Interview with Catfish and the Bottlemen: On their way to stadium rockers

catfish and the bottlemen

There’s this sense in indie rock with a lot of bands that they’re not out to conquer the world, that they’re too cool to outright say they desire to play to the biggest crowds out there. With UK outfit Catfish and the Bottlemen, they’ve been vocal about their desire to play massive stadiums and blow up to becoming the biggest band the UK has seen since Oasis headlined at Knebworth House to the tune of 150,000 people in 1996.

Catfish and the Bottlemen are on the fast track given they sound a bit like if The Strokes were fronted by a British version of Brandon Flowers of The Killers. They’ve got a stadium sound, so who is anyone to call them cocky for dreaming they can fill stadiums in the next few years?

We got a chance to catch up with Catfish and the Bottlemen members Van McCann and Benji Blakeway exactly one year after their hot debut full-length album The Balcony was released. They headline the Fonda Theatre in Hollywood this Tuesday, September 29, so don’t miss them!

Grimy Goods: It’s been a year since their album, what’s it been like?

Van of Catfish and the Bottlemen: It’s been surreal but not unbelievable. We were just kind of spitballing back then. We just seen it this week when we went back to the UK. It’s just a strange feeling, mate. The reaction to it has been beyond belief. It’s been a year since we put that out and a year ago, we could sell maybe 1,000 tickets up and down the country and we just did 40,000 in eight minutes back home. It’s just proper surreal. We’ve gotten records for festivals for attendance. It’s just wild. But we want to come over to America and do it. It’s one thing doing it in the UK, but America is now what we got our minds on. That’s why we’re over here, trying to really make our mark.”

Benji of Catfish and the Bottlemen: We were in those practice rooms writing the songs with 20,000 bouncing to it in mind. We were writing it for that situation. To actually have that true and being in a tent with 20,000 people, it’s what we set out to do years ago and now it’s happening. America’s probably been about a year or so behind the UK but you can see the same patterns emerging and it feels like hopefully we’ll be getting the same level If not bigger over here.”

Grimy Goods: You’re working on a new record in Los Angeles, what’s that been like so far? The producer of the new album, Dave Sardy, he worked with Oasis at the tail-end and with Noel on his record, what’s that been like working with him, considering Oasis was an influence of yours?

Van: The Oasis thing for me it was because all my old cousins were into it and they passed it down to me. They were into rock ‘n’ roll music and I was kind of into Dr. Dre and The Streets when I was younger. That music was always about lyrics. But the thing about Oasis, Noel’s idea of it I guess, the guy wrote a great blueprint. They always dreamt it and they made it come true, the way Muhammad Ali did or this UFC fighter Conor McGregor’s doing. I like that about them. [Sardy] did Chili Peppers as well, which Bondy is a big fan of. He did a Walkmen song. The only Walkmen song he did was “The Rat,” which is the song the UK press kept comparing us to when we came out. It just felt meant to be. I always felt back in the day, this second album I want Sardy to do. I wrote the demos based around Dave Sardy’s production and I sent him them saying I wrote this record for you to do and there’s no other person who can do this but you. It turns out we’re the only band that’s inspired him in a long time. He’s been making music for films. It’s just great to play to someone you’ve admired for that long and have mutual respect for you and we’re really quick. We did that first album in two weeks, we’re a live band, we’re a touring band. We rehearse for 9 hours a day back in the day, we’ve been together for eight years. When we turned up I think Sardy was expecting some kids who were just alright live but we turned up and we were ready to play. It’s just unreal. The sound he’s getting out of the songs we wrote is just mad. I just really think it’s gonna be special. The fans who were invested in the first album and think that’s good, I think they’re gonna be blown back by this one. This has eclipsed the other album, it’s just a different league, I think. We were just kids then. We’re still young but we’re growing up, we understand it more, we’ve been to America, we know what you guys need. This next album is why I think we can really try for your stadiums, your arenas, Madison Square Garden, all that stuff.

Catfish and the Bottlemen

Grimy Goods:  Reading interviews Catfish and the Bottlemen have done before, your confidence is endearing and I read a quote where you said ‘If 1,000 people hate me, I’ve got a gold record on my wall that says 100,000 people love me.’ I just heard Noel Gallagher in that quote in terms of the – I wouldn’t call you cocky but supremely confident.

Van: I love people who research our band. Me and Benji do these interviews all day everyday. We love doing press but when somebody looks into you, it’s so fucking good, so thank you mate. We saw the last ever Oasis show. The scene with that. I’m from just outside of Liverpool, they’re from Manchester. There are not a lot of bands we can resonate with. Most the big bands in Britain are from different places. All my cousins sound the same as they did and the same mannerisms, same sense of humor. To me, it was more if you watched Muhammad Ali interviews you’ll see more where I come from.

The exact same thing as I guess Noel and Muhammad Ali, there’s a guy called Conor McGregor in the UFC. He’s saying the same thing I’m saying in interviews except about UFC fighting. It’s just the way they talk. It’s all about exciting the people and anything I say, I’m glad you see it as confidence because the UK press tends to see it as arrogance. I’m just having a laugh.

