THE CAT’S WHISKERS
The Cat Empire are still banding together 15 years on
Felix Riebl has just come off stage in Norwich, in the east of England. Down the hall he can hear people singing tunes from Les Miserables. A few steps the other way, there’s a singalong of Waltzing Matilda.
This is backstage at a Cat Empire gig. Earlier there was a “punch on” in the crowd, which is unusual for a Cat Empire gig. They’re known as one of the most feel-good bands around. It’s about half-past midnight and soon the band will be getting on board the tour bus to hopefully sleep their way to London.
The Cat Empire, with its six core members of Riebl, Harry James Angus, Will Hull-Brown, Jamshid “Jumps” Khadiwala, Ollie McGill and Ryan Monro, is probably one of the hardest working and well-toured bands in the world. They’ve made their way across the globe from their home town of Melbourne and they still tour regional Australia – going to places many other bands don’t – including several Queensland stops.
“It keeps you humble,” Reibl says. “We’re a bit like a shark when we tour because there are so many of us we can’t really have many nights off, it’s like we have to keep on moving or we sink.”
Now they’re touring new album Rising With The Sun – upbeat songs for the road. This band is known for spreading joy. Before the shows Riebl, a sports fan, has been teaching bandmate Angus to box. The inward and outward adventurer has also been writing epic verse about a pirate character he has invented called Ashka Nientes.
But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing on The Cat Empire seas. The world’s most joyous band isn’t always that way behind the scenes. They’ve earned their nine lives. There have been many times when the band have almost called it quits. “We’ve been together 15-odd years now and we’ve been through an awful lot in that time,” Reibl says. “There are certainly times we could have broken up and, somehow, we haven’t. Sometimes it’s been through grit and determination and, sometimes, it’s been through something other than ourselves. The sum of the parts is greater than the individuals.”
While the claws have been out in the past, things are better now the boxing gloves are on. Sparring is a great way for the two key bandmates Reibl and Angus to relate.
“That’s been really fun. We’ve been doing that all year. He’s going to be a real boxer by the end of the year. I’m teaching Harry at the moment. It’s great because it’s such a rhythmical way to break up that dead part of the afternoon on tour, between after sound check and before the show. Boxing’s great because it’s that physicality and movement. Sometimes that’s better than talking, especially for men because men aren’t always good at talking.”
Reibl says the band’s dynamic has changed a lot over the years. “Now we’re getting closer to how we were when we began. We went through some very difficult years,” he says. “The amount of touring we’ve done, the number of albums we’ve done. In the space of being teenagers when we started and adults with families in some cases now, there’s a lot of life that’s passed between then and now and sometimes it’s very difficult to see eye to eye and sometimes it’s a really exquisite experience being on stage and doing the things that we’ve done.’’
The Cat Empire is large, with supporters all over the world. Curiously, they are also a No.1 act in Romania, where, explains Reibl, The Lost Song from their first album is a surprise hit. It contains the lyric: “I had nine lives but I lost all of them.” So, is life where Reibl expected it to be?
“It’s thrown me some surprises,” he says. “I still have a very open and curious outlook ... There are a lot of things I’d like to do and I’m more and more interested in what surprises are in store rather than what I’m shooting for.”
The Cat Empire play Empire Theatre, Toowoomba, May 4; The Tivoli, Fortitude Valley, May 6-7; Night-Quarter, Gold Coast, May 8; Tanks Arts Centre, Cairns, June 1-3; Magnums, Airlie Beach, June 4; and Kirwan Tavern, Townsville, June 5; the catempire.com
The Cat Empire’s Ryan Monro, Harry James Angus, Will Hull-Brown, Felix Riebl, Ollie McGill and Jamshid Khadiwala.