Melbourne-based jazz-infused collective the Cat Empire are one of Australia’s biggest bands. Relentlessly on the road, their live gigs are the stuff of legend. They’re currently touring Oz, so don’t miss them on their home turf. The band’s trumpeter-singer Harry Angus (pictured, with beard) talks travel games, robots and crap cat puns…
For you, has playing live always been much more important than recording stuff in the studio?
Yeah, I’ve always been into the live show. Coming from a jazz background we’re well aware that every night we’re improvising, doing something different and then it’s gone. There’s a very kind of transient beauty to being in a band that improvises.
Ever fall out on the road?
Ah yeah all the time. You’re living with usually nine or 10 people on a tour bus, sometimes for three months. And yeah, you really rub each other up the wrong way sometimes and you get to know each other very, very well. The amazing thing, which I’ve only realised now because we’re doing this live DVD, is that we were so bored. You know, the things that you do to invent fun when you’re sitting on buses…
Nothing crazy. We weren’t smashing TVs over peoples heads or anything. One of the things was tour bus roulette, which is a game we used
to play. When the tour bus starts the journey, what you do is you count the wheelnuts. Each wheel on the bus has got nine wheelnuts right. Everyone gets a wheelnut and you put in money and then 14 hours later you all get out to see which wheelnut is closest to the mark. That person wins. That’s the kind of shit we filled our days with.
Sounds pretty wild…
Ha yeah, crazy. But the upside of being bored all day is that when you do get out on stage you kind of explode with loads of pent-up energy.
Do your fans ever do crazy stuff?
Ah so many. I remember especially one guy, I think it was in Germany somewhere. It was a strange gig. There was someone crowd surfing in a kangaroo suit at the start, which was great. Then this dude jumped up on stage, turned around and jumped out into the crowd, but the whole crowd just parted. Noone was there to catch him and he had 100 per cent commitment to his dive and landed face first on the floor and mashed his face, poor guy.
I read you wanted to be a robotic scientist when you were a kid. Ever wonder if you made the right choice?
Ah mate, I don’t think about it that much, but if I do I always wish I’d gone into robotic science.
What was the attraction?
Actually a friend of mine is a robotic scientist now and it’s nothing like the job I imagined as a child. You know, I imagined inventing robots that could fly and fight and open your front door for you and cook you dinner. My friend invents arms for production lines, like arms to take lids off jam jars or something. That’s pretty much all they do, different arms for different things.
Where do you love most in Australia?
Well it depends what for. If it’s to play, the more tropical the better usually, but I think it’s just because people drink more. It always looks better from the stage when people are drunk. Unless they’re really drunk. But as a place to visit, yeah the Northern Territory is just great. I’ve been living up in Darwin for a few months. I just fell in love with the place. It’s full of crocodiles and desert and beautiful birds. I really love it.
Not gone troppo then?
Nah, I skipped town before the storms.
How do you feel about stupid cat questions?
It’s okay. We don’t usually get asked that many, but we do get a lot of headlines, with cat puns which can get really annoying. We get a lot of “Cool Cat” this and that. I think the ultimate we hate is “Feline Funky”. It’s just a bad pun. Funky is not the best word anymore. There’s nothing classy about it. I think a pun on the spur of the moment is fine, and I respect the sort of tabloid tradition, but when it becomes personal you do get sick of them.
The Cat Empire’s new album, Live On Earth, is out now, as is the DVD, Live At The Bowl. They’re currently touring Oz, so visit www.thecatempire.com for info.