Frontman Van McCann and guitarist Johnny Bond talk about Catfish and the Bottlemen’s second album The Ride, how playing live informs everything they do, and why the band is only getting warmed up.
You’ve been on this U.S. tour here for about a week now. How have the shows been going so far?
Van McCann: We did the first one in San Francisco and our second at the Wiltern. Then we got to play the Greek Theatre in between with Mumford. They’ve all been massive. They’ve all been really good. The crowds have been all good, especially on our own shows. They’ve been singing every single word to every song.
Johnny “Bondy” Bond: In L.A. we got to play Conan O’Brien again. We’ve done it once before and were pretty excited to get back to it. Him personally and all of his crew were amazing.
Yeah, I was at the Wiltern show last week. It was a really good show and I was really impressed with how many people were singing along, like you were saying. It was really cool.
Van: Thanks, man. We loved that show. It was great fun from where we stood.
Once thing I noticed was you really love to move the mic around the stage. Have you banged your head into the mic a lot or have there been issues that come with doing that?
Van: [Laughs] Yeah, I always chip my teeth on the mic stand. The first show in San Francisco on the last chord, no one could see because the lights went off, but the in-ears pack came off and hit me in the eye. I came offstage with a pretty big, overhand-right-looking, swollen eyebrow. But yeah, I like moving the mic around.
As the rooms get bigger, these are the biggest shows we’ve been doing in the U.S. so far, so I don’t like staying static. I like trying to make sure everybody gets tucked into the show. I like trying to go around and emphasize people with it. I don’t like staying in one spot because I feel like you can’t get to as many people, you know what I mean?
So I like moving around, but nothing too heavy. It’s all part of it. I quite enjoy it.
Playing live is something you take very seriously and something you take a lot of pride in. Is that still the number one objective for you as a band?
Van: Yeah, it always has been. Even when we’re making records, we’re not thinking, “Oh, this could be a big hit song” or “This could sell loads of copies.” We’re just thinking, “This is going to sound great live. I can’t wait to hear people singing this chorus back.” Everything that’s written is based around people singing it back or moving to it. That’s why that Wiltern show, and doing shows back home and all that sort of thing, has been a real buzz for us because everyone is doing that.
Yeah, everything we’ve ever done is based around live. Everything we sit and plan with management and record companies and stuff like that, we talk about live with everything we do. We don’t want to come off the road. We like it. We don’t get tired of it and the love for it grows every night. That’s where we feel comfortable, being a live guitar band.
Coming off your first album, The Balcony. You toured for a few years off of that one. Playing those songs and seeing the reactions to that, what did you take away that you then wanted to carry over into this second album?
Van: Because we had taken that first album around the world once or twice, we had been on the road for two years, we had kind of seen how different countries reacted to different songs and how all countries react the same to the songs. Stuff like that.
When it came time for the second album, I think we just knew how to make people move when we wanted them to move and how to make people sing when we wanted them to. We just kind of ran that more. Bondy’s sound, too, with his guitar playing on the second album, and live now we’re having our best shows.
The whole thing’s become a big blend. It’s all gotten a bit more widescreen. The first album put a feeler out for how people were going to react live, and now that’s doing the same. For the next album we’ll be able to see what this one’s doing to people and take what we want to do next time around. So we’re all growing with it, really.
One of the big changes from the first to the second album was having a new guitarist, Bondy, now in the band. What was it like for you to be in there and try to add your own little stamp on things?
Bondy: After having toured the first album for so long, it was lovely to feel like I could bring something from my corner to it, you know? Working with someone like Dave Sardy, he’s worked a lot of records that we all love and could reference from. A lot of them were bands that I feel influence my playing anyway, so it was the perfect platform to introduce myself into the band with.
When you’re onstage and you’re seeing people react to a certain part, knowing that you wrote that piece, it affects you in a different way. It’s a lovely place now, seeing how the album did.
Van: I’d like to say one of my favorite moments in the set is Bondy’s solo in “Soundcheck.” People sing that louder than the other parts, just the guitar line and stuff. It’s a real wall of noise. I like that.
So Van, you had a quote before the album came out talking about everyone was being arty and different making records, and how you wanted to stay more inside the box with this record rather than doing something completely different. Why do you think that was such a good fit to do on this record?
Van: I just think it was always about the live thing. We wanted to be a four-piece guitar band. You can hear everyone on the album. You can clearly hear we’re playing live together. We’ve clearly written these songs traditionally.
I’ve never been able to sit and write on a laptop, or like a MIDI keyboard or sample pads. It’s always been just on the guitar. That’s the only way I know how to, so what I was saying with that was I wanted to keep it simple. I just wanted to write songs that people sing loud and people jump high to.
