THE Cat Empire's message, on stage and in the studio, has always been about breaking down borders: musical, geographic, lingual. But they have never done it so powerfully as they do on their new album, Cinema. The album serves up a set which captures the inexorable force - and sheer joy - of their live performances, delivered in a format perfect for lounge-rooms, backyards, BBQ's, cafes, road trips and parties all over the world.
Cinema, the band's fourth studio album, is a dazzling statement of a band at a peak of its powers, music designed to move the body and the mind. Right from the opening track, Waiting, this is music that leaps from the speakers.
All the elements that people love about The Cat Empire are there but the result is brighter, bolder. And yes, more cinematic. What grabs the ear immediately is that this is not a band playing with genres. In the past, The Cat Empire dived in to any musical style which took their fancy, from reggae to salsa, Latin to hip-hop. Cinema reveals a band that has developed an emphatic voice that is all their own.
``That's a sound that has emerged out of nearly 10 years of playing on stage together,'' says singer and percussionist Felix Riebl. "The result is an album that's much more integrated than anything we've done before, with a Cat Empire sound that runs consistently through it. The lyrics are perhaps darker, but they are accompanied by music that is uplifting which gives it a strange but powerful feeling.''
Riebl adds: "At times the album is thoughtful, at times it makes you just forget and dance. But it is an album that has more sonic depth than we've ever had before, experimental in parts but with really direct choruses. It's going to be a great album to play live, especially on big stages and at festivals.''
Of course, the stage is never far from the thoughts of this band. In an age when so much of selling music seems to be about celebrity and fashion, The Cat Empire have risen to be one of Australia and indeed the worlds favourite live acts through sheer musicality and the power of their interaction on stage. The band - Riebl, Vocalist and trumpeter Harry Angus, keys player Ollie McGill, bassist Ryan Monro, drummer Will Hull-Brown and Jamshid Khadiwala (aka ‘Jumps') on decks - played their 700th show in Amsterdam last year, and will hit the 800 mark in 2010. While it is not well known in Australia, The Cat Empire are one of the country's most successful musical exports, doubling their audience numbers at every return stop.
They have headlined some of the world's biggest music festivals, including Summersonic (Japan), Rock am Ring (Germany) and V Fest (UK), playing Bonnaroo (US) as well as to an audience of 300,000 at the Montreal Jazz Festival. They have also played on some of world's highest rating entertainment shows, including Dave Letterman and Jay Leno. This year their worldwide tour in support of the international release of Cinema will see them return to Canada, US, Europe, Japan and the UK, where they will play to a full house at London's Brixton Academy.
The knowledge that they would be playing songs from the new album on so many big stages focused the song writing sessions for Cinema. The album was recorded close to home at Sing Sing studios in Melbourne with producer Steve Schram, and he encouraged them to make an album that was their most collaborative song writing effort yet.
``That was a deliberate decision from all of us,'' says the lion of the live show - Vocalist and Trumpeter Harry Angus. ``With six people in the band sometimes there will be a song on an album that not everyone wants to play live. This album certainly gets around that problem. And I think that after so many years playing together the guys are much more confident about contributing to the writing. Steve encouraged us to do that. That's been great for us.''
Of working with The Cat Empire, Schram says "it was the perfect studio scenario; amazing players open to trying anything and willing to take a back seat when required. Egos were left at the door." He adds "In terms of musicianship, it's no secret that they don't come much better than The Cat Empire. Yet Cinema shows that simplicity and one well placed note packs more of a punch and serves the song far more than musical chops alone. We set out to explore in depth the mood and character of each song while maintaining a focus on performance rather than studio trickery. "
After taking their longest break from studio recording after the release of 2007's So Many Nights, the band reconvened feeling refreshed. ``In 2008 we took a break from touring for 8 months. Then in 2009 we released our (live album) Live on Earth" Riebl says. ``When we came back to the band, and then into the studio we all rediscovered what we loved about The Cat Empire in the first place; that it is a band that can do the unexpected, that we have great energy and make music that is always a lot of fun to play on stage. The feeling right now is just like when we were starting out. We're all very excited about that.''
Cinema will be released ... JUNE 25, AUSTRALIA JUNE 29, CANADA JULY 6, USA AUGUST 2010, EUROPE & JAPAN