The Cat Empire are an Australian ska and jazz band formed in 1999. Core members are Felix Riebl (percussion and vocals), Harry James Angus (trumpet and vocals), Will Hull-Brown (drums), Jamshid "Jumps" Khadiwhala (decks, percussion), Ollie McGill (keyboard and backing vocals), and Ryan Monro (bass and backing vocals). They are often supplemented by The Empire Horns, a brass duo composed of Ross Irwin (trumpet) and Kieran Conrau (trombone), and have recurring guest musicians. Their sound is a fusion of jazz, ska, funk and rock with heavy Latin influences.
The Cat Empire's origins are traced back to Jazz Cat, a Melbourne-based band, led by Steve Sedergreen in 1999. Jazz Cat was a nine-piece group from different schools and backgrounds which debuted at the Manly Jazz Festival in Sydney. They gigged around Melbourne's jazz club scene including at Dizzy's (Sedergreen was a part-owner). Late that year, Jazz Cat spawned The Cat Empire, originally as a three-piece, with Ollie McGill on keyboards, Felix Riebl on percussion and vocals and Ryan Monro on double bass. The band's name was taken from the title of a drawing by Riebl's younger brother, Max, and its distinctive cat's eye icon, known as "Pablo", was created by Ian McGill, Ollie McGill's father. For a few months both groups performed alternate Thursdays at Dizzy's. The Cat Empire's sound is a fusion of jazz, ska, funk, indie and rock with heavy Latin influences. They started playing a variety of gigs at other clubs including Bennett's Lane. The band expanded in July 2001 by adding Harry James Angus on trumpet, Will Hull-Brown (ex-Jazz Cat) on drums and Jamshid "Jumps" Khadiwala as a DJ on turntables (later on percussion).
In late 2001, the band appeared in the Spiegeltent at the Melbourne Festival. By year's end, they had released an independent single "Feline" that October, and a live six-track extended play, Live @ Adelphia was released in December. In early 2002, the group played gigs at the Adelaide Festival of Arts, and in March, they headlined the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and St Kilda Film Festival. The ensemble commenced its first overseas tour on the West Coast of the United States playing at The Matrix in San Francisco and at the Napa Valley Wine Auction in June. The band received a Music for the Future grant to fund the recording of a live album, The Sun, at Melbourne's Adelphia studio. At the Edinburgh Festival, they played sixteen successive shows in the Late 'n' Live slot between 3am and 5am. They performed at the 2002 Melbourne Festival and a series of local gigs; Kate Ceberano appeared as a guest vocalist at their final show for the year.
The Cat Empire recorded its debut studio album, The Cat Empire, in seven months during 2003 with producer Andy Baldwin in Melbourne. Between recording sessions they toured Australia, including appearing at the St Kilda Festival with Ceberano, and at the East Coast Blues & Roots Music Festival in April. The ensemble was nominated in two categories at the Australian Jazz Bell Awards. They successfully applied for an International Pathways grant from The Australian Arts Council. The band was featured on BBC Four performing at the 2003 WOMAD Festival. The lead single, "Hello", was placed on high rotation on BBC Radio 1 in August. The group's growing live and critical reputation enabled them to approach record companies for a deal to issue the album in August. They signed with EMI and Virgin Records, and, in the UK, with an independent label. Today, the first album is out of print.
The Cat Empire released their second album, Two Shoes on 19 April 2005. It was recorded in Havana, Cuba, at Egrem Studios, late in 2004, with production by The Cat Empire, Riebl and Jerry Boys. It debuted at number 1 and remains their only number-one album to date. The tracks were more Latin in flavour, with a higher proportion written by Angus than on the first album and it contained some songs previously released on their debut. Allmusic's Jeff Tamarkin wrote "Skipping merrily from alt-rock crunch to hip-hop beats, landing on reggae/ska, Latin jazz, and points in between, Two Shoes is clever and brainy, danceable and absorbing". The Australian version contains a hidden track, called "1001", which is coupled with the track, "The Night That Never End". The lead single, "Sly", was issued ahead of the album on 28 March and reached the top 30. The song appeared on EA Sports' FIFA 08 soundtrack. "The Car Song", written by Angus, was released as the second single in July, and peaked in the top 50.
