We started playing together as a trio in late 1999. Ollie McGill on Rhodes, Felix Riebl on Timbales, and Ryan Monro on Double Bass. It was sublime, and dark, funny, unique, fantastic, bright, and moody all at the same time.
Then came a time when things started to open out. We had been playing mostly in jazz clubs for a while, and when we finished our early gigs, Ollie and I would go to lock up parties and play there until the sun came up. It was something like a music mafia, where all the best musicians would seem to go to the same bars and play, and sing, and dance together. We were 19 and spent so much of the week running a muck. On the other side, Felix's weekends were being spent at the beach with the most laid back, good humoured, generous crew that you could imagine. The Shakedown parties (a room with maximum 40 people) were happening alongside the high energy late night jams in town. The apparent contradiction made the best environment to write the early songs.
In the next year Harry joined the band a young trumpeter with a growl that sounded like it was 20 years older than it was, and the band became something that could no longer be in the background. Soon after Will joined on drums. He brought a Hull-Brown portion of energy and humour to the line-up. Then came Jumps, who introduced the band to Hip-Hop culture, the most ridiculous debates, and a crazy kind of team spirit.
This was an early description of the music and the Band: Where reggae meets Hip-Hop, where jazz is played with dirty hands, where a Cuban line meets an Aussie rule, where nothing seems in place but sounds like one place played in an earthy chord. This is the Island where The Cat Empire was born?
Correne got on the scene a while later, and took up the role of manager with the same mentality as the music itself is performed, and then the fun really started to happen.
The Melbourne Festival Spiegeltent. Met among the best crew imaginable. Lead to Adelaide Festival Spiegeltent. 50 people the first night, full house with a 100 person line by the end of the week. It just happened that on one of these nights an American business man Jayson was in town buying vineyards and saw the band. A few months later we playing in America being treated like rock stars before we had even realised what was going on. Those 2 weeks in the states were the most hysterical, crazy, funny, memorable two weeks ever. During this time the crowds had started to grow in Melbourne and we found ourselves playing at The Prince of Wales to full houses there. And then came Edinburgh Festival. Comedians, performers, actors, shows, all night gigs that turned into 100 person trips up the mountain that overlooks the city for sunrise. We played 16 nights straight from 3am till 5am. First night 30 drunkards, by the end of the week a packed room.
We got back and started to record our first major album. We hooked up with Andy Baldwyn and made the album over seven months, from Melbourne to the east coast and back again. We played gigs on the road, at the beach, at The Byron Blues and Roots Festival, and started to generate a good buzz around the band. The confidence was strong after so much playing and every gig was alive.
At our first Metro Show we had the privilege of performing with some of the great people we had met over the years. Dancers, actors, circus troupes, card players, musicians, acrobats, and all the rest. It is amazing how many people exist with that mad twinkle of the eye. To have them together in the same room was incredible.
At this time we had interest from about every record company in the country. We were pulling 1500 people to our shows, doing things in ways that were unique, unconventional and effective. We had financed an album on our own and it was ready for a proper, big release. In the end we decided that we wanted to partner with someone. And true to any other good thing we have been a part of in the past, it was the people that were interested in. It was actually us who went to EMI to talk about the band and the possibilities. And within a week it was clear that there was a spark between us. We are now with Virgin, who support the project for what it is: earthy, creative, original, cheeky, proud, non-conventional and ambitious.
We finished the last bits of the album, went back to the UK, to Edinburgh, then to Malaysia and Singapore, got back and without resting planned the release of the album. On the way there were countless other adventures and sagas, but these will have to wait until they find their place in the new songs.
When we play in a place filled with every cross section of people they all stop. We have never been interested in markets of people, only those who have a flair for recognising good music. In the same way, our first single Hello was played by both commercial and underground radio stations. Instead of making a first video clip that looked slick and artificial, Felix and Ian McGill made a clip that was based on live video footage of band antics on tour and on gigs, and it became Channel V's clip of the week (just for the record it beat Justin Timberlake).
And so this is where we're at. It started as a trio in an underground gallery. This history's been written quickly because it's happened so fast. In some ways the project unfolds so expodentially that it is impossible to slow down or control. We can only sit on top of it and direct it.