“Cats are basically public enemy number one in Australia,” says Harry James Angus, trumpet player and vocalist for The Cat Empire. His Australian band are bringing elements of ska, Spanish and African music, and hit-friendly catchiness to Algonquin Commons Theatre, July 26. “They kill all the little marsupials and stuff. And then empire is also pretty out-of-fashion these days so… Cat Empire is actually a very unpopular combination of concepts in Australia.”
Despite their name, The Cat Empire has risen to prominence as one of the southerly continent’s biggest musical exports. With such early hits as “The Car Song” and “One Four Five,” The Cat Empire became a household name thanks to excellent songwriting and danceable beats.
Since those beginnings in 2003, fame has failed to hinder the band’s creativity. Four albums and several world tours later the band is still relevant, still interesting, and most of all, still danceable. Their second-to-last album, Steal the Light, was flush with hit-potential and groove, with “Brighter than Gold” and “Steal the Light” as stand-out examples. And while Angus would point to their middle period as perhaps not their most refined effort, he feels the band has found its sound on Steal the Light and this year’s release, Rising With the Sun.
“We’ve always been a band that draws on different flavours from around the world,” says Angus. “That’s been our shtick, right? On the earlier albums it was a more obvious thing where it’s like one song will sound like it’s from Eastern Europe and the next song sounds like it’s from Cuba, or whatever.”
The more recent albums present a more consistent, coherent sound, he says: “Rather than being like a tourist here or there, we’re trying to put it into one big cacophonous kind of parade.”
If it is a parade, it is like the one at the end of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, with a young Matt Broderick swinging his hips and mouthing along to John Lennon while the crowd, crucially, dances their hearts out. In some ways, the new album is a harkening-back to their earlier sound, a sound that encourages a certain kind of ska-inspired dancing.
The Cat Empire plays the type of music that can be judged by the movement of the audience. It is a music that is meant to be danced to, and if the crowd isn’t dancing, maybe something has gone wrong.
“You go to Germany and when you get to the ska sections, nothing much happens. They like it so they clap. They clap along to everything,” says Angus. “But then you pop over the border into France and you set up that skank rhythm and the French people go nuts.”
Meanwhile, Angus notes that his least-favourite place to play is somewhere in his homeland of Australia. He explains that, since the band is popular there, Australian crowds can be a mix of people who truly like the band and people that are just there because they heard “Brighter Than Gold” on the radio. And while there’s nothing exactly wrong with that, it can be nicer to play a venue that appreciates the band’s sound as a whole and knows their music.
Ottawa has a long history with The Cat Empire. They’ve played Bluesfest on at least two occasions and have been a regular summer feature. Their shows attract what is an active ska scene, one that finds its rooting in ska nights at Targ and the occasional ska festival.
One thing is certain. Tomorrow night at Algonquin Commons Theatre, there will be many people. Some of them young, some not. They will be smiling and, of course, they will be dancing, shouting, “our weapons were our instruments, made from our timber and steel.”
The Cat Empire plays Algonquin Commons Theatre tomorrow, July 28, at 8pm. Tickets are available online, at Vertigo Records (193 Rideau) and ACT’s box office.