Written by Victoria Dvorsky
This coming weekend Montrealers will once again have the opportunity to dance along to the stirring and moving vibes and rhythms of The Cat Empire. No audio CD, Youtube or radio experience of their music can compare to the live performance, guaranteed to make even the most reluctant individual get on their feet and be drawn towards the stage to dance. I had a chance to speak with Will Hull Brown, drummer of the band. Here’s some of what he had to say.
Victoria Dvorsky (VD): You guys will be performing in Montreal next week at Osheaga as well as the Corona theatre. Do you think you’ll be checking out any other acts while you’re there?
Will Hull Brown (WHB): Yeah we’ve actually been talking about it. We’re all pretty excited to see Radiohead.There’s a few other bands but I don’t know a lot of the other bands playing. I know the Red Hot Chili Peppers are playing. I’ve seen them a couple of times but I don’t think their playing the day we are there. Half Moon Run, I know they’re a good band. Still not sure if we can see them but yeah I think mostly it’s about Radiohead. If we can hang around and watch them, that will be cool.
VD: Do you have any plans aside from the festivals and show at Corona Theatre while you’re in Quebec?
WHB: If we’ve got some time just to hang out. I know a couple of the guys have got some friends here. We’ll probably go and hang out, but I don’t know just check out the festival and watch other bands, hang out and enjoy the summer, be outside and enjoy the weather because it’s been so cold back in Melbourne.”
VD: I know you guys are no strangers to our city. And so I have to ask what would you say might be your most memorable Montreal moment?
WHB: Oh gosh, geez. Maybe playing the Montreal Jazz festival. I think that was one of the first times we ever went and it was a huge stage outside and there was just a sea of people everywhere. It was massive. I am trying to remember when that was. It was a while ago, in 2008 or something, but that was huge just being able to play in front of so many people. We’ve had lots of great moments in Montreal, playing at the Metropolis, and we’ve gone to this bar. One of Felix’s friends, Ruben, he’s from Montreal, and he runs this bar and DJs it. A douple of times we’ve been there late at night after a gig. It’s been fun.
VD: Having travelled around the world what would you say might be unique to Montreal?
WHB: Oh it’s definitely up there. I mean the people are so nice and the food is great and the city is beautiful. There’s a lot of culture in Montreal I’ve noticed compared to some other places and a lot of art and music art. Music seems to be held in quite high regard, which is great. You know, us being musicians, that’s what you want. There’s a few other places in the world that have that kind of feel as well, like, you know, if you go to Berlin or something like that. It’s a similar kind of thing but it’s definitely one of our spots that we like to hit on the tour. And the shows that we play here, people seem to go nuts when we play late at night. We’re pretty overwhelmed by the crowd response in Montreal. There’s a lot of energy.
VD: When you tour, do you guys have much time to experience the countries you’re in? What would you say is the most interesting place or culture you’ve experienced and why? Have you found inspiration in any of them?
WHB: Yeah, I guess we’ve always found inspiration from all around the world. Our first real taste of overseas travel was back in 2002 when we went to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. We spent a couple of weeks there and played at the Fringe Festival and just met so many musicians and comedians and were part of that atmosphere. We got to see lots of different bands and it’s not only the bands that you sort of discover live but sometimes you’ll discover musicians separate from the tour but you’ll listen to them a lot on the tour. I remember for a few years we just listened to a lot of Manu Chao. We’d never seen Manu Chao play, but he was quite a big influence on the band. So was the Buena Vista Social Club, the Cuban band. They were quite an influence on the band. We actually got to go to Cuba in 2004 and record an album there. I suppose that was quite inspirational, just being in Cuba and seeing the musicians and life there. That’s probably the most way out there kind of place we’ve been to, just because it’s so different compared to anywhere else. There’s no Starbucks, no McDonald’s, it’s just stuck in time like the 1960’s. It’s so different from the rest of the world.
VD: So it’s a lot different being on tour than lets say a tourist going on vacation?
WHB: Yeah, it’s very different. We don’t get a lot of down time; we are on the move a lot. We might do five shows a week. A typical day might be the bus, and we sleep on the bus usually. We’re actually doing a lot of flying on this tour, but usually we are on the bus and then we wake up in the next town and you know sort of try and wake up get some food. Then we do a sound check in the venue and then there’s a short gap between the sound check and the gig and then we do the gig. Then we just sort of leave overnight to drive to the next place. So sometimes there’s not much time at all, but it’s nice when you have a couple of days in one city. You might get the night off before a show and you might actually get a chance to go and look at the town.
VD: The new album ‘Rising With the Sun’ came out in March, I’ve had the pleasure of listening to it and I came across Bataclan. It definitely evokes a desire to transcend the negative impact of the attack but I would like to know personally what it evokes in you and or the band?
