Catfish And The Bottlemen Interview: Van McCann On Oasis, Their “Miles Better” Next Album And Setting Off “A Little Bomb In The Music Industry”

Van McCann had one instruction for his booking agent regarding festival season: say yes to everything. Kevin EG Perry meets up with the man fronting the band of the summer to talk sex, drugs and sticky toffee pudding…

At first, he thinks it must have started raining. It’s August 2014, moments before Catfish And The Bottlemen are due onstage at Reading Festival, and Van McCann can see crowds of people running towards the tent, pushing their way forward to squeeze inside. Then he looks outside and sees there’s nothing but sunshine. “That’s when I knew it was real,” he says. “I thought they were just coming in because it was pissing it down, but it was still sunny. When we went on they knew all the songs. Our album wasn’t even out yet. It was mental.”

After tearing through their set, Van walked offstage and noticed the band’s management team were crying tears of joy. “I think everyone was kind of taken aback,” he says. “Playing T In The Park and then Reading and Leeds last year were real game-changers for us. Before that we’d been playing 50-100 capacity venues, and they’d been crazy – but then at the festivals it was just as crazy and there were 4,000 more people.”

A lot has happened since then. In the past six months, the band released debut album ‘The Balcony’, which duly hit the Top 10 and went gold. Meanwhile, their live reputation has grown to the point that they sold out two nights at London’s 5,000-capacity O2 Academy Brixton this November – within nine minutes of tickets going on sale. “That’s 10,000 tickets,” marvels Van. “Could we have sold 20,000 in 20 minutes? You’re on your way to stadiums then, aren’t you?”

Ahead of this summer, Van had a simple instruction for the band’s booking agent: ‘Say ‘yes’ to everything’. You’ll therefore be able to see Catfish And The Bottlemen at Glastonbury, Radio One’s Big Weekend, Rock Werchter, Bilbao BBK, T In The Park, Latitude, Longitude, Boardmasters, Festival No. 6 and Reading and Leeds. If your town’s got a village fête, they’ll probably turn up and play that too.

“I love festivals,” says Van. “We started the band when we were so young that we always said: ‘We’re not going to that festival unless we play it.’ We never went to Glasto or Leeds or anything like that. I never really liked them until we played them last year. You always have to drag your gear through the mud and you’re never allowed into the posh bit where the Arctic Monkeys are eating. Now we’ve earned our way into different areas. Now we’re having sticky toffee pudding for dessert… and more!”

When Van arrives in east London on the day of his first NME cover shoot he’s clean-shaven, grinning from ear to ear and already buzzing about the summer ahead of him. “I had a big ginger beard this morning but I’ve just shaved it off. I’ve got loads of cuts. I look like a mug,” he says. “I can’t believe I’m doing a cover shoot. That’s mad. I’m well too ugly for cover shoots, me.”

We head to a bar where he orders a pint of Guinness and heads outside to smoke in the sun and reminisce about bygone festivals. Having spent his teenage years on tour, Van’s only real memory of going as a punter was V Festival in 2009. “I only went to that because it was close and all the girls at school were going,” he says. “We got a lift off one of them and bought one ticket between eight of us so it was only a tenner each. We passed it through the fence.” It meant he got to see his two favourite bands: The Streets and Oasis. The Gallagher brothers played their last ever show together that weekend. “They sounded class,” says Van. “I love bands like The Strokes and Arctic Monkeys, but they don’t come close to Oasis for me. They sounded enormous.”

At Catfish And The Bottlemen’s own festival shows, Van wants to keep things simple. “No pyrotechnics, no big light show, just the hits,” he says. “Live is our thing. I’m not saying no other bands can touch us, but that’s our expertise. I think there are so many bands who are better than us as at recording, writing songs, singing and playing guitars or whatever, but in terms of creating an atmosphere I think we’re the best. At this year’s festivals, no band will throw a rave like we can.”

He thinks part of their appeal is in knowing exactly what the audience want. “I like playing the singles,” he says. “I don’t understand why Radiohead don’t want to play ‘Creep’. I remember Caleb from Kings Of Leon kicking up a fuss about ‘Sex On Fire’. He was throwing his guitar down onstage and saying, ‘You’re only here for one song’. It’s like, so? You wrote it! Don’t put it on the fucking album then! Don’t buy nice jackets with the money it’s made you. You love some aspects of it. I’d love to get three albums deep, if the fans believe in it enough and the songs are right, because our Glastonbury headline set would just be greatest hits. No album tracks, no B-sides, no messing about with the shit songs.”

