Interview: The Cat Empire

Harry of The Cat Empire performing at Bluesfest 2011The Cat Empire performing at 2011 Bluesfest – Photo and interview by KT Bell

Without a doubt, one of the most influential and popular Australian acts of the past decade has to be The Cat Empire. Currently touring to celebrate their 10th birthday and delivering a sterling performance at Bluesfest over the Easter weekend, we asked The Cat Empire‘s Harry Angus about the last 10 years, folky influences and how the world of Australian music is changing.

KT Bell: Thank you so much for your time! It’s a real pleasure to interview you for Timber and Steel, as you might know, we are named for your lyrics to ‘The Chariot’.  
Your music and your messages inspire so many, whether it’s musicians inspired by your style, or your fans who take your messages about the world and how we live in it, and begin to live the change you speak of – how does it feel to make such a social impact?
Harry: It always makes you feel good to know that your music has influenced someone else, especially another musician. But I don’t know if I think too much about our social impact… It’s a big wide world, full of worthy things and worthy people. I just concentrate on what I do, which is playing the trumpet and singing…
KT: We recently celebrated Timber and Steel’s 1st birthday and you are celebrating your 10th birthday as The Cat Empire. You’ve certainly seen and experienced a lot in that time (in fact I remember meeting Felix in line for food before your gig at the Yallah Woolshed in about 2004) so what are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the music industry/ scene and what advice can you give to us (and our readers) to achieve such longevity?
Harry: Music is always changing – obviously the fashions change, and the era changes, but also, music is like a big conversation. Everyone is contributing to it, some things we pick up and explore, and reshape and change, and other things are left by the side of the road. This is the side of music that doesn’t have anything to do with the word ‘industry’. It’s a cultural conversation that has been going on for thousands of years. The ‘industry’ is a much more recent thing – it popped up some time last century and people say it’s in crisis already – but I don’t really think it matters. There will always be people who play good music, and people who want to listen to music, and people who bring them together.
The most important thing with music is to enjoy yourself. Seriously. You’re practising one of the oldest trades known to man. It’s right back there in the mists of time with prostitution, slavery, and farming, but it’s way more fun.
KT: At Timber and Steel we try to focus on folk music, which has evolved over many years and has certainly reached a new level of popularity and sound in recent years with acts like Mumford and Sons and Angus & Julia Stone taking the world by storm. We recently saw you at Bluesfest and wondered, do you have any past or current folky musicians who influence your music?
Harry: Well, sorry to jump ahead to your next question, but Tinpan Orange, obviously, I dig them, and Em (my wife) is a brilliant songwriter who I’m sure is constantly influencing me. Other than that…. I love Ewan MacColl (past) for his booming voice and his scholarly approach… for something a little bit local I couldn’t recommend Van Walker more highly (my favourite gig of the year so far was Van Walker at the Apollo Bay surf club) and I have also only just discovered the John Meredith collection of Australian field recordings online… that stuff is very moving, very important. That’s real Australian folk music.
KT: We’re fans of the Empire, but we’re also fans of your side projects, Jackson Jackson and Felix and the Phoenix, plus don’t think we haven’t noticed you playing keys for TinPan Orange. Do we have anything to worry about for the future of the Cat Empire? (And if not, how are you going to top 10 years?)
Harry: Eleven years should top ten. But we’ll just keep going until we get sick of it… it’s a good band to be a part of, I don’t see things ending any time soon.
KT: Speaking of TinPan Orange, we’re looking forward to you appearing alongside TinPan Orange, Husky, Jen Cloher, Jordie Lane and Liz Martin in the Storm in a Teacup tour. How does heading out on a tour like this (almost a structured jam session between Melbourne’s biggest and brightest) differ from the usual tours bands do?
Harry: These kinds of shows are fun, because they’re one-off. It’s an occasion, an event. Things happen, collaborations and improvisations, that haven’t happened before, and might not happen again. Take the musicians out of their comfort zones and they’ll play something different. Open up, let loose, share a little, make a mistake, sing a song you’ve never sung before – we get to be more spontaneous.
KT: Finally, Timber and Steel make a great effort to highlight and promote upcoming and emerging acts of the folky persuasion. You always have amazing support acts (I have discovered many favourite bands through your shows), are there any bands that you think we should take a look at or keep an eye on?
Harry: Van Walker, Eagle and the Worm, Leon Thomas, Clairy Brown and the Banging Rackettes. I don’t know if they’re folky but they’re awesome.
KT: Thank you so much for your time and we’re really looking forward to seeing you at your last 10th birthday concerts in Sydney!

The Cat Empire are playing four sold out shows in Sydney this week. If you missed out on tickets, why not catch them headlining the Funk n Grooves Festival on 10 September at Pokolbin in the Hunter Valley with Timber and Steel favourites Ash Grunwald, Lanie Lane plus many more great acts.


  1. Cuz said,

    May 10, 2011 at 22:30

    What’s happening with Jackson Jackson atm? can’t really complain tho while cat empire are on tour tho can i :p

  2. May 19, 2011 at 11:55

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