’re well known for doing a lot of hard work though so I suppose at some point the pressure must tell a little bit.
It was nice because everyone understood because they know that we’re that kind of band who love gigging – I hate being in the studio, I hate being anywhere else except live so it ruined me to miss them but honestly, if you knew the stuff going on – it was terrible.

I guess everyone knew you wouldn’t just do that on a whim.
It’s alright now, we’re back, and I feel good, I’m excited.

So TGTF first caught up with you at the Communion gig in London last year…
That might have been the day we got signed – I think it was, in fact. That Communion show – you were probably thinking, “where’s this band come from”, which wasn’t the case at all – we’d been playing to empty rooms all our lives, playing acoustic gigs for money, coming from nothing. So to be able to come off the dole, onto a deal, it was mad.

We played T in the Park the other week, and I was nearly crying! You know singers are supposed to be cool onstage, well, I came offstage thinking, “That gig was amazing but I’ve just ruined any credibility I’ve ever had!” I was trying to sing the songs, but I couldn’t because I was laughing my head off. We started playing ‘Kathleen’ and everyone was bouncing and singing and I literally couldn’t get my words out because I was so overwhelmed by it. Yeah, it blows me away. My Dad brought me up very much based around live music, I’d go to see people like Van Morrison and be genuinely blown away, so when I can see a crowd doing that for us it’s unreal to me, man!

There’s always a moment at festivals when it all comes together and the tears well up, but for it to happen in front of so many people must make it even more special.
It’s just mad, a really good feeling. When I went to see Oasis at Heaton Park, I remember thinking it feels like everyone in Manchester is going to the same place – as if Jesus had come back – everyone would go to the same place. It used to be everyone was thinking about Jesus, and everyone there was thinking about Oasis. It’s just the feeling of 1,000 or 2,000 people being in a tent, going, we’re going to see Catfish, we’re going to see Catfish! I love it, it’s the best feeling in the world.

So was that always your aspiration, to be, you could say, as big as Oasis.
Bigger! Bigger than them. I want to be the biggest thing ever. I don’t see the point in it otherwise, it’s like saying you want to be a professional footballer but you’re happy sitting on the bench at Leeds. Why wouldn’t you want to be the best on the planet? I hope it doesn’t come across as arrogant when I say that, but if I was a bin man, I’d want to be the best bin man. It’s about being the best band we possibly can and getting as many people into us as possible. It’s very much about getting as big as it can possibly get. I love it all, I love everything to do with it. We’ve never been in a band to make music to sell it, we used to give all our CDs away…

I think I got a free CD at the Communion show…
That was the day we had to stop doing it! The day the record label said we need to make money! I hate being in the studio, I hate chart positions and all that stuff, I’m not fussed about any of it – selling out gigs is what I care about, and now they’re selling out – I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Your singles have been pretty well received as well, with Zane Lowe loving them…
Steve Lamacq started all that, and there’s a guy called Jason Carter who gets overlooked from the BBC, he doesn’t get enough credit, he’s been a really important person for this band. Steve Lamacq gave us our first radio play when I was 15! He called me a poetic genius when I was 15 – imagine me going into school the next day, I was like, “Told you!”

So you’re still on an upwards trajectory then – it remains to be seen how far you can go…
That’s the exciting thing – it could all fall apart tomorrow. With the album, I’m so proud of it – in the past, if someone hasn’t liked something, I’ve said, “Well, that’s because we didn’t have enough time to record it”, or whatever, but this album I’m made up with it. I want people to come up to me and say it’s garbage, I want people to feel something from it. It’s dead exciting! I hope that never stops, I hope we never get to the point where it can’t get any bigger, I just want it to get bigger and bigger and bigger, but I want to do it really slowly, because I don’t want to lose that intimacy at gigs – we stay behind after every gig. I don’t like rock stars who are aliens, when you’re wondering what they’re up to backstage. I love it when people tell me “I hate that song, it’s shite!” and we have a good crack about it. It’s really fun.

So, Oasis got to the stage when they made these huge, overblown records, do you think you’ll ever reach that stage?
I hope so. I hope we get the opportunity to make an overblown record. We’re not druggies though, so I don’t think we’ll get into LSD and grow beards and all that shit. But I hope it gets to the size where we get the opportunity to go, “Let’s make a mental record,” but I hope it just keeps getting bigger and bigger so we can keep putting music out for people. We’re not one of those bands who – at the moment anyway – want to change our sound, we just want it to be about the songs.

That’s good, because you make – I don’t want to use the word mainstream – accessible, direct, rock music.
I like the word mainstream though, I’m not afraid of it.

It’s a bit of a dirty word though, isn’t it? Appealing to the masses. But surely that’s the whole point of music?
That’s the thing – when people compare us to bands – I hate being compared to the Strokes or whatever, but I love the Strokes! If you’re comparing us to the Strokes, then go for it! I don’t mind. I don’t mind anything, because we are mainstream! When I write songs, I think “are 60,000 people going to sing this in a field”, whereas other people write songs for themselves and if other people get it then that’s brilliant. But for me I’m thinking like, “is someone going to fall in love with this tune?” or “are people going to have sex in a car to this? Are people going to be bouncing at gigs to this?” I think about all those things. So I’m not scared of being mainstream, I want to be mainstream. People have a go at the Kings Of Leon for selling out – I resent that. They got really annoyed about it, when people got mad at them for writing ‘Sex on Fire. If that song hadn’t been on the radio, Kings Of Leon fans would have been fine about it, but so what? Sell out arenas, man, get as big as you can! If you’re filling 20,000 caps a night, it’s better than doing 200.

You’re bringing pleasure to more people that way.
Music’s about making people happy and positive, it’s not about your ego or ruining your image or anything like that, so we’re not scared of being mainstream. It’s nice that you say that though, I hope we are mainstream. We’re not clever enough or good looking enough to be outside the box. So we’re very much like, while everyone else does the tricky stuff outside the box, we’ll just stay right in the middle of it and try and write really good songs.

There’s a definite lack of pretension in your music.
I think it’s because we’re from nowhere. We didn’t have anything before we got the deal, we were all on the dole and when we got the deal we still paid each other as much as the dole so it felt like we were still on the dole. So we still skimped. I love everything about it – I love interviews, I love these buses [we’re sitting upstairs in a double-decker bus converted into a media centre], we got free pies, man! Pie Minister! I couldn’t afford a pie at one time, and now I’m getting free pies! It’s ace.

It sounds like you’re really enjoying it.
I couldn’t be happier. It’s the time of my life. But it’s nice that people like you have seen us that long ago because I’ve been doing interviews lately where they’re asking “so you’ve just blown out of nowhere, last week?” You would have seen us about 2 years ago [in reality it was 18 months ago, but neither of us were exactly sure at the time]. My Dad was there that day. He used to have to drive us everywhere, and we sacked him and he got really offended. He drove us to Germany non-stop, for 16 hours or something, and we had to sack him or I thought he’d die in our presence. So I had to sack him before I killed him!

And with that, our time is up with Van McCann. Who wants to be bigger than Oasis, isn’t afraid of being mainstream, and loves a good pie, especially if they’re free. Their gig later on is one of the highlights of the festival, and McCann’s charm works wonders on the sodden crowd, warming them through with an unexpected Rod Stewart singalong. Only 18 short months since we last saw them, not only are Catfish And The Bottlemen on the list of British guitar bands, they’re not far off the top of it right now. Give it a bit more time, and unlikely as it seems, Van McCann might be closer to achieving his dream than you might think.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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