Get ready ladies and gentlemen; we have another long read for you. We've been fans of British rockers Catfish and the Bottlemen for a while now (be on the lookout for our exclusive session with the band below), and when we had the opportunity to chat with Catfish frontman Van McCann about becoming globally recognized rock stars and their new record, The Balcony, we knew we couldn't pass it up. And as we learned the last time we spoke with Van, he is a young kid not afraid to speak his mind and if you've ever wanted to hear Van's stories about naked crowd-surfers or how smoking a cigarette is just like writing a song, you're going to want to check out the conversation below.
You have the uncanny ability to come up with some frighteningly accurate lyrics. For instance "I spent yesterday ducking your calls," "She said it's you I detest; I said you look under-slept", "I was a test tube baby; that's why no one gets me." What is the driving influence behind your lyrical honesty and wit?
Van McCann: By the way, thank you very much. Like I love it...[Ed. Note: that's what] my whole thing is about, you know? Being in a group and lyrics...that is music to me. So it's dead nice of me to know, isn't that? I love it when people talk about [my lyrics] or [start] buzzing...[I] start like blushing and that. But they come from...my dad raised me to say what you mean, and mean what you say. You get to writing better, to be honest with you, do you know what I mean? If you tell your best friend, "Everything's great," then when something is actually good, how are we gonna know? So, I like to be very to the point, very forward.
So, if I'm gonna write about a girl, I'm going to make sure she knows it's about her. I don't want to hide anything. All my lyrics are very to the point and very precise. I don't know; it just helps me. I don't think I'm an artist; I just think I'm an alright footballer, who just so happens to be able to sing alright as well. That's my kind of aims, just a normal kid. So like my lyrics aren't poetic or, or like sent from God; they're just about me doing what I'm doing.
I get excited with that fact that people can resonate...be on my wavelength with it is just amazing for me. Because that means I can write twenty songs in a week, as opposed to spending a year trying to write a song that resonates to somebody. Like that fact, that what I do in my life, just so happens to resonate with a lot of young kids around the world, a lot of older people around the world. Like my mum and dad find themselves thinking "Did you write this song about me?" and I'd be like, "No, I wrote this about my girlfriend when I was sixteen." And they'd be like "what!" So to be able to resonate with people of all ages and of all styles and upbringings and everything, it's amazing for me. So for them to be listening to me and going "Yeah, I get what you're saying, Van." That feels amazing, like you saying that to me, feels amazing, love. Sorry, gone on a rant. I mean I'm very excited that you said that. So, sorry for the rant.
Oh no *laughs*, so you pretty much got carried away with being human for a lack of better words.
Yeah, and in an industry where it's...these days it's really hard. We're one of those bands that don't mind speaking our mind. If something's not our scene, we're very loyal to our fan base. We're very loyal to them and what they're about. It's the people that made us survive it. Like you said it, we got away with being real in an industry where it's quite hard to be [real] now a days.
Are there any new or up and coming bands that have caught your eye lately?
Yeah...well they're not new, I don't think, cause I think they're kind of a band like us but, do you know that band, J. Roddy Walston and The Business?
No, I actually haven't gotten a chance to take a look at them.
You've got to check them out; they're like Kings of Leon meets T-Rex. Aww man, they're the coolest. Their melodies...it's like the Beatles ethic. They're brilliant. We're going to try to bring them to England with us next time we go back. Do a little British tour. So we're going to try and fly them back over with us. Have you ever heard of a band called Broken Hands...who are my best friends. I grew up knowing these lads, and you get free music. And the singer is one of my best friends so they're great, but yeah J. Roddy Walston is the shit I love.There's a band called Slaves who are getting a lot of attention now back home, and they're a new band, just went top ten. They're a punk rock band and they say what they mean. There's a lot of good stuff out there...really good. It's an exciting time for music.
Your debut album The Balcony just recently dropped in the United States and we're curious to know what "Balcony" are you speaking about? In other words, what inspired the title to the debut album?
What I thought was interesting about the album title was that it could be anyone. I wrote "Cocoon" on Ben Lovett's [member of Mumford & Sons and head of Communion records] balcony and this girl he popped me up to for the first time, called Katie when I first came over to NY, and I wrote on her balcony and then I finished off on his balcony. And -- he was the guy to give me the record deal-- and I remember looking out over the whole of New York City and thinking I want to write a song that can just bring this place together.
