Ryan Monro


Melbourne, Australia

 

The short version:
I'm Ryan Monro from Melbourne, Australia, best known as the upright and electric bassist for The Cat Empire.

The long version:
I'm Ryan Monro, a musician from Melbourne, Australia. I am a founding member of Melbourne-based band The Cat Empire, which first began in late 1999 and has since led me around the globe playing more than 1000 live shows, recording six albums and selling over one million records. Some highlights have been recording our second album Two Shoes in Havana, Cuba; a show at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 2015; festival gigs at Glastonbury, Montreal Jazz Festival, Winnipeg Folk Festival, Rock am Ring and Rock im Park in Germany, Lowlands, and many others; TV appearances on The Late Show with David Letterman and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno; and of course the buzz of our first ever residency at the Prince Bandroom in St Kilda back in 2001. I'm also one third of The Genie, long-standing jazz/fusion/dub/electronic collaboration with fellow Cats Ollie McGill and Will Hull-Brown with two albums currently under their belt. I've also been involved in the live and recorded side of Felix Riebl's solo releases, and Harry Angus's folktronica project Jackson Jackson. I've also performed and/or recorded with Robert Forster, Tim Rogers, Lance Ferguson, Paul Kelly, Barbariƶn, Megan Washington, Roscoe James Irwin, Eagle and the Worm, Ella Hooper, Julia Stone, Sally Seltmann, Owl Eyes, Thomas Bartlett (Doveman), Sam Amidon and Bryce Dessner (The National). I studied music at the Victorian College of the Arts, and also found time to complete a Master of Computing at RMIT University. I live in Fitzroy with my wife and our dog. We named the dog Indiana.

