The Cat Empire; Full Circle

‘Brighter than Gold’ – the first single from The Cat Empire‘s new album; Steal the Night, has exceeded expectations – according to trumpeter and vocalist Harry Angus. The song, along with the entire disc, is a throwback to the group’s roots.

ababab“The last few albums we made, we were following a very live ascetic.” Explains Harry. “Probably, the last three or four records we made we did not think about how a song was going to be produced. Ironically, people would complain that our albums were over produced. Sometimes, people don’t seem to understand that production tends to make things sound less lively. Our band has a strong live energy but sometimes the things that work live don’t translate into the studio. This record was a process of finding ways to take what we do well live and capturing that in the studio. It was a challenge to us.”

‘Brighter than Gold’ was released in February of this year and the album was released on May 21. So far – the radio play in Canada and the ensuing ‘buzz’, is fantastic. Perfect timing for The Cat Empire’s sixth disc as the band is coming to Montreal for a July 5th show as part of the Montreal International Jazz Festival. An upcoming appearance that excites Angus. Montreal is one of the group’ s favorite places to play.

” We love it there!” Admits Angus. ” The energy from the crowd gets us pumped up and the crowds in Montreal really get into the music. It is funny. People do not realize that a crowd’s feedback helps us so when someone says great show, they do not understand that the result is fifty percent them causing us to perform with so much vigor.”

Formed in 1999, The Cat Empire are an Australian Ska and Jazz band. They incorporate heavy Latin and Cuban rhythms into their music as well as Rock and Funk. Their live shows are something of legend.

The band is made up of 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).  The Empire Horns, a brass duo composed of Ross Irwin (trumpet) and Kieran Conrau (trombone) often are included in their performances as well as various musicians who come and go. The entire picture, especially live, is very circus – like. Or – organized chaos …

Harry Angus
Harry Angus

‘We certainly have a feeling of bringing the festival or the carnival to the people. You can kind of cross the African music and the Jazz type of stuff. It is free – wheeling. There is something in that circus feel about losing yourself in the moment. That’s what we are looking for. The songs are the songs. They have a life of their own which are contained in the lyrics and the melodies.”

One thing Harry believes is important to not just his group’s overall sound, yet the entire history of music – are the horns. Horns, according to Angus, always get the job done.

” There is a little revival going on with a focus to the sound of New Orleans and how important it is to the history of music. Horns are a big part of that.” Explains Angus.” I think people don’t realize how much the trumpet and horns are a part in the beginning of music. I just read about the purpose of the trumpet in military terms, in battle – people thought it was blown to get the troops charged up. The actual purpose was to aggravate the enemy. To get the enemy riled. We have a territorial response to a loud noise like any animal. We want to find the source of the loud noise and stop it. The trumpet is one of the loudest instruments out there without having to plug in.”


Angus joined the band in 2001. He was brought in because of his horn playing and also to sing the songs that Felix wrote but was too afraid (shy) to sing at that time. Felix eventually got the confidence which turned the band into a ‘tour de force’. They evolved from a trio into a world class touring band.

“We are approaching one thousand gigs.” Explains Angus. ” Led Zeppelin only did like three hundred. We have been all over the world and played almost three months straight at one point. That’s a lot ..”

Harry admits the group, at one point, got tired of being labelled a ‘party band’. The grass seemed greener on the other side and they wanted to be taken more seriously as musicians. They got away from the sound which made them popular and with this new album; they have come full circle. They have embraced their early energy again and appreciate who they are.

‘I think a lot of bands get to the point where they do a lot of touring and  Sydney+Festival+2009+Festival+First+Night+YwtG1MYFBEmlburn out. We have gone through our dark period where we did not get along so well but we came out okay. I think the great thing now – we have reached the point where people come up to us and we are part of their family. They tell us they got married to one of our songs or they had a kid with one of our songs. It is a good feeling and now we are embracing that past – not fighting it. This album reflects all that sentiment.”

Angus’ favorite song on the new album is ‘Go’. It has a Mexican feeling to it and it is Harry’s take on the whole ‘smart phone’ epidemic. Something which Angus can’t stand and likens it to a sci – fi movie he once saw where aliens would suck your brain out of your head. Harry believes that cell phones may be doing the same thing to us. ‘Wild Animals’ is another track from the new disc which he loves. Mostly for the unorthodox beat.

” We would listen to all these cool tracks of rhythms that ‘Jumps’ played us. We basically stole that rhythm from an old Jazz track and added our music and lyrics. It is very primal. Syncopation is fantastic and the greatest black invention of all time. What would we do without it.”

The Cat Empire will be performing July 5th at Metropolis. Harry hopes he has a chance to hear some of  the Jazz festival acts while he is here along with Montreal’s great Indie scene bands.

Harry James Angus will say ‘Bonjour’ if he is recognized on the street. Harry James Angus will also gladly talk about Australian folk hero Ned Kelly. Harry James Angus will not say anything in Australian slang however …

According to him;

‘It’s all about ‘Wombats and shit …’

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