I recently went to see Jay-Z and... where was it? Central Park... and it was amazing. It was hot and stuff; if felt like the whole of NY was there. And I wanted a song that I could play like that really. Even though I hadn't got that gig yet, I wanted a song that could be played at a show like that and I wrote it just on a rooftop in NY overlooking everything and I just liked the idea of "I would go for a cigarette and write my best lyrics on a balcony."
I always pick the room with the balcony because I'm the only one that smokes so I go out and have a smoke and write my words dead late at night cause I don't really sleep much so I just stay up. I just thought it was a good place to be. Everyone's usually got a memory on a balcony, whether it's fighting with your girlfriend on holiday or getting drunk with your best friends...just having a little cocktail, have a bite, have a little nice evening. Or it could be bad or good so I just like the idea of people having this thought...the idea of looking out over something from a great height...like an epic. Like seeming higher than the world... arms out. Scale... I wanted Scale; I felt like I wanted to title it Scale too. And it just kept coming up in my writing and stuff like that. I kept writing on balconies. All that kind of thing.
Having played at some of the biggest festivals and venues in the past year, and only continuing the trend by gearing up for a big world tour...how have your lives changed as you guys have become more and more recognizable?
I don't know...it's just become a lot funnier. People come up to us. It just means you can't pick your nose at a festival. That's all it's saying; we're the same, love. We just... we love it, ya know? We love meeting people. We do like meet and greets and stuff especially when we're out in America. I have girls waiting for me outside the venue every morning. They heard me mention I like this banana yogurt, and then, they usually bring the yogurts.
And even though you've got to get up every morning, you're stinking; you haven't had a shower or nothing. But you've got to say hello to a few people who like your music. It feels amazing. So, I was going through...what's it called...Taco Bell yesterday, and the guy behind the counter was "(American Accent) NO WAY CATFISH AND THE BOTTLEMEN AT MY TACO BELL!" and freaking out...and it's nice.
We don't front; we're just kids. Like I said, we don't think we're artists at all. We're not those kind of people that'll be on their VH1 documentaries talking about like ".Oh my gosh, Flash and [Van's British accent becomes momentarily indecipherable] came down and struck me from their song cave from heaven". We don't think that. We just write for like our best mates and ex-girlfriends. Just normal stuff. So it's really funny to have people come up to you and freak out...and you're like "Noo, chill out; chill out; we're cool," and it's all sweet, and then you can't live em down.
And then, we have a drink with everybody and make everyone feel like they know us; we're that kind of band. We love the people; we love our fans. That's all it's about. On our way up, it took us eight years to get a record deal. And it took us nine years for press to write about us, and when they did, they actually didn't like us because we were...we kind of wouldn't do what we were told back home. So, it was there. It was always the people, so that's why we got the dicks to go "Hi, everybody." So whenever anybody tries to write bad about us or speak bad about us, our fans go, "No, we know these guys;we met them; we've been out for drinks...they're nice guys." So, it takes no seconds to go out and sign a few vinyls and meet a few people who love your band. So, no, I love it. So nothing's changed except life's only got better and funnier, because now, I just meet really nice people all the time.
What are some differences between your British fans and your American ones?
Oh that's hard...the difference? I don't know really. I think this is just natural though. I don't wanna alienate nobody. But like over here, they'll drive ten hours through the night to watch you play five songs...like a thirty minute set, and cause Britain's so small, we're not used to that, are we? So it's like we're still obsessed with [you]...and I would come see you...but never mind that far.
Obviously it takes some real travels...the real dedicated. You know I can't say that they're not back home cause at the same time it's not like it's not our culture. Because everything's so far away back over here so it's natural to drive.
Because we've been trying to make it back home for about 8 years now. We came over here, we've only had one year...two years trying to crack it. So to come over here, and have this kind of response after only 2 years, even though America weren't getting ex-blast from back home. Well as soon as we came over, it was just...the gigs were selling out; people were excited; it was like the fact was already won over. We already came over and people were like, "These are all the young kids; they're over in America. They've got a drum kit which says their name on it; they're professionals."
We came over, and we came over properly. We sold out shows and we couldn't release an album and make everyone buy it because they read it in a magazine. We went out and we sold the album. It was really important to us that we went out and played and sold it to them. But as soon as we got here, it was like everyone was already excited to see us. They weren't like, "hmmm, let's check this band out." It was like "Alright the boys cause the thing is, I've been waiting for you." It's like...you've been waiting for us? So have I. We're good.
