If ever the phrase “best of both worlds” was applicable, it’s with Chicago-based Catfish Haven. Sure the notion might be a tad cliched, however there is nothing hackneyed about the sounds of an acoustic guitar fronting a driving bass and drum set dishing out pure rock and roll.
Catfish Haven, named for the childhood trailer park in Missouri where lead singer/guitarist George Hunter grew up, blends Hunter’s folksy acoustic home-grown sensibilities with a few pumps of punk influence as they infuse the action and energy of the Windy City. The result is a manic, lyrically sensitive release titled Tell Me, set to release Sept. 15 on Secretly Canadian Records.
With their bluesy, almost Motownish sound, Catfish Haven’s music answers the not-so eternal question of what the rest of Otis Day and the Knights’ set in “Animal House” would have sounded like with Brother Bluto on the mic. In short, this is grab-a-pint-whip-your-hair-around-and-start-feeling-good music. It’s a sound that they’ve been growing into for some time now, Hunter says, and it hits the mark in Tell Me, the band’s first full-length album.
“We’ve been becoming more and more of a band in a true sense,” Hunter says. “Musically, now we can finish each others sentences.”
For the most part, those sentences are of the compound variety, blending the “take-it-as-it-is” punk element, with an accessible acoustic side. The blend can be traced almost directly to the upbringing of Hunter, who penned all of the tracks on the latest release.
“Most of the earliest memories I have are of Catfish Haven and my family is very Southern Baptist. They taught me to be really meat and potatoes and be grateful for what I have,” Hunter says of his mixed roots. “I also dig the fast pace of the big city. There’s always something going on. Life and love are just so abundant. It’s like a big ant farm.”
In a way, Hunter’s own musical development has actually worked backwards. When he came to Chicago after growing up in rural Missouri, Hunter involved himself in the city’s punk scene, where he met future Catfish Haven mates Miguel Castillo (bass) and Ryan Farnham (drums). Prior to that, Hunter busied himself with a number of projects, constantly looking for an outlet for his stream of songs.
“I had all these tunes, so I would go to a few guys I knew and say, ‘Let’s start a band.’ Then I’d get these other songs and start a side project. Before I knew it I’d have six f—-ing side projects and I didn’t even know which band I was in originally.”
Things have settled down now that he’s formed up with Catfish Haven, and Hunter has embraced more of his rootsy upbringing, switching from his electric to an acoustic guitar.
“It felt more human than an electric [guitar],” Hunter says. “It felt like it had more emotion.”
Catfish Haven’s been leaving their mark, as evidenced by past shows with renowned acts like My Morning Jacket, Kings of Leon and Billy Corgan’s Zwan. More recently, Catfish Haven got to strut their stuff (with the help of a six-member backing group that included keys, alto and baritone sax, trumpet and a pair of backing vocalists) at this year’s Lollapalooza.
“It was a blast,” Hunter says. “The coolest thing is that you go everywhere in these golf carts and people will just hop on. You’ll be riding around and you’ll be sitting there with Pete Wentz from Fall Out Boy or the guys from Flaming Lips. You are bumping into people all the time.”
Music enthusiasts will have the chance to bump into the band when they play the Black Cat in D.C. Sept. 19 along with Magnolia Electric Co.