“The songs tend to have mind of their own and I’ll go where they wanna go.”
The Cat Empire is a band with long history, coming from Melbourne, Australia they became a real big name across Europe and America. 7 albums, over a thousand shows, world tours almost every year – where the unique style of the band originated and what’s the secret of the constant band lineup – that’s the stuff we’re talking about with Felix – The Cat Empire’s frontman, lead vocal and percussionist!
- RockTheNight: Felix, thank you so much for spending few minutes with us today.
- Felix Riebl: With Pleasure
- RtN: We are in Romania, few hours before your show in Bucharest. You seem to visit Romania every year (and I’m a bit jealous about this – I came from Bulgaria, which is really not so far away). Who’s inviting you here so often?
- FR: I think that a song that I wrote when I was very young – “The Lost Song” became very popular over here, I’m not quite sure why. For some unknown reason people in Romania really liked this song. So that’s probably the first thing that captured their attention, and the agents realized that the song is very popular and we came once… and that’s why we come back. I’d love to play in Bulgaria some time – it’s just a matter of time and opportunity for this band. There are a lot of places that we would love to go, but we don’t have time to go.
- RtN: You’re starting the European tour today, are there any places in Europe that you’re playing for the first time?
- FR: I don’t think so. I think everywhere on this tour we’ve played at least once
- RtN: You travel a lot – you’re from Australia, you’ve recorded an album in Cuba, you just finished the North American tour, you have fantastic reception in Europe – what’s your favorite place (except your home, of course)
- FR: My favorite place? That’s a very difficult question. I don’t have one favorite place, we’ve done great shows in many different places and sometimes it’s not just capital cities, sometimes you have a great show when you play in a small city somewhere. I try not to think too much for countries when I’m on tour. I like to think that every night it’s sort of… its own world. We’ve played in London – we did a show in Royal Albert Hall, we’ve done big shows in lots of places, but I don’t have one favorite city
- RtN: ‘Rising With The Sun’ has a strong “animal” theme going through the entire album (‘Wolves’, ‘Bulls’, and ‘Eagle’). Was this the main intimation in this album?
- FR: A lot of people joke about it – I don’t know why exactly, it’s easier to write in the setlist just a single word, easier to remember. And they have totemic qualities, they evoke something that musically I quite like… Also they are expressive without language, we have all of these reasons, but it’s not that – it’s just how it happens.
- RtN: Last year, on the European tour you’ve played “Wolfs”, “Bulls”, “Que Sera Ahora”, songs from the new album which at that time wasn’t released yet, which songs are you looking forward to performing on this tour (not necessarily new ones)?
- FR: I’ve mentioned this – we’ll play “The Lost Song”, we don’t play it very often. And the song “Daggers Drawn”, for the musicians it’s really an exciting song to play. One of my favorite songs to perform is “Still Young” – I always enjoy that one. What else… It’s a mixture of early albums and later albums – the first two albums and the last two albums, it’s probably where the most popular songs came from
RtN: Whose idea was mixing all those styles in your music – you have jazz, latin, pop, ska – and how all this became “The Cat Empire” style?
- FR: I don’t know – it’s nice not to know the answer to that one. I wish I could tell you more. Originally it was probably more curiosity, being a young musician – hearing one style sound, being influenced by that, stealing it, turning it into something… And later it became a bit of a sound, so now I think it’s quite distinct in terms of one genre to the next – it’s more like the atmosphere within the band, it has its own kind of feeling. It’s always been a unique band, very difficult to describe. I try not to understand it too much – I try to enjoy it for the reasons I can’t understand. It works in a more interesting way
- RtN: Do you guys have a tradition, or ritual before going up on the stage?
- FR: Not really… I’m nervous for tonight, cause it’s the first show of the tour and once I spend even just a month away from the band it’s like you have to remember who you are in the band again. After over a thousand shows you know what it’s like but I still get quite nervous – getting back into the character again. Sometimes I listen to music and sometimes I do vocal excercises. I try to relax and the the shock of being on the stage – it’s about tricking yourself into being surprised
- RtN: How did the music that you like evolved – are the bands that you used to like as teenagers the same bands that you admire now?
- FR: I like kinda listening to new music a lot of the time – I didn’t grow up listening to Cuban music, I grew up listening to a lot of rock and pop music – like any teenager I had a lot of favorite bands. With The Cat Empire it was always about music that was on the edge of my imagination, music that was different that I enjoyed, as we started performing live together, improvising, writing songs and I became really interested in these less known bands. There are still some musicians that I love, that I’ve loved since I was a teenager but I was always grateful to this band, because it makes me listen to new music, for instance Jumps, the DJ collects records from all over the world and plays us things that are interesting and it’s such an exciting musical landscape, because you can really go down the rabbit hole and discover new stuff. I get really excited by listening to new stuff
- RtN: When you are on the road, you meet a lot of interesting bands. And are any live acts that you would recommend?
- FR: One of my favorite bands is Callexico, they are really beautiful, we’ve done a lot of shows together at festivals. There are so many great bands, it’s really hard to tell you which ones I would recommend. My mind is so full of different acts, it’s hard to pick up one. Springsteen is one of the best performers I’ve seen in the last few years. I love Radiohead, they’re beautiful. Toumani Diabaté is one of my favorite live performances, but there are so many bands…
- RtN: The members of the band are the same since 2001, what’s the secret of keeping the band together?
- FR: I think the crowd, the audience and the music – the audience is what’s keeping this band alive, they come with the sense of celebration and that live aspect has really kept us together, kept us wanting go back to that space. And then making albums, recording, being interested in new sounds has kept us together as well. Sounds very simple, but it’s a live band and it’s a band that’s always interested in new music. Those aspects, aside from the fact that we are friends and we’ve experienced a lot together has kept us playing and the fact that we can make living – playing music is also a big factor, it’s a nice way to live.
- RtN: I know that your album came out just few months ago, but… any plans for new one?
- FR: There are no plans for the next one for the moment – first we’re gonna finish this tour and we are probably not tour as much next year. I have some good ideas for some songs and I hope they get recorded one day. Generally, it starts with few ideas and it turns to an album after that.
- RtN: You just released a new solo album “Paper Doors”, you are constantly working on your own stuff. How do you feel about your own music and what’s the difference between this and The Cat Empire?
- FR: I’ve been enjoying playing my solo music this year – so this makes two albums this year. The Cat Empire is very distinct band, there’s not really many other bands that sound like The Cat Empire – maybe it’s because of my voice, and that’s the common thing. We’ve making music for so long and there’s kind of a joy in writing songs. And if the songs are meant to be The Cat Empire then great, and if not – I’ll record them with my solo band or just with my piano. It figures itself out. The songs tend to have mind of their own and I’ll go where they wanna go.
- RtN: I have this feeling – in the band, the songs that you are singing are faster, maybe even harder, and the songs that Harry sings are kinda slower, lyrical. How do you decide who’s going to sing one or another song?
- FR: These days generally if we write a song – we sing it. In the early days I used to write songs and give them to Harry to sing. It just figures itself out. We’re both very different songwriters, but we’re writing for this band, and this band is very unique. We tend to write songs that suit our individual voices.
- RtN: What about the lyrics?
- FR: I write my lyrics and Harry writes his lyrics. But not the whole time, usually the one who sings is writing the lyrics. With the exception of some of the earlier songs
- RtN: I think that’s pretty much everything at this time. Thanks so much for chatting with us, It was an honor talking with you!
- FR: My pleasure!
Few shots taken later that day at the TCE show in Bucharest: