Gig preview: The Cat Empire at O2 Academy Leeds
Australian alternative band The Cat Empire return to the UK in March and April for an 12-date tour consolidating their ever-increasing fan base with their infectious music.
Formed in Melbourne over a decade ago by vocalist and percussionist Felix Riebl, keyboard player Oliver McGill and bassist Ryan Monro, they took the local club scene by storm with a blend of jazz fusion, rock and any other musical genre you could name.
By the end of 2001, thay had increased to a sextet with the addition of Harry Angus on trumpet, Will Hull-Brown on drums and Jamshid ‘Jumps’ Khadiwala on ‘decks’.
Playing sets of highly danceable music, they have achieved cult status over here by word of mouth.
The Cat Empire have so far released six albums and have sold more than 500,000 records in Australia alone – each album going multi-platinum.
Their latest release is Rising With The Sun, a collection of 11 brand new tracks which has already received rave reviews.
The band played the Edinburgh Festival in 2002, and the Cambridge Folk Festival in 2005 and last toured Britain a year ago.
Whilst on tour in Australia, singer Riebl takes the time out to try to explain the band and their music.
When asked to describe their sound, he was hesitant.
“I don’t really want to describe it!” he say. “The band’s elusiveness is one of its strengths. In very broad terms The Cat Empire is at home at a festival, where there are many different sounds and many different people.”
His family are all classical musicians, but Riebl doesn’t think there was a link between that and his music.
“I think the emotion of family life had more influence on my life as a songwriter than the direct musical link,” he says. “My uncle is a violinist, my sister a pianist and my brother a counter-tenor and they all play music very different from what I chose. But there were instruments around so that has to rub off somewhere.
“Everyone in the band has different influences and backgrounds.”
It certainly makes for an interesting mix, and it is refreshing to learn that The Cat Empire have no interest in being ‘fashionable’.
“My personal influences were Rage Against The Machine, Bruce Springsteen, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan and Dire Straits to name a few,” Riebl says.
The band has built a reputation on the back of their live performances; they have a musicality and a powerful interaction on stage that flows out to the audience.
“Most nights we perform to a lot of bright faces looking back at us, that’s a continuously great experience.”
The new album seems to have a reggae ‘feel’ to it in some of the songs. But what does Riebl think?
“I honestly feel Rising With The Sun is one of our strongest albums. It has a lot of heart and a lot of energy.
“In terms of its style, I think it sounds like us; if I mentioned reggae I’d have to mention all the hundred other influences and get caught up in that whole ‘genre’ mess.
“We wanted to write songs that would stand up live and I thnk it’s going to transition to stage really well.”
Riebl is happy how things have turned out.
“We’ve grown as a band and we’re now doing things that we only dreamed about when we first started.”
Such is the unity in the band, the line-up today is the same as it was back in 2001, and Felix puts it down to how the band operates.
“A band like this relies on the members having freedom. Plus it’s partly luck, partly determination, partly compromise and partly walking out to a great audience every night.”
Felix has some great memories of playing in the UK last year.
“We played the UK in June last year,” he says. “I have very fond memories of that run, especially at the Royal Albert Hall, where I had the chance to sing with my younger brother. The crowds have always been great in Britain.
“I’m really excited to be coming back, it’s gonna be great.”
The Cat Empire play at O2 Academy Leeds on Thursday April 7. For details visit http://thecatempire.com/