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Byron Shire
July 18, 2024

Interview with The Cat Empire

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The Cat Empire have unveiled a brand-new era for the band, with legacy members Felix Riebl and Ollie McGill breathing new life into the band’s DNA as they welcome a wonderful collective of musicians.

The band has recorded their ninth studio album Where the Angels Fall , but it’s the first album as the new iteration of The Cat Empire – new faces include award-winning musical force Grace Barbe, Cuban-born trumpeter, vocalist and percussionist Lazaro Numa, long-time tinmen Roscoe Irwin and Kieran, and percussionist Neda Rahmani.

Seven had a chat to Felix Riebl at the weekend to see how the new outfit is travelling.

How are the new members ‘settling in’?

The new members are more than settling in, they’re opening up a whole new musical world for us. Lazaro, a Havana-born trumpeter and percussionist, who toured with the Afro Cuban All Stars, has brought this essentially Cuban attitude to the band. With him the music never stops, it’s before shows, after shows, in airport lounges, it’s wall-to-wall! Grace has opened up her world of African Seychelles music to us, we’re singing in Creole, learning new rhythms, it’s wild. Neda has got the whole band playing Brazilian batucada (roving street percussion) before and after shows, she’s a dancer as well, so there’s a new level of movement on stage. To keep the spirit of The Cat Empire true, we decided that instead of trying to replace old members, we’d embrace the new and different strengths of the new ones. It’s been an amazing experience. 

Was recording a very different process with the new line-up?

Recording Where the Angels Fall was by far the most unique and exciting recording process I’ve ever been involved in. There’s something like 75 musicians playing on it. It was recorded at Merri-Bek City Band, a community hall, which had musicians constantly coming in and out. We treated each song as its own world. Some would start with a Brazilian percussion ensemble at the base, some with West African percussionists, some with flamenco musicians, some with symphonic strings, some with a pure trashy rock line up, and so on. The range of emotions on the album is vast, but those contrasts all seem to make a dynamic and moving whole. We took risks, we laughed a lot, we were very ambitious with our ideas, and everything seemed to flow. To me the album feels like an absolute Cat Empire classic, but the way we got there was completely new.

What will fans notice (or not) that’s new or different about this album?

So far the fan response to the album, and how those songs have come to life on stage, has been overwhelming. I think what’s been exciting for us, has been exciting for them as well. In new creative approaches, and new personalities, The Cat Empire – in the soul of the band sense – feels more alive than ever. 

Are live shows going well?

The live shows have been a dream. Before we went to Europe there were so many unknowns – but from the first note to the last, the feeling in the room was electric. That gave us a lot of confidence coming back to Australia, then North America and Mexico. We’re taking risks, we’re doing new things on stage, the sound is bigger than it’s ever been, we’re riding a very exciting wave. Every show feels like a big occasion. For me, that’s as good as it gets for a musician.

Are you having enough fun?

Wall-to-wall fun! It’s pure music, every day. On the bus, backstage, in hotel rooms, on stage. It doesn’t seem to stop, and everyone thrives on it. It’s an exciting time for us.

The Cat Empire is playing the Green Room on Saturday from 6.30pm. Tickets are available from moshtix.com.au.

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