Melbourne-based jazz / ska festival favourites The Cat Empire have a new album and an epic Australian and world tour on the horizon. Jodie Bellchambers spoke with Felix Riebl about Rising with the Sun and what inspires them to make you want to listen and dance.
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You just played Bluesfest. Tell me about the significance of the event to you?
It means a lot to the band, we’ve played Bluesfest about six times. I remember going up doing the musician’s pilgrimage, I was just out of school with a bunch of friends checking out that festival and standing up in the audience and looking up at the stage and thinking like – man I’m going to be in a band that’s going to play here one day no matter what, I was just so inspired by that. Out of all the festivals in Australia that’s the one that has the most weight for me for that reason. I mean last week as I said we played WOMAd and that’s another festival that also really suits us. But Bluesfest is a place I always went when I was young and it just a place that you go and discover new up and coming bands.
While playing around with lively world music sounds, your new tracks also combines new synth sounds, how are you enjoying performing it live?
Yeah absolutely, Olly has always had such a big job in the band because there are no guitars – we’ve really explored new sounds. It adds a new colour to the band and I think for us it’s a big relief, it really lightens thing up. Especially the synth on Wolves we played the track and Harry was on this broken down synthesiser and a cracked cable and it kept on breaking up. In some ways we never intended on making that the sound but it just sounded great. It’s just got a really wild tropical disco kind of feeling to it and that became the feeling for the song.
Where does the strong world music inspiration come from?
I kind of found it in my head that we should make Australian people dance more to other music. I remember hearing Cuban music when I was 14 or 15 and it just moved me. It was like another language that I couldn’t understand – it had a rhythm that just went ‘round in circles and I heard trumpets and percussion. After that I got really interested in African music. I grew up listening to a lot of rock and that was the start for me and from there I just followed where it took me. It was a lot of experimenting with different things and eventually having our own sound and that was the start of The Cat Empire and we have just kept on evolving.
The entire band is extremely professional, talented and no doubt have personal ideas. How did you as a group develop the song writing process on the new album?
We didn’t rehearse for this album we just made a conscious decision – the musicians would be hearing the song for the first time as it was sparking so it gave it a real freshness. For me I write songs very privately. I go away, I take all the experiences from tour and festivals and then being in a quiet room with a piano for fairly long spurts of time, I create the songs that way. Then I take them to the band and often the song entirely transforms, like Wolves. In my head it was going to be a lot simpler and the band totally transformed it into a loose, fun song. Harry on the other hand usually comes in with an idea for a song and then the band will build on it in the studio. There are other ways as well that it happens but a lot of the songs are really made in the studio.
The album has a very positive upbeat message for listeners. In the age of negative media bombardment how important do you think creating music like this is?
You know I’ve written a lot of songs and I found it’s harder to write a song about festive and happy stuff rather than heartbreak. I’m grateful for The Cat Empire to be able to write happy music. Not that all of the Cat Empires songs are happy, anyone that can listen to our 6 or 7 albums knows that there are sad songs on there. We are a very rhythmic band we rely on the horns and the rhythmic instruments to fill up a festive audience. I don’t know why the chemistry in the band kind of takes on a life of its own, you kind of follow it and try and make the most of it. If you look at the music today it is all fairly miserable. I try to write songs that are not necessarily happy but they make me joyful. I mean like the song the Bataclan – I was devasted by that news, we played in that venue is Paris, when I wrote that song I was deeply sad but it turned out to be a celebratory song.
You’ve embarked on a huge tour to promote the new album Rising With the Sun which has already debuted at No.1 in Australia and in the top 10 and top 20 in 27 countries worldwide. You must be looking forward to the reception you’ll no doubt get from live audiences – both here and abroad?
Yeah absolutely, it’s always a great feeling when the album is received well. I think what I like about it is it’s just really vibrant and the songs they transform on the stage. We did WOMADelaide last week and we had a really great time there and we are about to do Blues and Roots. Such a good feeling to stand behind the music and let the music do the work.
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The Cat Empire play NightQuarter on 8 May, with Pierce Brothers in support. Tickets via Oztix.