Welsh Rockers Catfish and the Bottlemen Aim “Right to the Top”

They might show up even if they’re not on the bill.

Van McCann, the gleeful 21-year-old frontman of Welsh indie-rock band Catfish and the Bottlemen, doesn’t appear to have a sarcastic bone in his body. We meet in a shady spot on Randall’s Island in New York City, at the Governor’s Ball music festival. Even among the Brooklynites jockeying to out-hipster each other, McCann’s bouncy rocker haircut and skinny pants stand out. He informs me that I have a face that makes him happy to look at, which is also how he feels about Scottish actor Ewan McGregor’s face. In fact, the band’s new video for the song, “Kathleen,” features almost three minutes of McGregor smiling on screen. McCann isn’t being ironic. “I just love him!” he exclaims.

McCann’s band, which debuted Kathleen and the Other Three, its new EP, in the US earlier this month, has the kind of back story a label might try to make up to draw buzz. (The UK’s Communion Records, which also works with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, signed Catfish and the Bottlemen in 2013). McCann says his mom couldn’t have children naturally, and he was born in the final in-vitro fertilization attempt. When he was a kid his family traveled around Australia, where he saw a busker named Catfish and the Bottlemen, hence the name. He met his bandmates—guitarist Billy Bibby, bassist Benji Blakeway, and drummer Bob Hall—in school back in Llandudno, Wales, and when McCann was 15, he got kicked out of school, not “because I was a little shit,” but because he was playing too many shows and missing exams.

“Everyone just went crazy; we got arrested for sound pollution!” McCann says.

Since then, Catfish and the Bottlemen have been busting their asses and playing a lot of gigs—including ones they’re not invited to. McCann recalls one time when the band couldn’t get on the opening slot of a show they wanted to play, so they rented a generator, revved it up, put on ninja masks in the parking lot, and waited for everyone to leave the gig before starting to rock out. “Everyone just went crazy; we got arrested for sound pollution!” McCann says. Last year, they played upward of 100 shows in 18 months. This summer, they’re scheduled to play more than 30 festivals.

Their EP’s title track is a catchy, sex-drenched rock song that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Arctic Monkeys record, or maybe the long-lost dirty Killers album. “It’s impractical, to go out and catch a death with a dress fit for the summer/So you don’t/Instead you call me up with a head full of filth,” McCann sings. The other songs aren’t quite as much fun, although “Homesick” reminds me of all the times I emo-ed out in my car to Dashboard Confessional as a teenager—which as far as I’m concerned, is a good thing. McCann notes that right now he’s listening to British indie group Little Comets and the National, but he’s also a fan of the Strokes, Van Morrison, and the Beatles, of course.

At the Governor’s Ball, the Bottlemen played around noon, long before fans flooded the park to see Skrillex and Jack White. But speaking with McCann, I got the sense that the band could cheerfully propel itself straight to world domination. McCann says his goal is to play giant stadiums, not just intimate indie-rock clubs. “Right to the top, all the way to the top. To me, I don’t see the point of doing it otherwise,” he says. He describes playing New York as, “Fucking ace, man. It’s amazing, I love it!” He adds, giddily, “When I was walking through the streets of New York the other day, this girl came up to me and was like, ‘Dude your band is awesome!’ I was like, ‘I’ve only been here a day!'”


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