I think it’s a hard album for people to deeply think about because we just wanted to make a straight-up rock ‘n’ roll album that would make people want to go to the show live. We want more people to go and see it live, you know? All of our music are ways that we use to convince people to come see it live.
It’s all about making people get in that room to see it live. Everything’s built for those lifelong fans, those fans who are going to be there right at the end watching your live shows. We just wanted to make a record that was going to get people into the room to see it so we actually could play it and sell it onstage, as opposed to in fancier ways.
I wasn’t saying it’s a bad thing for people to think outside the box. I was just saying we wanted to make something that was very straightforward and direct to people, and not many do. The lyrics are very straightforward and understandable about what I’m singing about. Stuff like that.
I remember, too, on the first album you saying you already had the next two albums written at that time. Did this second album turn out how you had originally envisioned it?
Van: There were loads of songs I had that could have gone on the second album. What I was talking about at the time, those are what I was thinking of. I think I only kept one verse and the chorus and an intro to a song that was lying about from that time. Everything else came after and came really quickly.
I wrote the body of The Ride in a really short time. Everything came quicker and I gave the lads an acoustic demo version of everything. They just jumped all over it really quick. Everything that Bondy first played, everything that Bob first played, everything that Benji first played, that’s what you hear now on the record. Everything was our first instinct.
I think that’s what ties it back into the last question we were talking about. It was just what came out. We didn’t think about it. We just wanted to get straight back on the road with another batch of songs to add to the repertoire. That’s what came out, and I’m really proud of it because it was so quick and relaxed.
Recording with Dave Sardy, like Bondy was saying, it was almost like a bit of a dream for a minute, recording it all and seeing it go to No. 1 back home. Then, coming to America and seeing people sing the new stuff louder than anything we’ve ever written, even the first songs we ever came out with. The whole thing was just an amazing experience, a great experience.
I wanted to talk a little bit more about “Soundcheck,” which has done really well for you guys and is one of my favorite songs you’ve done. What was the genesis like for that song and coming up with the bridge, which you mentioned earlier really goes over well live?
Bondy: Thank you.
Van: I remember clearly we were writing in this little abandoned bomb shelter. It was on the border of Wales and England. We were all locked in there with no signal, just four walls and a rooftop that we’d go onto. We wrote out of there.
That was one of the first ones that came together and it came together in about 15 minutes. Especially that bit when it comes to the breakdown and Bondy’s solo, we sat there talking, saying we can feel people dropping down for this bit, and then the tension building up, and as soon as Bondy’s solo hits the room is just going to be a rave.
It’s like writing a script for a theatrical show almost, and then watching it play out in front of you and you being in the wings, proud of it. When we play that live now, it’s like watching something being recreated before your eyes.
So the genesis of it came really quick. I came straight in with a guitar part, Bob came straight in on the drums, and then everyone fell in, too. As soon as it came time for the solo, Bondy came tearing out with that. I thought it sounded like the end of the world or something, and then that was it.
Then the label and everyone picked up on it as a single. I didn’t think it was going to be the lead single, but that middle part is probably one of my favorite things we’ve done musically.
With these first two records, there’s such a youthful exuberance to them. Lyrically, it almost is something of a coming of age story in some senses. What do you Catfish looks like 10 years down the line, when you’re a little bit more quote-unquote “grown up?”
Van: I keep joking to management and labels and stuff, saying, “We’re only getting warmed up. We’re only messing about. I’ve not been properly heartbroken yet.” It seems like a whirlwind, and we’re such massive fans of music and this whole thing we’re a part of that we’re still very much wide-eyed and giggling about it.
Look what’s happening to us. We were on Conan last week and Ice Cub was there! What’s going on? We were on a show with Ice Cube! You know what I mean? So we’re still very much hosed about the whole thing. We’ve not sat down and actually thought about it.
Like I said, that second album came so quickly, and the first one did, and the next one will when they give us time to go and do that one. It never ends and that’s never been a problem for us, to write. We love writing songs and we love playing live shows. All we’ve really wanted to do is what we’re doing now.
When you’re obsessed with something and you love it like this, it just comes naturally. I always say it’s easier for me and the lads to write, play live and go onstage than it is to get to sleep at night, because I’m so full of energy and I want to keep doing the same things.
I don’t know where it could go, but we’re definitely going to keep writing and keep going. I’m intrigued myself to see what kind of stuff is going to come out. But if the sound keeps growing and we keep learning from the last record, and people keep reacting the way they’ve been reacting.
Like I said, if those lifelong fans keep coming to see us live and buying those records and giving us a platform to keep releasing stuff, then who knows where it could go? Who knows how big this type of sound can get and we can take it? It’s exciting for us, but I know it’s the early days still. We still see it as we’re only in second gear.