Before the start of their UK tour I caught up with lead singer of The Cat Empire, Felix Riebl. We talked over the strains of touring, gangsta cats, and cinema. Find out the rest below.
To start with, the name, there’s no denying that it’s a strange one, but how did it come about?
Erm, it comes from a picture my little brother drew actually. The first rehearsal when the band used to be a trio we rehearsed then saw a picture of these little gangsta cats that were drawn by him, and we went by that, that’s about as simple as it is. Other than that, the name doesn’t really have any particular meaning or anything.
Back in those trio days, didn’t you used to play drums?
Yeah, but we were instrumental at the time. Now I sing.
On that, isn’t everyone in the band a multi-instrumentalist in some sense?
They are, a lot of them play either guitar and piano and others some other instruments, but we’re using that a lot more these days. It makes studio time more extensive aswell, because everyones tryna get their hands on another instrument.
Yeah, it’s always good to have people to experiment around with and not be tied down to a structure, of late it seems many more bands have people playing a range of instruments rather than just sticking to one.
Yeah, I find that really quite interesting, it’s like musics going in a lot of different directions, recording on an instrument that’s not your main one, you can often come up with some interesting tones and ideas that you wouldn’t often try otherwise.
Like, your known and renowned for blending a lot of different sounds and styles together, so how did the sound come about?
I suppose, when we started out we were quite young, a lot of us were jazz musicians and tried as much music as we could. Our first interstate trip out was to the Adelaide Fringe Festival, which in itself is a huge melting pot of sounds, and then the Edinburgh Fringe, and it was just a really exciting time to try and listen to as much music as possible and get into a lot of different styles, and in the first album, that’s definitely what it’s about, but as we progressed we’ve began to settle down with a more consistent sound. Having said that, it is a very diverse band.
Yeah, that in many ways I see as a great thing, you can do so much, even if you want to change your dynamics then it’s just easy for you to bring out something else.
Yeah, it makes the shows very theatrical and it makes music also very good for travelling, I don’t know why.
When you’re in the studio, because you’ve got so many different blends and influences and so many different musicians working together, do you ever have people having mass arguments trying to get their contributions in?
Yeah, all the time, but with that, we’ve had more times when we’ve been really surprised by something. That comes as a real bonus, it happens both in the studio and on stage.
So, you play off eachother on stage then?
Yeah, this band kinda met on stage, and there’s always been a kind of chemistry there and it’s easy to assume the things that do work, we do, but it’s really nice to be surprised even after 800 shows. We argue sometimes, because all the characters are completely different but, you couldn’t get a group of more diverse people, but they’re all really creative and what comes out is good, so.
So, how’s the tour been going and received so far elsewhere?
All of it’s been great, I think this one’s got to be my favourite tour ever personally. It’s an excuse to let go for me.
With touring, you must be a big travelling person, what’s your highlights?
Yeah, I love travelling, I used to lie awake and think of a way that I could travel and play music, and with a lot of hard work it came true. I think I’m really lucky to have this lifestyle. With this band, we’ve had quite a load of random success, but from going everywhere, the hours in-between shows can be very lonely and grey, but it pays off when you remember the good times and the shows.
Does it ever get too much?
I mean it has strains, the lifestyle isn’t for everyone, but once the sun goes down and the people pour in, the crowds are wonderful, we remember why we’re here and why we love it.
Unlike any band I can think of, a lot of your music’s spread through word of mouth, how does that make you feel? Why do you think it’s like that?
I think it’s the core reason for our success, people spread us, like, at a Adelaide Fringe, people passed it on, we played 7 nights, with more people every night. Those early experiences for the band really set us up I think, it prepared us for the touring world. I mean, we haven’t really had any like mainstream publicity, but yet when we came overseas people knew who we are, and everytime we visited a town, there’d be a couple of hundred people who all knew our songs, and we don’t know how that happened. But it’s strange, we’re lucky we’ve kept an underground presence with that.
Leading on from that, not many Australian artists get prominence over, so is there anyone you’d like to recommend?
Chimp Pan Orange, who are touring with us. And er, Magnolia, they’re instrumental but they’re really interesting.
So if ya weren’t in music, what else have you always wanted to do?
I’ve always just wanted to write songs. But if not, something in cinema? I’ve always loved it. One of my only consistency points on the road is cinema.
Last of all, what can we look forward to in the future from Cat Empire?
In the past 4 years, I’ve managed to tick off a lot of the things I’ve wanted to do personally, but I reckon, more touring, we just love playing. We’ve found a stage when we’re back being surprised by eachother. But honestly, I’m not sure what the future holds.
Amazing, well, enjoy the tour.