Craziest post, pre, or during the show story thus far.
Craziest story? I don't know man; it's all crazy. Crazy in what sense? Like something going wrong?
Whats your most memorable post show, or pre show, or during show, kind of, occurrence that really sort of was like 'wow', whats going on right now?
Ahh...this is perfect actually cause it ticks all the boxes you're looking for. So, we did a signing for our show at Reading and Leeds festival last year, and we had a couple other people, signing everybody's vinyls, and some guy's watching me with his mate. And his mate is like dead excited and so they say, "Hey bud, we'll go do anything for you, mate!" and I was like "ANYTHING!? You'll do anything?!" He was like "Yeah!" I'm like, "Alright, get naked and get on your mate's shoulders today before the end of the day." He was like, "Ahhh mate, if you pick me out in the crowd, I'll do it." I was like "Okay."
So we played a show at Reading and Leeds, and I was looking for him the whole day. And I found him half way through the set, stopped the song and I went "Everybody, this young man promised me he was going to get naked." I pointed him out, but anyway, so everybody's going "DO IT! DO IT!" and he was like "Noooo," and he went dead red. So he ducked down and I thought "Where is he going; is he running?" Next thing outta nowhere, he straightens up, completely naked in a rubber dinghy. Then he started crowd surfing; he surfed through the whole crowd naked in his dingy. I couldn't even finish the song; I was crying my eyes out laughing. The whole time, there was a louder ovation for him doing that then for our whole set. It was electric; it was funny; it was so funny...funny as fuck. Really funny.
With the incredibly pointed and classically orchestral hits that you all have composed thus far, like "Homesick' to "Kathleen" to "Cocoon," how would you generally describe your music making process?
Like having a cigarette. Exactly like having a cigarette. At some times, I feel like a cigarette, [and then] I go out and have a cigarette. Smoke it down, and I go back inside, and I get the exact same feeling for a song. I go, "I need to write a song." I walk to my guitar, thinking about, sweet Kathleen, and then it goes. "I'm going to play it; take as long it does for me to play it." Because, like I was saying to you before about my lyrics, I don't hide nothing from nobody. I just speak whatever I'm thinking is right at the time. I don't try and make it rhyme. Half the time my songs don't rhyme.
If you put speech marks at the start of every song and at the end of every song, you'll see it's a conversation between me and somebody else. If I'm having a conversation with my best friend, I just write about it. There's songs about me getting high in the kitchen with your best mate and talking about times you were on tour. Then relaying a fucking song. Like it took me a weekend to write...a weekend to teach the band and it took the producer we're going to work with a weekend to fly back to LA screaming the house down about it, telling his wife he's gonna be a billionaire.
We're just really fortunate that...well, we love it. If you're in love with a guy, you know, it's real easy to go around his house and watch films or chill out with him. So it's like that. I love smoking cigarettes and I love writing songs so I smoke a cigarette and then I write a song. And then I smoke another cigarette and then write another song. If it's that way, I just love it. It's so easy. Writer's block, like I said, is a cigarette break. It's so easy, I, I just love it. I really love it.
Then again, I'm not writing... I'm not writing "Bohemian Rhapsodies." My music is simple and I'm just a simple guy. I like rock songs [that] make you throw your arms in the air...perfect for radio. Get you a big massive, jumbo jet and then you can rest for a few years, til someone else comes along and does it. I just want to go up there, stay up there as long as I can. If life wants to be good to me, make a career out of it like Van Morrison and The Stones and Bob Dylan and all these people so I just want to make good music, real music, on a guitar that you can play in the kitchen, or that you can play with a school band or in a stadium and feel the exact same...about real people, stuff that resonates, and then that's it. Just do that for the rest of my life. Keep doing it; go bald; do it more. Do everything; grow fat; do it again. Everything, just keeping up with the times... keep reinventing myself, keep pushing myself, keep making sure I'm better every time. Just keep keeping up. That's it. Just tryna, tryna become someone. Be the best I can be.
You've grown up with some of the classics constantly buzzing in your ear and had a dad with a genuine appreciation for music. If you didn't have a musical bone in your British body, what would you have forced yourself to do? What would you be doing today?
