Hailing from North Wales, Catfish and the Bottlemen have been making waves for quite a while but ever since the release of their debut album, The Balcony, in 2014 the band has proven to be one of the finest acts British Indie Rock has to offer since the likes of Oasis.
In the drum chair powering the band from the back of the stage is Bob Hall. Having been a band member since almost the very beginning, Bob has not only experienced the whole journey from being a small pub band, to playing Glastonbury in front of thousands of people, but his on-spot heavy drumming also contributed strongly in the bands success.
I caught up with Bob in London to chat about influences, his experiences being part in the Young Drummer Of The Year competition and his time with Catfish and the Bottlemen.
Who were your influences growing up as a drummer?
My influences started to change as soon as I joined the band. Before that, I mean I wouldn’t have called myself a session drummer because I was so young and still in school, but I would take any opportunity to play in bands, ticking as many genres as possible. My influences back then were kind of all over the place – in a good way – but as soon as I joined the band it steered more towards band drummers, for example Ronnie Vannucci who plays for The Killers. His presence behind the kit is just amazing. He could just play 2 and 4 and it just sounds ridiculous. At the moment I’m particularly trying to embrace that. Live I want to have that presence. More so, I think it’s not specifically about how technically you’re playing, but about your demeanour.
One of my favourite drummers is Benny Greb. I love his groove, he’s just a monster.
And then at the minute I’m into Mike Johnston. The structure of his education is just perfect for being on the road. I can watch one of his 20 minute lessons and I can take that chunk of information and try it out in soundcheck. It’s just really good bite-sized chunks and it makes me still learn while on the road. I think it’s so easy to just get in a routine of doing a gig and being satisfied whereas I’m always trying to get better but it’s quite hard in a touring environment.
Do you get the chance to practise on the road?
Yeah, I’ve just made that happen. We’re getting to the stage now where the venues are big enough to have a room dedicated as a rehearsal room. Even just having a small kit: kick, snare and hats is enough to learn patterns and all that. It’s just nicer than having just a practise pad set up.
Did you have lessons growing up?
No, not initially. I was just self-taught for many years but started getting lessons when I wanted to get my grades done. I learned to read and other bits and bobs as well. Apart from that It was all just self-taught and mikeslessons.com.
Back then you also were a contestant on Young Drummer Of The Year and made it into the last 10 twice!
Yes, that was 2009 and 2010. I don’t even know how I found out about it because I grew up in North Wales and that’s so out of the loop with everything. Probably stumbled across it on YouTube or something like that and just thought I’d give it a go.
As soon as I did that I felt like I found the drum world and I got obsessed and influenced by it all. I did the Ultimate Drum Experience for a couple of years too and at that point you’re deep into the drum world!
I’ve actually kept in touch with a lot of people from YDOTY too, especially Ollie Harding and Rhys Morgan. I think YDOTY has the best track record because everyone I kept in touch with from the competition really is doing successful stuff.
It’s just great that we have such a great drummer community. Everyone is there to help and inspire each other.
I was involved in a lot of stuff. I remember being in school and it would get to Friday evening and I’d be driving to Manchester to play with a band, stay over at theirs, joining another band the next day, fitting in a recording session on the Sunday and then back to school 8am on Monday just being flat out. People would never believe me what I’d been up to over the weekend.
When Catfish came along I just immediately knew that’s what I wanted so I focused on that. I think you have to make that conscious decision that if you want it, you just have to be willing to drop everything for it and give it your all. I think that’s definitely been a part of the band. Even from the age of 16 everyone was just willing to sacrifice everything.
How did Catfish and the Bottlemen come about?
I come from a small town called Llandudno. There is really only one studio to go to – actually it’s even a bit of a drive away – but it’s where all the bands pass through. A family friend had a blues band and asked me if I could record some songs with them. When Catfish was starting to getting some demos together they also recorded there. They needed a drummer so they asked the producer if he knew anyone local. I was 16 at the time and it all just happened because I recorded a cover of The Shadows with some older dudes in the middle of Wales. I think at the beginning you just want to play, so you say yes to anything. You just have to let it take over.
I was very young and I just wanted to do it for the experience and the fun and then Catfish comes of it. It’s pretty crazy.
