Catfish & the Bottlemen: How the Road Made ‘The Ride’
U.K.-based foursome Catfish & the Bottlemen didn’t hesitate to capitalize on the increasing roar that met last year’s debut LP, The Balcony. The ragged alt-rock LP yielded music festival scream-alongs “Cocoon” and “Kathleen,” and netted them the British Breakthrough Act at the 2016 Brit Awards. At the end of May, they’re back to enjoy The Ride on Capitol Records. Aided by producer Dave Sardy (Nine Inch Nails, Oasis), their sophomore album chronicles the emotional rollercoaster of touring that is now their reality, from the backstage intrigue of “Soundcheck” to missed connections across time zones in “7.”
Before their string of U.S. dates, frontman Van McCann and guitarist Johnny “Bondy” Bond checked in to explain their obsession with black and white, big up their hero Noel Gallagher, and try to sort out the difference between chasing tail and chasing their own tails.
How did The Ride come together?
Van McCann, vocals: It was over a long weekend. When I write, I just stay up. All of the song ideas and stories were already there from going out on tour. Then we rented an old, abandoned bomb shelter up the road from this cottage right on the border of Wales. [The band] knew exactly what we wanted to do with the songs to make them sound as big as they do now. They put their stamp on it. Then we got our producer to fly over, D. Sardy. He’s like a hero of ours. We played him 15 songs the first day. Then we picked the 11 songs the next day. He was expected to stay for a week, but we sent him home early.
Why was it essential to have Dave Sardy produce this record?
Johnny “Bondy” Bond, guitars: We came to the realization that a lot of the records that we loved the sound of were made by him. Whether it be Dandy Warhols, Oasis or single tracks from bands that you wouldn’t necessarily listen to. His name was on them all.
McCann: Every drum sound and acoustic guitar sound we grew up loving, we’d look back into those records and realize that it’s his name on them. Every sound that I like in my brain was created by this guy. Ida Maria, I loved her record when I was a kid. He was like, “I made her record, man.” There’s no two ways about it. He was always going to do the album before we even asked him. I wrote it based around the way his records sounded. … I think he’ll make all of our albums now as long as we can pay him.
The lyrical themes of the record play out like snapshots from a tour. What was it like to bring a year on the road to life?
McCann: For me, writing it was no different from when I was writing when I was 16 in my bedroom. Nothing really changed. I was writing songs about people who were five minutes away from me or around the corner from me then. But now I’m always on a plane somewhere, so I’m writing about people who are seven hours away. That’s why that tune’s called “7.” I don’t really say this is a song about being on the road. I wrote 11 songs that people will want to hear. Everything’s written based around life. Everything’s based around people moving and people singing, as opposed to pulling on the heartstring or being on the radio. It’s all about arms being in the air, hips moving, that kind of stuff.
In band photos and videos — even your recent appearance on Colbert — you guys overwhelmingly favor black and white. Why?
McCann: We like the old-fashioned way. We found that touring 300 shows a year was better than trying to make a video go viral. … Black and white, it reminds me of the old days when the Beatles and the Kinks would just stand there and play their songs.
Bondy: It’s a way of making things look timeless, as well.
How did you settle on an alligator eating his tail for The Ride‘s cover?
McCann: I really wanted an alligator because I was writing the songs in the back lounge of a pub called the Alligator Lounge. That’s where we’d go to smoke and cut loose. It has green neon lights in it. When I moved into my place, I bought green neon lights for my kitchen so it could glow like that back room.
Bondy: It can be up to your interpretation.
McCann: “Are you guys chasing tail?” It’s not going after girls, it’s like retracing your steps in America.
Bondy: Like going in circles.
McCann: It might seem like it matches the lyrical content. Like “7,” for instance, where it’s always about being away from someone. Longing for them. I guess that represents chasing your tail, in a sense.
What was it like meeting Noel Gallagher?
McCann: Bondy was in a band when he was younger, Noel hand-picked their band to support them.
Bondy: So, I was thanking him for that time, and what it led up to. It was before we were working with the same management. We just sat and talked about music for a half hour. He was really nice. … If you look at the songs that Oasis did. There’s that level of authenticity about everything they do. They’ve not paid too much to what’s going on at the time. That’s the best way to do it because you don’t go out of fashion with what you’re doing. People can see it’s genuine.
He’s built quite a legacy over the years. How often do you think about your own legacy?
McCann: We wake up every day and talk about it. We never think, “Look what we’ve done”; we’re always thinking, “Even this album is still getting warmed up.”