THE CAT’S WHISKERS

The Cat Em­pire are still band­ing to­gether 15 years on

The Courier-Mail - QWeekend - - INSIDE - SALLY BROWNE

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.

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