The Cat Empire: As they say goodbye, a fan takes a look back at all the times the band said Hello

The Cat Empire

After more than 20 years and 8 studio albums, The Cat Empire has decided to call time on a career that has spanned more than 1500 shows having played to millions of fans. Starting out as a trio in 2001, the Melbourne act has managed to light up every single stage they’ve played while bringing lasting memories to a myriad of supporters that now spans generations. As the band enters its closing run of shows with the original lineup, I’m going to take a deep dive into what has made the band so well respected, lauded and loved in my eyes and many others.

Early years, The Adelphia Sessions and Debut Album –

Starting in 1999 as a three-piece with Felix Riebl on vocals and percussion, Ollie McGill on keyboards, and Ryan Monro on double bass, the band commenced building up their name on the back of their live show and the ability to manage to get the crowd jumping, waving and sweaty their asses off. Expanding in 2001 with the addition of Harry James Angus on trumpet, Will Hull-Brown on drums and DJ Jamshid “Jumps” Khadiwala manning the decks, the band released and circulated an EP known as The Adelphia Sessions which featured early versions of songs that would go on to feature in live sets for years, including “The Lost Song”, “The Chariot” and “Rhyme and Reason”. With their performance quality spreading rapidly across the Melbourne jazz scene, it wasn’t long before the band set about recording and releasing their self-titled debut album in 2003. This is where things really kicked up a gear.

With the release of their debut came a new frontier for the band: national radio play. On the back of triple j picking up their biggest and most well-known track “Hello”, it was this one song that brought the band to so many more listeners across the general public; myself included. I was at a family barbecue where an older cousin and their partner mentioned seeing this band recently in Melbourne. Playing a torrented version of “Hello” on a burnt CD, 10-year-old me was hooked. From there I sought out as much about the band as possible. Deep diving into my allotted time and use of the family computer, I’d regularly search ‘The Cat Empire new song’, ‘The Cat Empire new album’, ‘The Cat Empire video’ on Google hoping to come across something, anything new from the band.

For me, The Cat Empire truly were my first venture into alternate music; the first band I could say were mine. Sure it sounds pretentious, but when you’re in year 5 and 6 and everyone else at school was listening to So Fresh Hits of Summer 2004, listening to a band like The Cat Empire gives you a point of difference.

Two Shoes, Cities, So Many Nights and Live on Earth –

For Christmas 2005, I was gifted a CD player and the band’s second album, Two Shoes, from my parents (a masterstroke on their part). Listening to the album on repeat pretty much every night while doing homework, I can thank the song “Protons, Neutrons, Electrons” for getting me through year 8 science. With Two Shoes also featuring “Sly” (performed wholeheartedly on The Late Show with David Letterman; a video I’d watch multiple times over the years), “The Car Song”, overly sad yet hopeful “Miserere” and my personal favourite “Lullaby”, Two Shoes will forever be my favourite album from the band.

Releasing Two Shoes, Cities (a release from the band that if made in 2021 by rapper would be called a mixtape) and So Many Nights in consecutive years, these three albums allowed me to fill my iPod to capacity and play the band religiously on the 20-minute bus ride to and from school. I wasn’t musical in the slightest, however, having this band in my back pocket earned me a little credit with the school’s music teachers who generally gravitated to those who could play more than three chords on a guitar or keyboard.

It was in the period the band released their live album, Live on Earth, that I got to experience the band live for the first time. Playing a greatest hits set, the band played for nearly two and half hours to a heaving, hot and sweaty Enmore Theatre. I still remember vividly Harry announcing mid-set that ‘we haven’t played this one for a while’ before the unmistakable opening notes of “Hello” rung out across the theatre. It was the first of only two times I’ve heard the song live from eight headlining gigs and two festival sets, and it was bloody magic.

Over the coming couple of years, I ventured beyond the sounds of the band and began to branch out into more indie music, with The Wombats, Phoenix, Art Vs Science, Florence + The Machine and Regina Spektor all taking their respective places on my playlists. And while my tastes in music changed somewhat, The Cat Empire still served a special spot in my life.

