SOUL TO ROLL Catfish Haven

The Chicago band steps out if
its own R&B shadow and brings on a raging rocker.

 

BY KENNY HERZOG

 

The hardest-working bands, the ones that stay truest to
their vision, even as that evolves in unexpected ways, are often the most under-appreciated.
But like their native city of Chicago’s
beleaguered Cubs, the boys from Catfish Haven soldier on.

 

Their latest, Devastator (Secretly Canadian), is their fourth release and third full-length. It’s both
miles away from the run-of-the-mill, rough-hewn jams of 2005’s Good Friends and crucial inches apart
from 2006’s Please Come Back mini-album
and subsequent Tell Me LP. The mere
choice to title their new record with such a declaratively aggressive
descriptor segregates it thematically from the warm-and-fuzzy days of Good Friends.

 

“It most certainly
was [intentional],” singer/guitarist George Hunter says of the tough-guy title.
“We knew this record was gonna raise hell from listeners expecting some soul
revue. It was a nice departure with a kill ’em all feel to it.”

 

 

In other words, unlike the dominant sense of yearning on Friends‘ two follow-ups, Devastator is announcing loud and clear:
Our music, and our band, are no longer going to sit around and wait for your
validation. We’re going to bring the fucking rock ‘n’ roll ruckus right to your
front door. The soul hasn’t left their earthly vessels, but Devastator has a distinct ’70s radio, Dazed and Confused sort of vibe. Which,
of course, could lead to its own equivalent pigeonholing.

 

“We’re not fans of
the classic rock tag,” Hunter warns, “but the tunes on Devastator
definitely reflect a sign of the Catfish times. It was time to get loud.”

 

 

And in that
regard, the album essentially pulls a Jekyll and Hyde act. The first six-pack
of songs contains familiar elements: a faux-Apollo Amateur Night-style intro, a
total J.B.’s funk workout on “Set In Stone” and no-nonsense garage
riffing/romantic ruminations on “Invitation To Love.” But then comes the
startling, Thin Lizzy-worthy instrumental intermission track, “Halftime Show,”
which serves as the perfect Side B starter before kick-starting into some
serious latter-sequencing licks.

 

 

“That was the idea,” confirms Hunter. “Call us old fashioned. We sequenced
the tracks
to be compatible with vinyl. We still believe… we approached it like a dance
party and a rock ‘n’ roll show in bed together. Side one slips under the covers
with side two.”

 

And they stuck to
their suddenly steroid-fueled guns, aware that Devastator‘s decidedly hard-rockin’ flipside – even relative
ballads like “No Escape” rely on tuned down, hard-blues riffs, rather than
approachable boogie or acoustic reprieves – could draw a line in the sand
amongst the fans they’d accrued up through Tell Me.

 

“Considering our
past, we were fully aware that songs like ‘Halftime Show’ and ‘Full Speed’
would stick out like sore thumbs,” Hunter states matter-of-factly. “But with Devastator, we just couldn’t keep a lid
on some of our influences. Hell, Motörhead and Little Richard can share a bill
anytime if you ask me.” (Hunter also dreams of a one-time get-together between
Teddy Pendergrass and The Detroit Wheels.)

Of course, the close-knit trio (which rounds out with
bassist Miguel Castillo and drummer Ryan Farnham) had their hiccups of
insecurity along the way. When you’re a band who’ve suddenly been christened as
the indie rock second-coming of Otis Redding, but your personal background is also
informed by all strains of punk, classic and indie rock, it can be tough to
discern when your latest creative path has been carved out of unshakeable
impulse or the desire to exceed others’ expectations.

 

“It’s
tough to say,” Hunter concedes of such a quandary. “I know we played our balls
off and wanted to solidify everything we do best, but there’s always something
you feel you forgot to say or do when making a record. Like a worried mother.”

 

However, whatever
conscious strides toward individuality the collective has forged, they’re still
going to be considered amongst the larger lexicon of contemporary indie
culture. But those artificial quantifiers, which are largely out of their
control anyhow, don’t seem to interrupt the threesome’s mission and chemistry.
Which may explain the consistent appeal of their albums and romper-stomping
live shows, as well as their veritable homelessness in the world of what’s cool
for a passing moment.

 

“Music today is so
saturated that even extremely successful artists are a needle in a haystack,”
Hunter explains. “You can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself.”

 

That, in a
nutshell, is all Catfish Haven plans on as they continue their march into the
musical memory of future generations. What they do is, and has always been,
timeless, so it’s hard to imagine a concise chronology for what lies ahead.
Even for the band members themselves.

 

“We’re proud of
everything we do, but the hunger to reach further than before will always be
there,” says Hunter. “We’re gonna keep movin’ and shakin’ the only way we know
how.”

 

 

[Photo Credit: Jim
Newberry]

 

 

 

 

 

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