The Cat Empire

What makes a good party a great one is waaaaay more than a smokin' band. It's also that impossible thing that happened, the funny feeling you got, the madness in the kitchen, the door down the hall you shouldn't have opened, the poignant conversation, the flash of revelation, the kiss that made you feel so far away, and that girl you think you nearly met – then never forgot. Welcome to The Cat Empire's second album album, So Many Nights. Like always, the band is smokin' beyond belief. But this year, well, let’s just say the party has crossed the line between mystery and light. And back. A few times. "So Many Nights refers to the songs," says bandleader Felix Riebl. "They’re little vignettes from our travels, stories that got etched out in the back of a tour bus over the years. You get to a point, living like that, where it really gets hard to distinguish between what's happening and what's a dream." And so the strange, colourful trip unfurls from the airborne whimsy of "Panama" to the mystifying, swirling thrill of '"The Darkness". It's all melancholy ache in "Lonely Moon", funky as hell in "So Long" and "Strong Coffee", then freaky like a spaghetti western acid trip in "Voodoo Cowboy." "We were keen to step beyond our regular party thing," says the band's other singer, trumpet player Harry Angus. "We were all ready to make something crafted, more musically solid. We wanted to try stuff that developed, maybe let the melody do the work, rather than trying to pack it with explosions." Fireworks are standard accessories with this band – factor in Ollie McGill (keys), ‘Jumps’ Khadiwala (decks), Ryan Monro (bass) and Will Hull-Brown (drums) – but this year's new, smouldering shades of subtlety are likely to be a revelation to anyone who's caught one of the Empire's 600 roof-raising shows between Melbourne and Montreal these past six years. The Empire's roots are in the late night jazz clubs of Melbourne, but they've since sprouted wings over the US, Canada, Europe and Asia, where they've negotiated a series of record deals without surrendering a note of their freedom. Like some kind of funky circus troupe, they roll into town, sell twice as many tickets as the previous visit, and a truckload of CDs on the way out. Their first album recorded in the legendary Studio 101 in Havana, Cuba in ’05 has sold close to 15 000 copies in Canada and continues to sell well to this day. They also saw this record debut at #1 and sell double platinum in their home country. From Letterman to Leno, the Glastonbury Festival to New York's Central Park, Japan to Barcelona, WOMADelaide to the Montreal Jazz Festival and rave reviews at all stops, it often seemed The Cat Empire were sole nominees for Superlative of the Year (Indefinable Genre Division) 2006/ 07. So Many Nights was produced at Sing Sing studios in Melbourne in April '07 by the legendary John Porter (Roxy Music, the Smiths, BB King, Taj Mahal, Los Lonely Boys, Ryan Adams), and mixed by John in Malibu, as the Empire continued their relentless world conquest – night by night, to an average of 2,500 people per gig. "I remember when I was young," says Felix, "I was longing for nothing more than to escape, to go into a circus or a band, go somewhere and play music at festivals. That came true for me. "The result of that comes out in the songs – there's an emphasis on festive energy but also a lot of loneliness in the lyrics. There's also this very whimsical thing that weaves through from time to time. Those three elements are pretty much what makes up the band." That said, to dig the whole periodic table, you'd need to factor in the astoundingly rich and varied moods of Ollie's string arrangements here – a new palette of textures for The Cat Empire – as well as the chemistry of one of the world's tightest rhythm sections. It was they who sparked up the slow funk finale, "Won't Be Afraid", the first song written by all six members. There are also two outstanding songs on So Many Nights that bring together the diverse talents of the two main songwriters: Harry wrote the chorus of "Til The Ocean Takes Us All" and told Felix, "There's a story in this somewhere, so run with it". "We didn’t discuss it any further," he says. "I guess Felix's lyrics in the verse are his impressions of mine in the chorus." With its trademark Afro-Cuban spice and hip-shaking party intrigue, "Fishies" follows the band's classic format of co-writing, Harry adds. "We're rehearsing a song and you do something really cool and Felix says 'Hey! Do that again!'" The poignant song, "No Longer There" breaks more new ground. "It's the first time I've written a song about an issue, if you like," says Felix. "I live this dreamlike, magic life, where you don’t have many responsibilities, but I also I know that people need to change the way they're living and realise a few basic responsibilities. It's been interesting for me to find that line." It sways, you know, between a mystery and light. Like the girl in "Sunny Moon". The one you think you nearly met once. At a party. A great party. "The idea of a sunny moon, the night never ending, is pretty romantic to me," says Felix. "If there was such a thing as The Cat Empire mythology, that would definitely be a big part of it."
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