The prequel to the much longer version (or, how I managed to make a career out of music):
I grew up in Frankston and began playing music around the age of eight when I bought a guitar from a garage sale for $2.80. Strangely, my first instinct was to pluck it while holding it upright, like I'd seen in that Cheap Trick video. I started learning guitar. I practised a lot. I played until my fingers bled, but only once. In grade five I snuck into the music room at lunchtime and played Under Pressure on the school's bass guitar, based on what I'd seen John Deacon do on the Freddie Mercury Tribute concert. But guitar was still my main instrument right up until high school stage band, where we had four trumpets, four trombones, five saxophones, guitar, piano, and drums, but no bass. I decided to give it a go but couldn't read bass clef yet. I went home, tuned the bottom four strings of my $2.80 guitar down an octave, wrote the whole chart out in TAB, and nailed it at the next rehearsal. But that was a time consuming way of reading, so I learned to read instead. This kind of pushed treble clef out of my brain, but I soon got them both back in there. I'd also just stolen my first walking bass lick from a big band chart. The first of many. I kept getting guitar lessons, but my only real bass lessons were those charts that were full of great ideas. When I started getting gigs, they were mostly on bass, so I started focussing on bass. Our trumpet teacher brought his double bass in to school, so I soon moved over to that. After a few lessons with Leon Heale that corrected some bad habits I'd gotten into, which I didn't even realise were bad habits, I kept playing upright. I started playing with Gil Askey's youth big band that rehearsed in Frankston, which was a huge deal and only made me want to know more about this thing called jazz. Innumerable musicians from the Frankston area wouldn't be doing what they do if Gil hadn't retired and moved to Carrum Downs. So much music happened as a result. Soon I was playing four-set winery jazz gigs on the weekend and trawling my bass into the city to busk and barely make enough money to cover the train fare and lunch. That was my first clue that if you want jazz to pay the bills, you have to be clever. I went to a workshop called Jazzworx in '98 and realised how many hundreds of people my age there were doing exactly what I was doing. In late 1998 I met Aaron Choulai and Eamon McNelis at a party in Frankston - one of those parties in Frankston where everything gets stolen. Luckily, the piano and the double bass didn't get stolen and we had a pretty good jam. Soon I was trawling my bass into the city to play with Aaron and Rory McDougall. We soon started what felt like my first real jazz gig. It was a Friday night residency at the Musicians Club in St Kilda, which is now long-gone and renovated into apartments like nearly everything else. But it was a great gig, we played Aaron's originals, some jazz standards, and some Meldau-inspired arrangements of pop songs. I was stoked to be getting paid $50 every week to go and play for three hours. It was shitty pay really, but at the time I lived at home, had no expenses, hadn't really discovered alcohol yet, and went to school every day. So I could actually SAVE money on $50 a week. In early '99 I had been to Jazzworx again, but all the guys from my area couldn't make it, so I was kinda dropped in the deep end of getting to know other musicians. Luckily, it's pretty easy to get along with other musicians, even moreso if they're also attending a jazz workshop. If the conversation dries up you can talk about Coltrane changes and diminished scales and stuff, and that sorts out the next few hours. One of the guys I met that year was guitarist Ben Edgar, and he soon mentioned to me that local pianist Steve Sedergreen was putting together a band of young guys, all from different schools, so they could get to play with more people than the ones at their school, they needed a bass player, and he'd put my name forward. I didn't hear anything for a few weeks, and then met Steve at one of Gil Askey's gigs. See how interconnected all of this is? Steve got me to come down to a rehearsal on Monday night at the CAE in Degraves St, where he took a jazz piano course, and his new youth band were allowed to rehearse afterwards. Ben was there, along with some familiar faces from Jazzworx (Lachie McLean on alto, Will Hull-Brown on drums), a fellow Frankstonsider (Eric Budd on trombone), that badass trumpet player from Blackburn High (Ross Irwin), Tarko Sibbel also on alto, and these two mystery men Ollie McGill and Felix Riebl. I'd seen Ollie play tenor sax before, and he made it a full contact sport, and I would soon find out that's how he played piano too. An unstoppable geyser of music. He walked in, didn't say a word to anyone, sat down at the piano, and started blasting right away as if those notes had been waiting to get out since he left home. Felix seemed like a cool guy, and like he'd just come straight from a boxing ring. I'd never before seen anyone wear tracksuit pants in public and not look like they were about to ask you for change. Right from the start he and Will were planning unison hits. Ollie and Felix's tunes were heavily influenced by Buena Vista Social Club, but we also played some more fusiony stuff, which Ben and Will were right into. It was great to play with some other guys my age, and we got some great experience playing gigs and recording. Music started making me busier and busier, and in the second half of the year I turned 18, got my drivers license, and all of a sudden I was actually allowed in the places I was playing at and could drive myself to them. I'm pretty sure I was still playing with Aaron and Rory every Friday at this stage. I was still in high school too, but not for much longer. I played a gig in the city with Natalie Gauci, Ben, Ross and Conrad Tracey until 1am the night before the English exam, thinking nothing of jeopardising my performance in the exam. I realised that I was starting to get pretty serious about this music thing, and I should probably keep doing what I was doing. I auditioned for the improvisation course at the VCA, and was accepted. Toward the end of the year, Felix put together another band with Ollie and myself. We decided to call it The Cat Empire. Originally a three-piece, we played instrumental afro-cuban and hip-hop inspired jazz around Melbourne and made two CDs. They were called The Cat Empire and The Cat Empire II. Then Harry entered the picture. We'd seen him singing with some other scary-good musos from his school, and heard his trumpet from blocks away late at night, and started wondering if maybe there was something in the water in McKinnon. Felix asked him to join the band, and we had vocals. It was great, he sounded like Finley Quaye or Jay Kay or something, and he could play the shit out of the trumpet too. Our seedy background cha chas became a bit more foregroundy as a result and we played a whole lot of 18th birthdays. Will and Jumps soon joined the band, and the six-piece band as it still stands today played their first gig on June 25 2001. It's kept me pretty busy ever since.

TBC. Maybe.