In July, the band played two sets at the Cambridge Folk Festival (Cambridge, United Kingdom). Later in the month, they performed a set on Sunday evening of Sheep Music (Presteigne, Wales) Festival for World music. In October, Two Shoes Deluxe Edition DVD was released, which contained live footage of Lullaby and The Car Song, a documentary on the making of the album in Cuba, the original video clips created for the album, and behind-the-scenes footage. The ensemble also featured on a Triple J CD entitled Like a Version, featuring cover versions of songs performed by artists on Mel Bampton's show, Mel In The Morning. Their track was a version of "Hotel California" (originally by the Eagles), sung in French by Angus. By the end of 2005, The Cat Empire achieved double platinum certificate and Two Shoes achieved platinum status.
Cities to So Many Nights
In March 2006, The Cat Empire participated in the opening ceremony of the Melbourne Commonwealth Games, playing their own compositions for approximately an hour as the Games' athletes entered the stadium, introducing the group to an estimated worldwide audience of one billion. The band signed an American record deal with Velour Recordings, which released a modified version of the second Australian album, Two Shoes with different tracks.
On 1 April 2006, the group issued their third studio album, Cities (aka Cities: The Cat Empire Project) in Australia, which peaked at number 11. Described by the group as "between a tribute to our own city and an experiment in sounds that we've found abroad". A limited edition of 10,000 individually numbered copies were made available. At the ARIA Music Awards of 2006, they won the 'Best World Music Album' category and received a nomination for 'Engineer of the Year' for Adam Rhodes' work.
The band toured extensively over the year, visiting Asia, America and Europe and playing over 45 gigs in 12 countries.
The ensemble started 2007 with a busy touring schedule and US TV appearances including the Late Show with David Letterman in February, followed by The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson in March. Angus' side project, Jackson Jackson, released their first album, The Fire Is on the Bird that month. In May, The Cat Empire performed on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. In June, on the group's European tour they appeared on the Avalon Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, where the mud was so deep that Riebl and Khadiwhala performed the "gumboot shuffle".
The Cat Empire released their fourth album, So Many Nights in Australia on 22 September, it was produced by John Porter and reached number two. The lead single, "No Longer There", was issued two weeks earlier and peaked at number 12. "So Many Nights" was listed at number 50 on the Triple J Hottest 100 for 2007, while "No Longer There" finished at number 62.
In February 2008, the band concluded their Outdoor Australian Tour, with performances in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Newcastle, Canberra, Geelong, Townsville and Launceston. The group later played at a Melbourne Grand Prix event, sharing the stage with KISS. In March, the band headlined on the Sunday night at the East Coast Blues & Roots Music Festival in Byron Bay.
In January 2009, the ensemble opened the Sydney Festival 2009 at The Domain. In early February, they performed at Hisense Arena as part of the Australian Open for A Day on the Baseline. Also in February, the group issued Live on Earth – a live album featuring 22 songs recorded around the world – and a DVD Live at the Bowl of their Sidney Myer Music Bowl performance, with others shows and on-the-road videos. They issued a box set which was limited to 2000 copies. It contained the Live on Earth CD and DVD as well as a tour diary written by Monro, and band memorabilia. On 28 February, the band played two free shows at Bondi Beach and Circular Quay, welcoming donations, in an effort to raise funds to be put towards the Victorian Bushfire Appeal.
In March, the group played at the annual Bass in the Grass festival in Darwin to a crowd of 5000. They returned to the WOMADelaide Festival for a second time. After touring Australia, the ensemble completed a tour of the UK with Balkan support act, Paprika Balkanicus. The tour started in July at O2 Academy Oxford. The band then performed a range of shows in Melbourne, Brisbane and the Northern Territory, before heading off to Canada for a short tour.
The Cat Empire's fifth studio album, Cinema, was issued on 25 June 2010 in Australia, followed by releases in Canada, the US, and then Europe. It was produced by Steve Schram and reached number three. The track, "Beyond All", was featured on Triple J's New Music with Richard Kingsmill in April. However, the lead single, "Feeling's Gone", was released in May.
A promotional copy of Cinema had been leaked to eBay about three weeks before its due date and sold for $200; EMI provided a statement regarding the leak. In October 2011, the ensemble played their 800th show at the O2 Academy Bournemouth in front of a sell out crowd. In April 2011, they performed at the West Coast Blues & Roots Festival in Fremantle.
