In Late 1999, pianist Ollie McGill and songwriter/percussionist Felix Riebl decided to start a band from a rooftop in St Kilda. Ryan Monro was called and asked to join on bass shortly afterwards, and the trio had its first rehearsal in a red library at Felix’s parents house. In a tea break, the question of a name arose, and the picture drawn by Max (Felix’s brother) on the kitchen fridge provided an answer. There were three cats wearing crowns and one had a gun, and the title was ‘The Cat Empire’.
2000 was spent playing gigs, mainly at a gallery, a restaurant, and a jazz club. Later in the Year Felix met Harry Angus at Dizzy’s Jazz club, and he started playing trumpet and singing for the band.
In 2001 Jamshid Khadiwala (DJ Jumps) and Will Hull-Brown (Drums) joined the band. On May 25th 2001 The Cat Empire as a six piece had it’s first concert at The Commercial Club on Nicholson St Fitzroy. At that time the members were aged between 18-20 and there were many after-hours lock ups playing at bars around Melbourne, and many expeditions to the beach. During The Melbourne Festival the band played the first of many shows at The Famous Spiegeltent, a venue that became a special place for The Cat Empire to develop its sound. In December ‘Live at Adelphia’ was recorded in Fitzroy.
In 2002 the group played seven shows in The Spiegeltent at The Adelaide Fringe Festival, its first test of building a reputation based on word of mouth alone. After three nights the venue was full, by the end of the week there were long lines outside. The band also started performing regularly at another of its Melbourne favourites The Prince Of Wales. In June, they made their first overseas debut playing at one of the world’s biggest charity auctions in California, and shortly after wards recorded ‘The Sun’ at Adelphia Studios. In August, on the back of their success in Adelaide, The Cat Empire was invited to play at the Edinburgh Festival. Their first Edinburgh experience was 16 straight shows from 3-6am, and it gave the band many friends and many stories. 20 people the first night, 60 the second, 80 the third, hundreds for the rest of the season. On that stage anything could, and often did happen, and the band not only featured other musicians, but wrestling comedians, side show performers, and bagpipers.
In early 2003 the band played the Byron Bay Blues and Roots Festival, the St Kilda Festival, and WOMAD festivals in Adelaide, the UK and Singapore. They did solid Australian East Coast tours, and a sold out show at Melbourne’s Metro Theatre with guests from Circus OZ. Later that year they recorded their ‘Debut’ self titled album with Andy BaldwIn in Melbourne and Byron Bay and shortly after they teamed up with Virgin records. During that time they also found a few spare hours to put together ‘Tapes Breaks and Out-takes’, a collage of studio and live recordings. In October ‘The Cat Empire’ was released. The song ‘Hello’ could be heard on high rotation, it was JJJ’s album of the week, and the band played on Rove, The Panel, and performed at Homebake, Woodford, and Falls Festival. The Cat Empire played Federation Square on New Years Eve surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people.
In 2004 the band continued its success in Australia featuring 3 songs in JJJ’s Hottest 100. The debut album went platinum, the group did two sold-out laps of the country, and The Cat Empire was the first Australian band to close the main stage at The Byron Bay Blues and Roots Festival. They toured Europe, made a DVD ‘On The Attack’, their manager Correne Wilkie receive the award for manager of the year, they won production of the year at the Urban Awards with Andy Baldwyn, they played Sydney’s Darling Harbour to 40,000 people, were nominated for 6 Aria music awards, and in December went to Havana Cuba to record their follow-up record ‘Two Shoes’ with the great Jerry Boys, before returning home and playing Woodford, Falls, and Federation Square again.
In March 2005 The Cat Empire’s debut album had hit double platinum sales, and their first single ‘Sly’ was receiving excellent air play. The ‘Sly’ tour reached over 120 000 people around Australia. In April ‘Two Shoes’ was released, came out at number 1 on the Australian charts, and hit platinum sales after three weeks. The Cat Empire then returned to Europe, the UK, America, and Canada realizing that the word of mouth following overseas, especially throughout Europe and Canada, had exploded. During this time, Felix was writing music for the opening ceremony of The Commonwealth Games. The band came home and played ‘The Night That Never End’ tour, and then supported James Brown around Australia, and once again wrapped up the year at The Falls Festival. By Jan 2006 four songs were voted in JJJ’s Hottest 100, and Two Shoes was rated one of the top 50 albums of 2005.
In March 2006, The Cat Empire performed at The Opening Ceremony of The Commonwealth Games, the third most watched television sporting event so far in the 21st century. The brief had been: ‘the music should culturally reference the continents emerging in the athlete’s parade, but also reflect the city of Melbourne’. No band in the world could have done this with the same authenticity as The Cat Empire. In April The Cat Empire released its limited edition project album ‘Cities’. They then set out on an extensive international tour playing Singapore, USA, Canada, Europe, the UK, and Japan. They were nominated band of the day at Bonaroo (USA), played to 150, 000 people on the street of Montreal Jazz Festival where they received massive media attention, they performed at Nuke, Quart, and Edinburgh Festivals, and finished the tour at Summersonic Festival in Japan. In September the band released the ‘Two Shoes Special Edition’ in Canada, and followed it up with another tour across The USA and North America. At the 2006 Aria’s The Cat Empire’s album ‘Cities’ won the ‘World Music’ award. In October, they played their 500th show in Aspen, and in November and December the band finished the year touring Australia.
2007 was the year The Cat Empire consolidated it’s work overseas. In America they released ‘Two Shoes’ under the Velour label, and performed the late night show trifector: Dave Letterman, Craig Fergusion, and Jay Leno. Sly Hit #8 on the AAA radio charts, the band had a front cover on Pollstar, and the band’s success hit a peak when it played a capacity Summer Stage Show in Central Park, New York. The response to the group in Europe and The UK was extraordinary, especially after performances at ‘Rock am Ring’ and ‘Rock Im Park’ (Germany), Glastonbury Festival (UK), and the Wireless Festival in London. The group joined with Universal Music for releases in Europe, the UK, and Asia. In the midst of the tours, the band rehearsed and recorded the album ‘So Many Nights’ with legendary producer John Porter in Melbourne and Malibu, California. The album was written during, and dedicated to the hundreds of performances, and experiences The Cat Empire had been a part of.
After having been abroad for so long, The Cat Empire returns to Australia to release ‘So Many Nights’, and perform the greatest shows of its career so far.