Catfish and the Bottlemen Are About More Than Just That Weird Name

OK, let's get that name out of the way first. Even within the realm of rock and roll, it's so unusual that Catfish and the Bottlemen have posted an adorable animated YouTube video about it. Long story short, front man Van McCann spent the early part of his life in Australia, and one day he spied a street musician playing a drum kit and an assortment of bottles; this unusual fellow called his act Catfish and the Bottlemen. The name stuck, as these things often do.

The Bottlemen's songs also tend to stick – as buoyant, kinetic bites of guitar rock that to date all have one-word titles. (That policy does not apply to their covers, which have included Kanye West's “Black Skinhead” in the past.) Their music scratches a familiar itch in a slightly different way, so it's possible to detect hints of the past generation or two of significant indie bands in their DNA; though the Strokes certainly loom large, it's also not terribly far removed from Arctic Monkeys or The 1975, UK countrymen who have also recently found welcoming audiences on this side of the Atlantic. But then, that's only fitting for a group that professes to never stop thinking about music.

“I'm obsessed with bands just like anybody would be with our band,” says McCann, citing The National as a recent example. “I'm still a fanatic of music. I don't know it's [because] we're so far gone now, but I can not stop thinking about it, [and] I can not stop wanting to do it. We just found what we wanted to do, and what we're good at. It took us a few attempts – we wanted to be wrestlers, and football players, and all that kind of stuff, and this is just the one we settled on.”

Forming in 2007 in Llandudno, a seaside town in northern Wales, the Bottlemen developed an aggressive marketing strategy early on, which basically boiled down to not waiting for an invitation. Roaming the British countryside in their van, the band would turn up just about anywhere large crowds of people are known to gather: universities, crowded motorways – where “we'd get out in all the traffic and give CDs to all the cars,” McCann says – and, last but hardly least, the parking lots of concerts by other bands.

“We'd just turn up at gigs,” McCann explains. “What we tried to do was give the headline bands our CD and turn up and hopefully try to sneak on the bill and stuff like that. We get this a lot now from our fans, which we love because you can tell they've read our interviews and it's inspired them to do it. When people wouldn't take our demos, we'd set up outside their gig dressed as ninjas, and we'd play in the car park when the venue emptied, so we'd have a thousand of their people, you know what I mean?”

Eventually the Bottlemen went from filling up venue parking lots to the venues themselves, and in 2013 they struck a deal with UK label Communion Music, also home to acts like Tennis and Rubblebucket. Either ironically or tellingly of the music business' current state of affairs, of all the things he says he dreamed of that come with being in a successful band, McCann admits that a record deal was not one of them.

“We weren't waiting for anyone to come knock for us and say, 'Would you like a record deal, and would you like to take over the world?',” he says. “We would turn up at their doorstep and going, 'Are you ready for a band to take over the world?'”

The Bottlemen's first album, The Balcony, was released almost exactly a year ago in their native land, and in January in the States via Capitol. Their festival scrapbook now contains pages from many of the UK's biggest — Glastonbury, Reading, Leeds — as well as France's Rock En Seine and Spain's Ibiza Rocks, plus Governor's Ball and Bonarroo in the States. At Lollapalooza this past summer, the Chicago Sun-Times called them, “new-gen rock and roll defined by a strong, anarchist spirit.” McCann estimates the band has spent about 40 percent of this year in America; tomorrow night will be their first-ever show in Houston. Expect plenty of songs not from The Balcony, as McCann says the Bottlemen's next album “tidal-waves” their debut, of which he says now “was just us mucking around from the ages of 15 to 19.” More evidence of careful planning by a band that would just as soon not leave anything to chance.

“A lot of bands talk about it like it was fate, or not fate, but like everything was thrown upon them and 'Oh my God, I can't believe this is happening' and all that stuff,” says McCann, who is indeed named after Van Morrison (his dad was a huge fan). “We very much wanted to be successful. We really, really fucking tried, and we're still fucking trying to be the best band that we can be.”

However, watching their dreams come to fruition has not changed their tastes much, adds bassist Benji Blakeway. He will admit to being richer, though.

“[We learned] to get buy on very little, so even though we do have a bit of money now, we're still the same kind of people,” Blakeway promises. “We still buy the same things. Our tolerance for smoking and drinking has just become a lot stronger, because you can order a bigger round, you know what I mean?”

Catfish and the Bottlemen and special guests Catch Fever perform tomorrow night at House of Blues, 1204 Caroline. Doors open at 7 p.m.
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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray