The band, a cult phenomenon that sells out shows in their native Australia and in Europe, have struggled to break into the North American market. Prior to this interview I didn’t know much about The Cat Empire either. I didn’t know they were a jazz-infused rock band from Australia with heavy Latin roots formed in 1999. I didn’t know that they had hit No. 1 on the Australian music charts for their sophomore album Two Shoes and won an Australian Recording Industry Association award in 2006.
I also didn’t know how much I would grow to like them.
After immersing myself in their music and spending late nights watching and reading interviews chronicling the success that they have found in their years as a band, I was hooked.
The Cat Empire is on a North American tour and will stop by Saskatoon in early April.
The call was from Jumps, their DJ extraordinaire, taking the time to chat with me from the road while touring in New York.
The Sheaf: At what point did you realize that you were going to be successful as a musician?
Jumps: When people just started coming to the shows consistently a while ago in Melbourne. We started out playing in a bunch of small places and little pubs, and this and that. We would play the same places and the same shows, but there would be more people every time. We didn’t really think about it or talk about it at the time, but we did realize that there was something going on that people were liking about us and so we just kept going.
Sheaf: Did you ever have any second thoughts about perhaps finding a more dependable career?
Jumps: No, definitely not. I worked in the supermarket, packing the shelves, so being in the band is a much better option.
Sheaf: What are you doing when you’re not doing anything musical?
Jumps: I’m a DJ and a record collector, so I’ve always done something related to music with the band or just by myself. I like watching movies and reading, although that sounds boring.
Sheaf: Your newest album is Cinema. What were your intentions going into the studio for this album? Did this album exceed your expectations?
Jumps: I guess a big thing for the Cinema record was to do something a little different and let out a bit of steam. A lot of us had been wanting to do certain things within the band that we sort of hadn’t really been able to do. I think it was just a great outlet for all of us. I think the sound of it and the songs turned out really good. I don’t know if it exceeded expectations, but we’ve just been really happy with how it turned out.
Sheaf: You’ve said in other interviews that you enjoy a lot of improvisation in your live shows. Is there a lot of improvisation in the studio as well, or is that a more structured atmosphere?
Jumps: It’s a little bit of both, it’s definitely more structured in the studio — you know what I mean. I think that’s something we can work on, but the live show is a live show, and an album is an album. We feel that they’re totally separate things and translating what we do live [onto] an album is just really hard. There’s definitely room for improvisation in the studio, but we find that it’s something that happens more on a live stage for us.
Sheaf: Do you prefer the collaboration process of recording an album to the touring, or vice versa?
Jumps: I probably prefer performing on stage.
Sheaf: All of you seem to have worked on a lot in side projects, what keeps you coming back together to The Cat Empire?
Jumps: All of us have our own side projects. I just released a DJ compilation back home. A lot of people feel that it’s something that’s making individuals drift away from the band, but it’s just a different outlet. It lets people do whatever they want to do and still be able to be in the band.
The band is a certain thing, but we each are many different things. If we only did stuff in the band then we might get really frustrated because people want to do other things, write different songs and play different music to what The Cat Empire plays. Being able to do that actually keeps us going because a different outlet gives us that confidence that our lives aren’t sort of being led by The Cat Empire, but we’re still totally committed to the band. It really helps the band, it’s been over 10 years, and we love being in the band and playing together, but we want to be able to do other stuff as well.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity
Graphic: Cat Empire