Steal the Light
In December 2012, the Cat Empire returned to Melbourne to commence the recording of a new album after touring extensively throughout 2012. The album, produced by Jan Skubiszewski, was scheduled for a May 2013 release, but the band embarked on a March 2013 "warm-up" tour, on which they played intimate shows in Melbourne and Sydney, as well as bigger stages at the Fremantle Arts Centre in Western Australia and WOMADelaide in South Australia.
"Brighter Than Gold", the first single from their album Steal the Light, was released on 22 February 2013 on the Two Shoes music label. A music video for the song was directed by Nicholas Verso for Asphodel Films. Brighter Than Gold received high rotation on Australian and European radio.
The band's fifth album, Steal The Light, was released on 17 May 2013 and a worldwide "Steal the Light Tour" was announced shortly afterwards. The band performed nine US shows in July 2013, supported by Blackalicious and, for some of the American dates, were joined by fellow Australians Tinpan Orange, A UK and European tour was announced later in the year and the band played nine UK dates throughout October before embarking on their European shows. Support was provided by fellow Australians FLAP!, and the global album tour eventually consisted of a total of 70 shows played on four continents.
In February 2014, the Romanian B’ESTFEST Summer Camp announced that the Cat Empire was the first band to confirm their position on the events musical lineup. The festival is scheduled for 31 July, and 1 and 2 August 2014, and will be held on the Mogoşoaia Palace estate, approximately 10 minutes from Bucharest.
In response to the proposed dumping of around 3 million cubic metres of dredged seabed onto the Great Barrier Reef, a legal fighting team was formed by World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)-Australia and the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) in late 2013/early 2014. The legal team received further support in April 2014, following the release of the "Sounds For The Reef" musical fundraising project. Produced by Straightup, the digital album features the Cat Empire, in addition to artists such as John Butler, The Herd, Sietta, Missy Higgins, Fat Freddys Drop, The Bamboos (featuring Kylie Auldist) and Resin Dogs. Released on 7 April, the album's 21 songs—including The Cat Empire's titular song "Steal The Light"—were sold on the Bandcamp website.
- Core members
- Ollie McGill – piano, keyboard, recorder, tubular bells, backing vocals, Melodica (1999–present)
- Ryan Monro – double bass, bass guitar, backing vocals (1999–present)
- Felix Riebl – lead vocals, percussion (1999–present)
- Harry James Angus – trumpet and lead vocals; recorder, resonator and guitar (2001–present)
- Will Hull-Brown – drums (2001–present)
- Jamshid "DJ Jumps" Khadiwhala – turntables, tambourine, clave, also dances (2001–present)
- The Empire Horns
An auxiliary group of brass musicians.
- Kieran Conrau – trombone
- Ross Irwin – trumpet, flugelhorn, backing vocals
- Ari Farrar – trumpet, backing vocals [When Irwin is unavailable]
- Carlo Barbaro – tenor saxophone [Until the So Many Nights period]
- Empirical Strings
Touring string musicians during 2008:
- Jonny Ng – violin
- Adam Cadell – violin
- Neil Thompson – viola
- Dale Rickert – cello
- Fran Haysey – triangle
- Paul Cashmere – tubular bells
- The Empire Dancers
- Fai Khadiwhala
- Anthony (Bboy Lamaroc)
- Carlos (Bboy Pepito)
- DJ Rude Bouy
- Benny 'BJ' Riley
- John Hurle
- Studio albums
- The Cat Empire (2003)
- Two Shoes (2005)
- Cities: The Cat Empire Project (2006)
- So Many Nights (2007)
- Cinema (2010)
- Steal the Light (2013)
- Hello (2003)
- Days Like These (2004)
- The Chariot (2004)
- One Four Five (2004)
- Sly (2005)
- The Car Song (2005)
- Two Shoes (2005)
- Down at the 303 (2007)
- No Longer There (2007)
- So Many Nights (2007)
- Fishies (2008)
- How to Explain? (Live at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl) (2009)
- Feeling's Gone (2010)
- Falling (2010)
- Brighter Than Gold (2013)