Artist Spotlight: Catfish and the Bottlemen

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“I got into music to make lads bounce, girls blush and my dad feel proud.”

Despite their laddish, sophomoric pretension, Catfish and the Bottlemen frontman Van McCann’s words really undersell the talent of this infectious and shockingly self-aware indie rock group. However, it wasn’t always headlining concerts and international tours for Catfish and the Bottlemen. They struggled relentlessly for nearly six years before their name would be known to anyone outside of their suburban hometown in Wales.

In conjunction with now ex-bandmate William “Billy” Bibby, McCann began playing at Bibby’s parents’ bed and breakfast in Llandudno, Wales as “The Prestige” in 2007. The duo would plug in their guitars and cause, by his mother’s estimation, “quite a racket.” Soon after, they would add Benji Blakeway on bass and classmate Jon Barr on drums. They would also change their name to Catfish and the Bottlemen, in reference to McCann’s earliest musical memory of a local street performer who called himself “Catfish the Bottleman,” as he was known for sporting a braided, whisker-like beard and drumming on beer bottles precariously strung across a wire.

The musicians were no strangers to struggle during this period. Often, the group would set up its gear and perform in the parking lot outside of a musical venue featuring popular artists in the hopes of attracting attention or some kind of notoriety. They would also attend their favorite bands’ performances with copies of their own demo in their pockets. Then, when the show was over, they would literally throw their CDs on stage in the off-chance that one of the members, or someone of industry importance, would pick it up and give it a listen.

McCann recalls one night in particular, feeling like they were nearly at rock bottom.

“We got home at four in the morning for our night off and we had no electricity,” he said. “It was ice cold, pitch black, I had six jackets on and I was eating tagliatelle on the floor getting stoned with no music, no phone, no internet, no nothing. I was thinking, ‘Is this how Kings Of Leon did it?,’” McCann said.

Eventually garnering enough of an audience through their unconventional methods and local showings, the band signed with a series of small record labels. In 2014, under Island Records, they released “The Balcony,” which would later peak at the number 10 spot on the UK charts. However, many critics had mixed feelings.

I will admit the lyrics are simplistic at times and are thematically juvenile, seemingly conceived in the sex-crazed, hormonally affected teenage mind. But “The Balcony” succeeds in one very crucial way: the sound. This is music, not poetry, after all. Every single track is so supremely listenable that the overall experience is quick, exciting and fun. With very few exceptions, I was thoroughly impressed with the young band’s ability to create such a diverse and effective collection of catchy riffs, hooks and verses, all the while maintaining a sonically consistent and cohesive whole.

Critics are quick to point out an apparent lack of originality in the music of Catfish and the Bottlemen, but I don’t think every artist needs to push or blur the boundaries of musical genres to be “good,” and certainly not to be successful.

In his own words, McCann responds to these voices of criticism saying, “I feel like everybody started thinking too outside the box trying to be arty and different. We wanted to stay inside the box.”

That’s a mentality I can respect; find something and do it right. As far as I’m concerned, McCann and company has done modern rock music right.


Mitchell Clark is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at mitchell.clark@uconn.edu.

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