You’ve been with the band pretty much from the beginning. When did it start to kick off?
Yes, I joined the band in 2010 and I think it was at least three years before the record deal. It was weird actually, getting off the train to get here I walked past the Barfly in Camden and that’s where it literally all started.
Because there aren’t many real venues around the place we are from we’d just play all the pubs. Usually when you were getting the pub gigs it’s a covers deal but we’d always say: We play three hours but we want to play three hours of our own songs. That has proven to be such a good thing because it was a proving ground for the songs. We had written 40-50 songs and after a whole evening at the pub you’d know which ones would go down well. It got to the point where people asked “Uh, who’s this song by?” and we could just say “That’s us!”. Playing all these pub gigs did then fund us to do a two week tour of venues around the UK. We tried to get a London slot every two weeks but that was a big deal because it’s a 4-5 hour drive just to get there. We did that quite often and sometimes there were only 20 people there but it started growing and we’re really proud we did it that way! We just wanted to keep it old school and be more of a peoples band – and I think that’s the key to longevity.
We did a showcase at the Barfly at some point when a manager approached us and within a week an agent and a label got involved. So yeah, that place has a little memory in there for me every time I walk past it.
Where does the band take their influences from?
It varies quite widely really. The Strokes, The Killers, Van (front man of the band) is a big fan of Mike Skinner. Oasis is a big one, as we just want to make universal guitar music. When we worked on our last album (The Ride, released May 2016) it was the question – what producer and what sound do we want to go for? We still wanted to just be a guitar band and bring that back. You know, you listen to the Oasis records and just a single guitar would fill the speakers. We found out Dave Sardy did a lot of the Oasis records so we went with him. We just wanted that massive guitar sound and keep it simple as a band.
Of course there’s the inspiration from the classics too like The Beatles and The Doors.
The drumming is pretty full on – heavy grooves, big tom verses…
It was actually weird at first because before I joined the band I was using light sticks, 7A’s just tinkering in my bedroom trying to be quiet and even the gigs prior the band would be acousticy singer-songwriters. I remember the first rehearsal with the band, I was feeding of their energy cause even in rehearsals everyone will give it everything, and I had pins and needles after the first song. I had never felt like this before, so I had to up the stick ante moving up to some 5B’s. Being young even a 5A would feel like a tree trunk.
With the band it’s just all more about the performance. Growing up I had been nothing about the visual performance, to me it was all about what’s being played. Now I’m actually in a total shift: the playing is ingrained now, it’s all muscle-memory, so now I really want to focus on the performance. Like I’ve been saying about Ronnie – I’m particularly working on having that presence on stage. It’s quite tough when Van is doing front flips and standing on amps though, so I’ve got some stiff competition. I’m definitely not the one pushing over cymbal stands, I love the gear too much.
Your drum sound with the band is pretty old school.
Yeah, I’m playing a Gretsch Brooklyn in some pretty big sizes with a 24” kick drum, going down to a 18” floor tom. I also have a USA Custom on order for my rig in the USA. It’s my first ever real custom kit where I’ve chosen every detail and configuration of the drums. I’m going to call it a Black and White Chocolate Duco, which will also have some vintage marine pearl inlays on the hoops. I’m hoping it’s going to look vintage and classic, it’s all about the worn look.
What I love about these kits is that even with the modern ranges you still have that old school vibe and sound, combined with their sturdy hardware and build quality which is perfect for touring. This is the best of both worlds, it’s a no-brainer.
My drum tech Joe Cox just completely got me into the older gear. I’d go to his little workshop, see all the vintage gear and it just struck me. Especially on tour in America he meets up with all these companies, he’s got so many amazing connections. It’s a dangerous black hole to get into. I’m just waiting for the day where I have a nice little studio to come home to and it’s just full of gear waiting for me. That’s the dream, isn’t it? I started my collection slowly but surely. I’ve got a few Ludwig snares on the go, we’ll see. In America we’re in a different city every day, so you’re just on Craigslist looking for bargains. The exchange rate is good most of the time so you can just pick up these absolute gems because on six to eight week tours you’re driving through every little small town – that’s where you find them. People who don’t know what they are or pawn shops. It’s just a fun thing to do.
