Even though Catfish and the Bottlemen won a BBC Music Award just six months after the release of their 2014 debut album, The Balcony, the band has actually labored in relative obscurity for eight long years. That seemingly overnight success is a big change for the underdog Welsh quartet, whose breakthrough single "Kathleen" has the kind of everyman appeal that brought Oasis to the top of the rock world.
"Kathleen is the person you ring at three in the morning when you're drunk, when you know you shouldn't, because you'll just end up fighting," says frontman Van McCann of the song's inspiration. "But you always do. She's the girl who's really infectious, who everyone seems drawn to."
The rest of the album follows working-class suit with straightforward anthems like "Sidewinder," "Homesick," "Rango," and "26," which is the age McCann had just turned while writing it. Good meat-and-potatoes stuff.
"I mean, I wish I could write something like a fantasy, like McCartney or Lennon could, something just out of nowhere," he says. "But to be honest, I'm not a big fan of that stuff. Mike Skinner from The Streets is my hero — when he used to write songs about, say, his girlfriend, it wasn't 'Me and you driving off in a Cadillac.' It was like, 'Me and you smoking a spliff with nothing else to do on a Friday night, but I love ya.' And that's what my life is more about."
When Arctic Monkeys knob-twiddler Jim Abbiss signed on to produce The Balcony, McCann already had a very specific vision in mind. He just needed someone to channel all his pent-up frustration and unbridled enthusiasm.
"I wanted our album to sound like an overproduced Strokes with stadium-sized Oasis chords, but with Streets lyrics. Just positive, life-affirming melodies, and a massive wall of sound that's big enough to fill an arena."
That's been McCann's driving force since he first started playing. "If it was a choice of doing my science exam or going to Sheffield to play a gig the night before, and not getting back till four in the morning before the exams, I'd do that," he says. "Plus, I used to just sit in class, writing songs."
In early Catfish interviews, McCann managed to offend the British press by bragging that he wanted to be famous enough to travel around by private helicopter. Sans media coverage, he took to relentless self-promotion. He spent all his money pressing up hundreds of demo CDs, which he would place on the windshields of cars parked at English festivals.
The aspiring rock star would also take the train to London, researching the names of record company execs and bluffing his way past the reception desks, pretending he was late for an important meeting. He still recalls how Kasabian guitarist Serge Pizzorno refused a demo he offered him on the way into an arena show.
"Everyone had written us off as these scruffy kids, but suddenly we had a good year last year," marvels McCann. "From the beginning, we wanted to make something of ourselves, as opposed to just sitting at home, playing video games and getting normal jobs. We really do want to be the biggest band in the world."