It’s the two-and-a-half-minute blast that opens Catfish’s debut album, ‘The Balcony’. Growing from nothing into a stormer then subtly shrinking back towards the end. Lyrically, too, it sets the tone for what’s to come from frontman Van McCann: “I said, ‘I'm only looking out for you’ / She said, ‘It's obvious that's a lie’”.
Sometimes you just need a break: that’s what McCann’s telling his mate here, over the bubbling bass of the chorus. “Tell them life's got you. Take time off. Tell them someone needs you.” In other words: Take it easy, guys!
“I wanted to come up with a really positive, upbeat kind of surf song,” says Van of this debut album highlight, “and blend it with some really negative lyrics to upset it a little.” It’s about his friend, who would get upset with him for not caring when he fell out with people. “I just thought it was quite an interesting thing to write a song about,” he says. True.
An extraordinary set-up for Catfish on this one: just a single finger-picked acoustic guitar accompanies McCann’s crackling voice throughout as he tells his delicate tale of longing set in the Scottish city. An unusual choice, perhaps, to release it as the third single from ‘The Ride’, but it does work. Unfortunately YouTube has no official versions, but check out this cover, which is eerily close to the original.
The final track of ‘The Balcony’ turns into a lengthy jam when played live. That’s been a hallmark since the band started – Van wrote an early version of it when he was 14 – but he had to change the lyrics, which were originally about going to his first house party. “A proper daft thing to write a song about,” he recalled later. But no longer: the final version, about having your heart utterly shattered, sounds epic.
Van wrote this euphoric track about resilience when he was staying in New York City. Speaking to NME, Van said “It was just this kind of tune about like: fuck what anybody else wants for you or thinks you should do. Life is whatever you want, there is no right or wrong way of doing it. So be whoever you want to be and let your mates be whoever they want to be, and don’t worry about it.”
There’s a healthy thrum to ‘Rango’, a track about Van’s first girlfriend, which he’s described as “an attempt to win her back”. He’s also called it “a rip-off of ‘A Thousand Miles’ by Vanessa Carlton”, which is a shock. You might just be able to spot the similarity in the unusual rhythm of the chorus, but otherwise the howling guitar and hooting vocals blow that comparison out of the water.
When you’re in certain regions of America, there’s a seven-hour time difference between there and the UK. That’s where poor old Van is here, caught between being in love and wanting some alone time on the opener of their second album ‘The Ride’. “I don't think through things, I never get time,” he ponders over a low-key acoustic guitar line, “’cause I don't think things through.” Then the electric guitars kick back in and he heads towards the gloom: “Larry, call a load of smoke in – I wanna disappear for days.”
The lead single from Catfish’s second album is a love-struck beauty, in which Van races through the motions of being a pro musician just because he’s so loved up: “ I wanted everything at once until you blew me out my mind,” he roars, “and now I don't need nothing”. Then Jonny Bond lets out a screaming guitar solo.
It’s gotta be ‘Kathleen’. Not least because it has the word “simpatico” in it. On their signature track, McCann howls about falling for the wrong person. "Kathleen is the reason you start drinking," he’s said of the track’s inspiration. "She's the one you call at three in the morning despite knowing she's the reason you went out drinking in the first place. You go around knowing you shouldn't, and before you know it, she's got your clothes off. She's that kind of person that everyone's been infatuated with”.