Cinema and Steal The Light –

I was in Year 12 when Cinema was released. I was stressing out like every other student my age trying to study and decide what I was going to do with my life the following year. I was unsure what would come next (still am), and seemingly the band were too. There were whispers at the time they were fatigued and thinking about disbanding, with Cinema lacking the punch and excitement of their previous releases. Perhaps they were maturing (or perhaps I was), but I began to fall out of love with the band I’d followed for almost half my life. Struggling with the transition into adulthood, it wasn’t until 2013 I found energy and enthusiasm for my studies and job, and honestly, a lot of it can be put down to the band releasing Steal The Light.

As I drove the incredibly boring hour trip through Western Sydney on my way to uni, Steal The Light copped its fair share of plays in my 1997 model Toyota Starlet (such a good car, albeit way too small for me). There was a renewed energy in the band, their songs as punchy and forceful as ever, while the album was filled with hits galore including “Brighter Than Gold”, “Still Young” and “Sleep Won’t Sleep”, with album closer “All Night Loud” becoming the sentimental main set closer in live shows over the past few years, evolving to deliver one of the most satisfying closes to a song you’ll experience. To this day, Steal The Light is one album I’ll go back to time and again for nothing more than a good time.

Rising With The Sun and Stolen Diamonds –

I’d been graduated from uni for a year or so when Rising With The Sun was released and I’d fallen back into a period of not knowing what to do with myself. So naturally, I ventured overseas for a couple of months in late 2015, saw what the rest of the world was like, sung “The Car Song” at karaoke in Florence, and came back to Sydney was a renewed enthusiasm for life. Sure, I was poor, still had a shit job, but ultimately was pretty happy. I saw the band in 2016 when touring Rising With The Sun where they performed the new track “Bataclan”, inspired by the French terrorist attacks that occurred in the Bataclan Theatre the year before, a venue the band had played multiple times before. Dedicating the song to the French people, it made me appreciate my time I spent in the country the year previous, doing my best to find my place in the world and somehow relate to a culture and language I knew all of 30 words and a handful of phrases of. While not directly related to my time spent in France, “Bataclan” still holds a special sentiment to me every time I listen to it.

Releasing Stolen Diamonds in 2019, the band had an increased level of maturity in their sound and delivery (something I guess age and being in the same band for 20 years affords you). Again, my musical tastes had moved on from the party and wholesome vibes the band were putting out on Stolen Diamonds, but ultimately the album proved to be one of my favourites from 2019 and did nothing more than cement the bands’ standing as my favourite band ever.

It might not be ‘cool’ to listen to a band like The Cat Empire anymore, but I honestly don’t care. I’m at a point where I’m approaching my 30’s, am in a happy and loving relationship, have a solid and reliable job and career and feel somewhat accomplished. I may be an incredibly simple person that doesn’t need much to be happy, but one thing I know that has made my life better is having had The Cat Empire and their music play such vital roles in my life over the past 20 years. I guess it’s the magic of music and finding that place that makes you comfortable and feel like you belong. I don’t listen to The Cat Empire all that much anymore, but when the sprinkling of songs I’ve placed of theirs comes on any of my playlists, it feels like home and everything might just be ok.

Growing up on a staple diet of The Beatles, Bee Gees, Elvis, INXS, Frank Sinatra and Peter Allen thanks to my Dad, I just know that whenever I have kids, The Cat Empire will be one of the bands that I’ll play and relay to my future son or daughter how much this band meant to a skinny, uncool, redhead kid from Western Sydney.

Justin Stewart Cotta

The Cat Empire play their final run of shows, including Sydney Festival and Bluesfest, with the original lineup over the coming months. You can see them on the following dates and buy tickets here:

Saturday, 11 December 2021
Red Hill Auditorium, Perth

Wednesday, 15 December 2021
Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne

Thursday, 16 December 2021
Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne

Saturday, 18 December 2021
Virtual concert of the Sidney Myer Music Bowl

Saturday, 18 December 2021
Sandstone Point Hotel, Sandstone

Friday, 21 January 2022
Sydney Festival, Parramatta

Friday 1 April 2022
Red Hill Auditorium, Red Hill

Saturday 2 April 2022
Red Hill Auditorium, Red Hill

Thursday 14 April 2022
Bluesfest, Byron Bay

Header image credit: Bruce Baker @ The Metro, Sydney, 2nd March 2013

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