It’s Van’s relentless ambition that’s got Catfish And The Bottlemen where they are today and he won’t be truly happy at festivals until he’s headlining the Pyramid Stage. “I like it when a band just takes headliner status, instead of being bestowed with it just because it’s about time,” he says. “No band since the Arctic Monkeys has done that. With us, the fans have made us and I want that to continue. I’d love for Glastonbury to say: ‘Well it has to be them.’ I’d love for it to not even be rumoured. They’d just say: ‘Well it has to be them because of what they’ve done this year, and what their songs have done.’ I’d love it if we could force our way in.”

In keeping with his ‘just play the hits’ philosophy, don’t expect to hear any of the band’s already-written second album this summer. “New tracks are worse than playing album tracks!” says Van. “Nobody will know them.”

He will say that he’s confident the next record, when it does come out, will comfortably surpass the youthful exuberance and teenage wet dreams of ‘The Balcony’. “I think a little bomb will go off in the music industry and people will go: ‘Who’s making all that racket?’” he says. “It’s miles better than the last album. The band’s 10 times better, the crew’s 10 times better, we’re all 10 times better looking. I wanted to make a life-affirming record for normal heads. People who get up and just want to have a good day. They’ll put this on and think: ‘Fuck, this feels mint.’ It’s proper arms out music. I want to make you feel the way The Strokes did, but with the enormity of Oasis and the lyrics of The Streets.”

One thing he can confirm is that there’ll be no wanky guitar solos. In fact, Van might ditch his guitar altogether because the band’s guitarist Johnny ‘Bondy’ Bond is “so good he plays like there’s 10 of him anyway.” As for Van: “I’ve hated guitar since I started. It hurts my hands. It’s heavy. It cost me money to buy when I was a kid. They break. They all sound shite and out of tune anyway. I hate face-melting guitar solos. Why would I want to melt anyone’s face? I got into music to make lads bounce, girls blush and my dad feel proud. I didn’t get into it to melt someone’s fucking head off.”

As Van skins up in the beer garden, he says he’d like to clarify that, despite recent reports, he’s still having the time of his life. One recent story featured him apparently complaining that being on the road had meant he’d lost touch with his family. “Somebody text [Van’s guitar tech and best mate] Larry saying: ‘Tell him he’s a miserable cunt’,” he says. “I read the comments online first. Somebody said: ‘I’m sure all the drugs and sex make up for it.’ I read the story and the journalist had asked me: ‘What sacrifices do you have to make being in a band?’ I said: ‘I dunno, mate. I love being in a band.’ Like that guy said, the sex and drugs do make up for it. They make up for it a lot. Then I’d said: ‘I’ve not seen my mum and dad for six months. I used to have a missus who I was mad about. I had to split up with her because I was away so much, not because we had a fall-out.’ I just answered his question, but people made out like I was complaining. At the end of the day though, even if there’s a thousand people who hate me, there’s a gold disc on my kitchen wall that says a hundred thousand people think I’m alright.”

He says he’s dabbled in the LA lifestyle of partying with celebrities, gangsters and models, but now that he’s having a bit of time off he’d rather just take his mum and dad out for dinner. “When I’m with the band I’m up for any of that, but when it’s me on my own I won’t be on no yachts,” he says. “I won’t be going to no mansions to play table tennis with Jonathan Ross. I’d rather write a song at home than go to a party where some guy is telling me he’s just written the bridge for the next Maroon 5 single. I just go: ‘You don’t fancy a game of FIFA, no?’ That scene isn’t me. I definitely do fancy models though, if that’s what you’re asking.”

Van can always rely on his “shitty cottage” in Chester to bring him back down to earth, as he explains: “We got home at four in the morning for our night off and we had no electricity. 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?’ This was months after we’d sold out Brixton Academy. I was thinking: ‘Are we doing this right?’ Larry was giving it the: ‘Ah, but we’re keeping our feet on the ground.’ I said: ‘Isn’t that what rock ‘n’ roll’s about? Aren’t you supposed to lose your feet for a bit?’”