Lead vocalist/guitarist Van McCann of indie outfit Catfish and the Bottlemen chats to Simon Robb about his past as a struggling musician on the dole, his escalating fandom, signing to Island Records and recording Catfish’s debut album.
Sat alone just inside the entrance to Brighton’s The Haunt, I can hear banging on the shutters, followed by faint tittering.
Catfish and the Bottlemen have just finished their sound check and a man in his early 20s, wearing torn jeans and styling wavy hair emerges from the venue.
“You’ve got to come back here and see this,” he says excitedly, beckoning me over.
He leads me to the main stage area and points to the band logo that covers the back wall.
“It’s our first ever banner,” he declares.
Everything looks set and ready for their sold out gig as the queue outside extends around the corner.
“We’re all busy now until this time next year,” says Van McCann, the lead vocalist and guitarist.
“Our calendar is like three days off a month, so it’s everyday now.”
Forming the band at just 15-years-old, Van has been on a long and arduous journey that has seen him, and his four colleagues, escape their small town statuses to travel the length and breadth of the UK.
Spending the main crux of his youth just outside of Liverpool, Van has called many places home, including Australia, but now resides in London.
Whether it be with his family or the band, touring has been a continual facet of the 22-year-old’s upbringing.
“I’m literally all over the place and the other members come from Sheffield, Chester way and Newcastle.”
With regular plays on Radio 1, an expanding Twitter following and a US tour in the works, Catfish and the Bottlemen are the ones to watch in the Indie music world.
“It’s weird when you say stuff like that because we’re in it. When I hear us on Radio I just think nobody’s heard it, you think you and maybe ten other people would have caught it,” he says.
Van speaks frankly and tells me how he has struggled with the band for seven years – all living on the dole and unable to maintain girlfriends.
“I think we appreciate it more than most because a lot of bands nowadays can’t afford to be on the dole – we were really lucky, we came out the other end.”
Named after Van Morrison, he grew up listening to the ‘Brown Eyed Girls’ singer’s music, along with John Lennon and The Streets – his favourite band.
“I’m into lyric-based stuff really. I’m not a massive music fan. I like big sounding music, but it’s lyrics really for me.”
Working with acclaimed producer, Jim Abbiss, who has worked with Arctic Monkeys and Kasabian, Van says recording his debut album with one of the greats was ‘amazing’.
“If you try and take an aspect of someone else’s album that he’s made he’ll deliberately make sure he doesn’t do it again. If I tell him I like the drums on that Arctic song, he’ll say no I’m not having you sound anything like them.
“I know nothing about production. I hate recording. Because I was doing his head in, he just kind of told me to go have dinner, leave him alone. I came back and he played us ‘Kathleen’ and I thought this is like listening to a new band, it’s like I’d never heard us before.”
Not only is the production an integral part to Van’s career now, but also the music videos, which have been garnering positive support on YouTube with tracks like ‘Fall Out’, which features three workmen in a van, and the more ambitious ‘Cocoon’ set in a mental health facility.
I tell Van that I was fond of the ‘Fall Out’ video - I was conscious of behaving slightly sycophantic in his presence, but I slowly began to realise that Van responds much better to a more blunt and honest approach.
“Do you like that? It’s a mixed bag for me - I hate that video. It’s just another way to get the music out, so I don’t focus on them enough.
“Cocoon - I totally stayed out of it and I think that’s the best video we’ve got. I think it’s mint,” he says.
With the album due for release on September 15, Van shares his excitement to see the finished product, something he is yet to experience.
“We’ve got the booklets here to sign, but I actually haven’t got the album.
“I’ve heard it, signed off the masters and got rid of it. I’m trying to build up the suspense like everyone else.
“I won’t give it to me dad, or me mum, or me girlfriend, or anything. I want them all to go to the shops and get it.”
Performing up to 200 shows a year in the past, Van says there is still no gig too small, whether it be an underground Brighton club or a landmark festival.
But there are more perks coming their way as the band are about to release their debut with Island Records.
“Converse just sent us some free trainers. I used to steal them (laughs). It has changed me but hopefully not in a d*** h*** way,” he admits.
“I literally used to skimp, I mean we all did. Even when we signed to a record label like Island we’re still on £8 a day, so £60 quid a week, and we’ve lived like that for a few years.
“It’ll change in a way that I can take my girlfriend out to dinner and she won’t keep threatening to leave me,” he laughs.
With money and gradual notoriety also comes networking and an opportunity to mix with the greats, but Van is yet to forge any friendships with other famous music heads.
“We went out and played with Jake Bugg in Ibiza and I’ve never met a guy as cool as him.
“You don’t speak to Jake unless he wants to speak to you, kind of thing. Some people might think he’s arrogant or whatever, but all he cares about is music. I could see it in him.
“He was dead, dead nice to us and he invited us into his dressing room. Soon as he left we were eating all his food,” he laughs.
“In terms of celebrity band, Jake Bugg is the only person I’ve really felt like I’ve made a connection with.”
As the crowd outside The Haunt grows louder and I can sense an urgency in the air - door men charge back and forth, instruments clash in the backdrop and shutters begin to rise.
Without his band mates during the interview, I want to take the opportunity and ask him about their off stage relationship, and without hesitation Van tells me exactly how it is.
“We’re close in a hatred way, but in a brotherly way, because we spend so much time together. There’s definitely no one holding back anything.
“We scrap a lot, but we all say what we’re thinking.
“Sometimes we’ll go on stage and we’ll play a week of gigs and not speak or look at each other and nobody will notice.
“If you can stay together through all that, that’s what makes a band. We’re happy at the moment because the album is about to come out and we’ve just been told we can come off £60 a week,” he says slapping his knees, “So we get £65 a week now - only joking!”
Van looks down at his attire and brushes off his legs where I can see patches of white skin.
“Look at my clothes, all my jeans and my boots are falling apart. This is not a style, this is how we live.
“I love it though. I’m dead proud of where we’re from, of who we are and I just think it means a lot to us.
“We got put up in a hotel by Radio 1 after a big weekend and they gave us envelopes with Mr Van McCann on it and we went into a room and they were playing jazz music - you also get you’re own dressing gown and I thought, I’m stealing all of this.
“We were speaking to bands downstairs who were doing the festival and we said, how good is this? And they were like, yeah it’s alright.”
Van asks me to hang around and watch the Catfish gig, which I happily agree to.
It was nothing short of electrifying and the audience response was something I’ve only experienced in a festival environment with chanting, screams of sheer excitement and girls balancing on their boyfriend’s shoulders.
“We let the fans basically pick the album. We did a tour in March and we played 15 songs and just kept swapping them in and out, and I said tell me which ones you think are good. Meet us at the bar afterwards and we’ll talk about it. They kind of crafted the album.
“Tonight we’ll stay and meet everyone, like we always do.
“I think it’s important that people understand that you’re normal.”
Catfish and the Bottlemen’s debut album ‘The Balcony’ is out September 15. Van will be back in Brighton at the Concord 2 on December 9.