What would I be doing? I definitely would be in America, that's for sure. I think I would've loved the opportunity to fly out here. I would be trying to be a footballer, I reckon. I was pretty good at playing football but I was never good looking enough to play football. I wouldn't have gotten the the deals on the cereal boxes. I wasn't going to be in any sponsorships. So, if I would've been a footballer, I wouldn't have been a good footballer. So, I wouldn't have done that because I want to be the best I can be.
What would I be? Don't know. A wrestler. WWF wrestler. That's what I wanted to do when I was a kid before I started getting into music. I think that's why I grew my hair out in the first place. I was already half way there. I wanted to look like Triple H, and it was brown, so I already had grown it out so I'd look a little bit like him. Yeah, WWF wrestler. And I'd probably be the hardcore champion because I don't sleep. there you go. [Ed. Note: Sadly, as Baeble's resident modern day WWE expert, I have to let Van know that the hardcore championship doesn't exist anymore.]
What's your favorite song on The Balcony and why?
My favorite song on the balcony? "Cocoon," I think. I think it's got the best lyrics; it's massive. It sounds massive, the chorus. It's that fading thing I've been going for. That song is more the tempo of where I'm going with the next one. It's my most recent thing on that album really. That and "Hourglass" but "Cocoon," I think. And that's the one on the football game... FIFA. It's like FIFA '15. It's a game we used to play when we were babies. All the way, every year when we were kids. So, that song got on that game and that was the real moment. Being on that computer game. We were llittle kids, eating Dominos pizza just laughing our heads off... so, "Cocoon."
I've been made aware that you all have actually written your next album before you even finished recording The Balcony. Can you allude to any evolution between the two works? What are you going for in your next work that wasn't necessarily present in the last?
Aww man, I can't even say it. I can't even explain it. Everyone's more concerned about the answers than the "ethics." Everyone's answers; it's just a bit more...a bit higher. Everyone's a bit higher. Everyone's got a bit more of a smile on their face. Everyone's standing a little bit taller. Everyone's got a bit more of a spring in their step. There's just something about it that's more. Everyone can grow a little bit more of a beard now. We've grown up just a bit.
But it's still edgy; it's still pop. It's still a pop rock and roll band, but... aww man, it's big. It's so big. It's cinematic. My lyrics are funnier than they've ever been and they're more honest than they've ever been. The choruses are twenty times bigger. The guitar playing is just...amazing. Our drummer is the best drummer I've ever seen in the world. I have crew members who've worked on The Prodigy and big bands and Paul McCartney and stuff. And people like that.
And crews work with these bands all over the world. And they say "I've seen no one like your drummer...cause he's a machine. He's like a robot. He's unbelievable." And my guitar player, he's like a human lava lamp. He's psychedelic and into Japanese music...crazy guy. Ahhh its so good. So excited. I love it. Even if no one likes it, it'd be my favorite music to play ever because it's so...we sit back and listen to it in the car like it's our favorite band. We love it; we're so bare. And I think that's what our fans love about it. And they see us go out on stage, and you see us really do our music; they know for a fact that we love it. I love it; I love the band. They're my favorite band; it's just really good. I really like it.
Where were you, what were you doing, and what was your immediate reaction to hearing one of your songs on the radio for the first time ever?
My immediate reaction to hearing us on the radio for the first time? I'm trying to think of a time too. The other day when "Cocoon" had just come out here, and we completely forgot that we released it over here. And it had just come out and we had just got to fly back to England, and it came on in the car, and that was a moment when we were like, "Aww man...I forgot!"' Like, we're in America, and now we're on the road...cause it came on and we were like "Oh, 'Cocoon's' now on the radio." And I met Henry like, "Hen, it's America! We're on in America." Like we never heard it in America before. Yeah, that was weird.
So we're just like, "Yeah, this is going to be crazy cause people are going to be listening to this and going 'Who's this band? Aww yeah, he's British; oh yeah, theyre like The Strokes' or something like that." I can't explain it. It's really funny; it's just all really funny. I'm just dead flattered. I'm fortunate to be in this position. I feel fortunate in that I'm really young. And that probably came along and gave me the opportunity when it did because I was banging against the door for like 8 or 9 years before anyone looked at me so for them to get me out of the situation nice and early so I can keep going with this and build myself up to make a career out of it.. Could be exciting. We could be an exciting band for our fans and for ourselves.. When you think about it, if we keep writing songs like we do, this could be a real band...like a long time. Because bands come along and give their fans something to really get excited about...an album every year, or year and a half. It's game on. It's game on, America, I'm excited!