WHB: It really comes from Felix, he wrote the song. He was quite, we were all quite affected by what happened there because we played there a couple times. Being musicians we are part of that whole thing where you go to venues and what happened there is the complete opposite of what should be happening at those venues. You know, it’s a time for people to get together and celebrate music. When you get together for music like this, it’s not political. There’s no politics involved. It’s about the music and having a good time and just having a good energy. So, yeah, it affected all of us, but Felix especially and he felt compelled to write a song about it. For me, it just celebrates music and the best thing that we can do is try and focus on the positive and go ‘we’re gonna go out and have a good time and play music’ and that’s what those venues are there for and we are not gonna stop doing that.
VD: What’s your favourite song on the new album and why?
WHB: Aw geez. I really like Daggers Drawn. There’s a few songs on there that came out of jams in studio. Everyone was involved quite a lot more then in the past. We weren’t really prepared at all when we went into the studio. We just sort of went in and tried to make things happen organically. I mean, in the past, in years gone by, Felix and Harry had written the songs and had them all quite structured and finished and then we all sort of learned it and played it and then we made it into The Cat Empire sound. But half the stuff probably came out of just jamming in the studio this time. Daggers Drawn was sort of one of those where it just came together while in the studio so it has this sort of togetherness of everyone being involved. It’s another cool one where there’s a couple of solos in there. It’s a little bit more like what we would do live. Then Harry’s song number 4, Midnight, is probably my other favourite. I just love the feel of that song, it’s so hypnotic. It’s really nice to play, it’s slower, it’s got a simple kind of groove to it, it’s a little bit sort of Caribbean. Jumps often brings in records of different stuff and he’ll play us some things and the Caribbean thing was a bit of an influence rhythmically. I was really interested in some of those rhythms; they were different to play from the other stuff we’ve done.
VD: You guys have a very eclectic style of music. It makes me wonder what it’s like to create your music. Is it hard to stay away from a particular genre and to stay true to your own? Does it cause obstacles in evolving your sound?
WHB: I think thats whats good about this band is that there are no boundaries. We don’t feel like we have to be a ska band and/or we don’t feel like we have to be a latin band. I personally think we can play anything and it’s still gonna sound like us because I think our sound is not so much what we play, but more the particular mix of instruments we have is quite unique. It’s always gonna sound like us. We don’t have a guitar, for instance, but on the other hand we have turn tables and an upright bass so those sounds and flavours are always gonna be there. I suppose when you have a double bass in the band, it’s always going to have a slight kind of jazz feel. We have brass in the band and so it’s always going to have a kinda jazz or latin feel. We could play a rock’n’roll song, like a traditional rock’n’roll song, and it’ll still sound like us because we are playing it with our instruments and our particular personalitie. I guess the main things is to make sure it has a certain energy and energy does’t mean it has to be fast and loud but just good energy and something that people can move to.
VD: You guys have such great festive and uplifting energy on stage. It makes me wonder, what happens when you have a bad day? How do you manage such positive vibes?
WHB: I gotta say, I think the crowd is half responsible for that vibe. If we got up and played and there was no one in the audience, like when we do a sound check or rehearsal, I mean there’s still some vibe there and we’re still playing our stuff, but it’s just not the same. When the crowd gives us a lot of energy, we feed off that a lot. I mean we’re just like any band we’ll have good days and bad days. After some concerts we’ll get off stage and sometimes someone’s just like you know this song wasn’t so great or this didn’t work or that didn’t work. We can never all actually agree on what a good show is or a bad show is. What’s a great show for one person might be a bad show for someone else. Sometimes there’s external factors or things going on in your own head that can change that perception. But there’s no doubt that when there’s a great crowd that that really helps set up a good show. Montreal, Germany, Amsterdam those are some places in the world where the vibe is always good.
VD: So aside from Cat Empire you are part of another group called The Genie which Ollie and Ryan are also involved in. How different is the dynamic and how is that going for you?
WHB: It’s a trio, instrumental. I mean we are sort of still together but we haven’t done a gig in a long time. We’ve been busy and Ollie moved to Sydney and we’re all in Melbourne so it’s hard to do a gig since then. We’re lucky to do a gig once a year. We did record a couple of albums though.
VD: Is the dynamic different being in a smaller group from you being in Cat Empire?
WHB: Yeah, when it’s just the three of you and then no vocals, the whole pop song thing goes out the window and you don’t have to worry about verses and choruses. It’s really just jamming and we can do whatever we want. There’s no expectations to do a four minute pop song. I think we’ve done some gigs in the past where I think some people have turned up to watch expecting something like The Cat Empire and then being disappointed just because it’s three of us, but we do it because we can do really different stuff. Yeah, now that you’ve said it i’d really like to do another gig soon. I’ll have try and work out how we are going to do it.