If you can imagine Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes developing a little rasp in his voice and losing that '60s demeanor, then you have a slight idea of what Catfish Haven lead singer and guitarist George Hunter sounds like. As for a visual, think of Robinson spliced with a younger version of the character Wade Garrett from the movie Roadhouse.
Catfish Haven With Jeremy Enigk, Wild Sweet Orange, Pablo, and the Village Green. Chop Suey, 1325 E. Madison St., 324-8000, www.chopsuey.com. $20. 5 p.m. Sat., Dec. 30.
Onstage, Hunter sweats, growls, and stomps his boots during upbeat songs like "Still Hungover" and "Let It Go." Though Catfish Haven has a classic rock sound, the track "Another Late Night" is a booty shaker that could have been played at a high-school prom in the late '50s. But when drummer Ryan Farnham and bassist Miguel Castillo slow down the groove, that's when Hunter really shines as a singer. He coos over their more mellow tunes. Actually, most of their songs are love-laced—not in a sappy, pop-music way, but with genuine lyrics backed up by acoustic rock, pop, and occasionally even slices of punk.
"George likes love," says Castillo of his frontman.
The three band members, who grew up together in South Chicago, have been friends for years. Playing in many bands around town as youngsters, they eventually formed the present lineup and have slowly picked up steam, most recently via their signing with Indiana-based Secretly Canadian Records in 2005. According to Castillo, Hunter chose the name Catfish Haven "because it's the name of a trailer park he lived in briefly as a kid in Missouri."
"He wanted to choose something that would remind him of his youth," says Castillo. "We all like it because it's dirty sounding."
Though they usually play as a trio, this summer at Lollapalooza, they blew a crowd of a couple thousand away when they were joined onstage with a nine-piece gospel group. This addition gave Catfish more horns, percussion, and harmony than Catfish Haven could ever fathom pulling off live. That group also performed on their full-length debut album, Tell Me, which was released this past September. Castillo says that although they love playing with the gospel members, they simply can't afford to bring them on tour with them—at least not yet.
An EP might appear in 2007, but Catfish Haven are planning to do a lot of touring, and they'll do some writing whenever they find the time. When asked if he and the other members of the group have quit their day jobs yet, he replies: "Well, we don't really have day jobs. We just live really cheap." Asked when he thinks the band will ultimately be successful, Castillo replies: "We already [are]. If this all ended tomorrow, we've had a blast and seen the world. It's been fun touring all over America and beyond."
Perhaps Castillo is correct. In 2006, Catfish Haven released their first full-length album, played Lollapalooza and South by Southwest, toured Europe, and opened for bands like My Morning Jacket, the Hold Steady, and the Heartless Bastards. Even though they've toured all over, Catfish Haven will play Seattle for the first time as part of KEXP's "New Year's Weekend Bender" at Chop Suey, and at press time, they were negotiating an in-studio performance to be aired earlier that day. Not bad for a band that only five years ago had to beg friends and family to come to their shows.