Benji: It’s all in the name of entertainment. People love reading the stuff whether they agree with you or not. People like to talk about interesting people.

Van: I think that we don’t play games. We say what we mean and mean what we say. I’ve watched a lot of documentaries and John Lennon was the exact same. … We’re only interested in writing songs. Unless we get someone like you who’s deadly interested in us and what we have to say, we kind of just have a laugh about it. You get asked all kinds of novelty questions, about One Direction and those kinds of things. When they ask what we think of them we can only say our opinion, and they’ll go back and write some stuff. I remember an interview back home and they asked what did I miss about being back home. I was like being on the road is amazing, I don’t really miss much. But I guess I miss my mum and dad a bit, my dog a bit.

Grimy Goods: And that became the whole article…

Van: Yeah, it became like, ‘Oh look at him moaning at being one of the biggest bands in Britain.’ It’s crazy.

Benji: A lot of people are too scared to say what they really think, they don’t want to offend people. I think it’s a lot to do with the way the internet is now. Because if you say something – especially if you write it on Twitter – then it’s there forever. No one wants to put a quote wrong because that could come and bite you in the ass. We’ll just say what we think and we stand by it.

Van: We don’t think we’re God’s gift or anything, we’re just trying to excite. When we were younger, our favorite bands telling us that they were gonna play stadiums and they were gonna do this and go on, give you something to believe in. We always loved that, we admired that. When we were growing up and other bands would not say anything. When you ask Oasis or Muhammad Ali, they just had you believing it was gonna be fucking brilliant and had you buzzing for it.

Grimy Goods: On Bonnaroo. Festival shows aren’t just your fan base, they aren’t just people who came to specifically see Catfish and the Bottlemen or know who you are. I was in that crowd towards the back but everyone around me was losing their shit:

Benji: That is one of the best things. We did Bonnaroo last year and played to hardly anyone. We’ve been back to Nashville a couple times between that and this year. To see the development in a year, having barely been in the area, see the crowd grow that big and singing all the words back, even as far back view, it’s amazing to see that. They took it so much longer to get to that point in the UK. It’s happening pretty quickly in the States right now, it’s a good feeling.

Van: That was for me and Benji — Benji got me into the Kings of Leon when we were younger and he gave me all their records when we were kids. He showed me this live version of them playing in that exact tent. Being very much fanatics of music, I was buzzing off of it. That Kings of Leon show was epic. I was just buzzing to be up there like they were. I like trying to put those memorable performances that stay in your memory, we really tried putting on a show like that for people. We only see what happens in the gig and apparently those 20,000 could go into our next gig singing all the songs. It’s just a nice feeling to know you’ll go down as a highlight for somebody who is paying a couple hundred dollars or quid and come away with you being one of their favorites.

Grimy Goods:  Are you at all concerned about getting to a point where Catfish and the Bottlemen are so famous people find you unlikable?

Van: I think it’s a Bill Withers quote. They’re like, selling out, last time I checked meant you were doing something good, doing something right. You sell out your show, your CD in the shop. Anything selling out is a good thing, right? In terms of product. This is the music business, the music industry. Like anybody else, this is a way of life for us. This is all we got. When we’re selling out gigs or shows, how can you not feel euphoria? You can’t be worried about all these people.

If it’s people on the outside then it can never bother you. But if it’s fans who have been there since the start and they start getting disinterested and it isn’t because the music, that has to go down as trimming off the fat. They’re not fans if that happens. They’re not there for your music and we want people who are invested in our music. … It’s just about good music, good songs.

Grimy Goods:  Recording in LA and being able to spend as much time as you’ve been here — LA is a really polarizing place where you either love it or hate it — so I’m curious what Catfish and the Bottlemen think of this place?

Van: I love it.

Benji: Same. I love it, pretty sure the other guys love it as well.

Van: What’s not to love about it? Walking up the street is the funniest thing in the world. Because you can see the best looking picturesque couple you’ll ever see, and then right behind them will be some man in his underpants and dreadlocks. It’s just madness. I really love it. We keep getting told we’re starstruck by it. If you don’t buy into it then there’s a lot of, ‘Hey man, my brother was in Bon Jovi,” but if you don’t get too submersed in the madness, it’s great. We’re always spectators because we’re always trying to write about stuff and create things.

Interview feature by Mark E. Ortega

SEP 29 – Fonda Theatre, Los Angeles, CA
SEP 30 – The Fillmore, San Francisco, CA
OCT 2 – Wonder Ballroom, Portland, OR
OCT 3 – Neptune Theatre, Seattle, WA
OCT 4 – Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, Canada
OCT 7 – Gothic Theatre, Englewood, CO
OCT 10 – House of Blues, Chicago, IL
OCT 11 – Saint Andrews Hall, Detroit, MI
OCT 13 – Newport Music Hall, Columbus, OH
OCT 14 – Terminal 5, New York, NY
OCT 15 – Royale Boston, Boston, MA
OCT 17, Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto, Canada


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