Joe actually got me onto that too. He said it doesn’t matter what you buy, it’s got a memory attached to it. Even if it just goes into a box when you get home, you take it out one day and it takes you back to that time and place. It’s all about collecting memories.
It’s a pretty physical gig. Do you warm up before a show?
Yep. As a band we jam a few tunes in the rehearsal room and I’ll probably do another 10 minutes or so on the pad. I used to do Tommy Igoes lifetime warmup for about a year straight. I was obsessed with it, almost like a pre-gig ritual, I just had to do it before I went on stage. Now I’m trying to be more lose. After we warm up as a band it’s just like a pre-show party, so now I try to apply some rudimental ideas to the songs we’re listening to before going onstage. It’s cool because it forces you to play the rudiments at those different tempos. I found just doing that ten minute warm up you just tend to do it at one tempo. So it’s great now because I can be present with the band before stage, we’re all in one room vibing off each other, but I’m also warming up.
Yes, the majority is. As the shows get bigger there are just so many things, for example the lighting is timed to tempo. Personally I’m a perfectionist. If I look back and notice a song was 5bpm faster one night, I’d be annoyed with myself. Just for consistency in front of so many people I’m happy to keep it to a click track at the minute.
To me now it’s just a percussion instrument, I don’t hear it as a click. It’s good when it’s subconscious and natural. It just means you’re that much more comfortable with it in the studio. It’s bad that it’s becoming my comfort blanket though. We did a secret set at Glastonbury and that was just acoustic: kick, snare, hats and acoustic guitars. Obviously that wasn’t to click and I found that more nerve-wracking than playing a massive show with click. That sparked something in my head, I definitely want to start practising not to a click. It’s weird how your playing changes like that.
The new record has quite a few tempo changes. One of the songs has around a 25 bpm drop into the last section and I’m having to do that on my own terms live. So yeah, I’m definitely getting back to not using a click live to get more of that raw feel but as a perfectionist I’m a sucker for a click.
Did you come across a particular challenge once the venues got bigger?
Not really, people get surprised. For example if one of my mates came to a gig last year when we played Academy’s and then they come to a gig last week in front of 8000 people they think it’s such a crazy jump. What they don’t see is that in that year we’ve done all the steps in between. One gig is 1000, the next one 1200, then 1400… and it just becomes that natural progression. You definitely notice the venues getting bigger but you adapt at the same pace. We always knew we want to play big venues and we’re not going to stop till we play stadiums.
When I had some time off over Christmas I went to see a gig at Brixton Academy and thought ‘this is huge, I’d love to play here!’. Then it clicked in my mind and I realised we played there a month earlier two nights in a row. When you’re in it, it’s just natural.
Sometimes you need the outside perspective to realise what’s happening and to appreciate it.
This summer it’s all about festivals. I love the festivals this year. Because we’ve been doing it for so long you walk around and it just becomes a social event. There are just so many drummers and musicians who became mates. You might as well just get the BBQ on the go! Really looking forward to that.
That will take us to the seven week American tour in September/October. We had that headline tour booked in and then Mumford & Sons offered us the support slot for their Amphitheatre tour so we’re going to cram that in as well. That’s going to be amazing. Some of those venues are on my bucket list. Then we’re coming back for the arena tour in November. I woke up this morning and saw there are already dates being put in for next year all around the world – so yeah, it will be full on touring-wise.
Do you get to some time off in between?
I’d love to come home and have the opportunity to jam and play with other people to keep my drumming on my toes but you usually get home and you have like three days off and you just collapse. I’m very bad at it though. I always feel it’s pointless if I’m not productive with my time. At the minute I’m actually forcing myself to just chill out. It’s really hard when you’re so used to waking up and there’s a day sheet going that tells you what you’re doing at what time. I think a lot of people don’t realise that being a touring musician is such a mental-game. On the road I’m trying to get into photography a bit just because I want to document what we’re doing. I love travelling and I’m in the lucky position of travelling the world with a band playing amazing shows every night so I want to document it properly.
Thanks for your time Bob. Have an awesome tour!
Interview by Tobias Miorin
Photos – Jordan Curtis Hughes