'Catfish Haven is soulful howling over an acoustic guitar turned way up. Hopeful yearning for better days echoed through amps and a drum kit.’
Three lush wet slashes of acoustic guitar open Catfish Haven‘s debut mini-LP, Please Come Back, before a breathless testifying voice barks, “We’re Catfish Haven and this is what we do…”, as the group launches into some joyous, drunk-on-love hoedown that sounds like Neutral Milk Hotel conducting a symposium on ‘soul’ Dexy’s Midnight Runners. What it is that Catfish Haven ‘do’, is overhaul classic AM Radio rock with a ramshackle, moon-gazing romanticism, tracing an ecstatic emotional leyline from Creedence to My Morning Jacket. It’s pretty lovely, actually.
George Hunter (that voice, that guitar) sits shivering in the Chicago winter, but warm memories shared over crackly telephone line keep the blood from freezing.
“I grew up in a place called Catfish Haven, deep in Missouri,” he begins, a hairy Marcel Proust caught in rapture. “It was a total of seven trailers spread out on a piece of land in the middle of nowhere; you had to take a gravel road to the main highway to get into town. I went to this weird school and sat next to this guy called Gus on the bus, who ate fuckin’ glue. [laughs] It was a crazy fuckin’ time as a kid, man, but it was one of the better memories of my life. Calling the group ‘Catfish Haven’ makes it feel a little more like home to me.”
The music is, appropriately, dreamy, nostalgic, warm. “The fun never ended at Catfish Haven,” he chuckles, whimsically. “It was a real ‘Huck Finn’ experience.”
Innocence and purity and love make up the key threads of Catfish Haven’s lyrical concerns, for which George is unrepentant.
“I like to focus on the positive things in life,” he nods, “and I think the most positive thing in life is love. It’s something you can’t really define, but you know it… Its almost like a religion, you can’t touch it but you know it, but you can’t really explain it, but you understand it…”
It makes sense that you’d spend so many songs trying to unravel it.
“It’s a mystery,” he agrees, before his words take on a more solid, assured tone, “but I have been in love before...” But, having nailed down his elusive obsession quite so firmly, he retracts into a kinda warm, profound vagueness. “…and, uh, yeah… I guess I just try to focus more on the positive things…”
Just over half a decade ago, Hunter relocated to Chicago, hooking up with bandmates Miguel Castillo (bass) and Ryan Farnham (drums), two Illinois homeboys who helped him adjust to big city life. “It was pretty overwhelming at first,” he admits, “But now it feels like home.” And if he ever misses those carefree days, Catfish Haven will continue to offer him a way to tap into that magical, never-forgotten past.
(c) Stevie Chick 2006