Continuing their love affair with the annual event, The Cat Empire will once again be performing at this year’s Byron Bay Bluesfest.
“This is honestly one of my favourite festivals in the world,” enthused lead vocalist Felix Riebl. “It will be our fourth or fifth time playing there and it’s such a great time. We will be playing stuff from our whole catalogue to fully celebrate our long history both as a band and with that festival. As much as anything for bands it’s such a great festival to get to check out so many other bands. We’ve got a great following there and the shows are usually a lot of fun and very lively so we’re gonna make the most of it.”
The Cat Empire were born out of a developing era for Australian music around the turn of the century, almost pioneering a new musical genre that they have since made their own.
“We emerged very much out of the Melbourne music scene,” Felix recalled. “We’re such a diverse band in terms of our influences. There are some guys who have a very strong jazz background and I grew up listening to a lot more rock but there were so many musicians and bands at the time that trail blazed a lot for us and gave us something to look up to because there was just so much musical diversity.
“We were also lucky enough to end up travelling early on in our career. We went to the Edinborough Fringe Festival when we were nearly 20 and played there and through that, we just got excited by so many different types of music and started listening to anything we could really and The Cat Empire sound emerged from that, but I would say our main influences came from the city of Melbourne.”
The Cat Empire didn’t begin with any preconceived notion of taking over the world musically, more so a belief in themselves and their vision that allowed the band to turn their dreams into reality.
“The great thing about a band when it comes together is there’s something unexplainable there,” Felix said. “I remember the first time we went into rehearsal together and then the first time we did a gig something just happened. There was this real moment and spark of magic and none of us could put our finger on what that was. Stylistically, I still can’t describe what the band does (laughs). I just can’t. It’s kind of ridiculous after 19 years but all I can say is that it’s an atmosphere and it has generated audiences in Australia and all around the world to bring this great sense of occasion to the shows and then almost be part of the music in that way.
“I think that’s probably what The Cat Empire does best is create an atmosphere and a sense of celebration with audiences and by doing that we have combined such different sounds and styles and rhythmic ideas which make it happen. In terms of the vision, it started off with just following the feeling because we were having fun. We were just teenagers in a band and we had no other reason to do it other than that. Most of us left Uni and other things because we could. We were starting to do shows and we didn’t question it much and we knew we wanted to see it through as far as we could at that stage because it seemed to be doing something fairly unique.”
Although we can claim The Cat Empire as our own, their infectious brand of jazz, ska, funk and rock has been universally accepted on a global scale, with their eclectic sound managing to connect and reverberate around the world.
“I think, again, it’s a sense of occasion,” Felix mused. “We’re really influenced by music from all around the world but I think we’ve brought something particularly Australian to that which I think international audiences have responded to. We’re not only influenced by places we have been but we somehow have managed to bring our own character to a sound that was fairly unique. For whatever reason, there is a real sense of celebration that follows the band around. Whatever it is I think the atmosphere that the band creates is part of its longevity and its ability to tour successfully overseas.”
With the band’s 20th anniversary fast approaching, Felix warns that the best of The Cat Empire might be yet to come.
“It’s been the most incredible journey and doesn’t feel like we’ve been here that long,” he laughed. “The other thing I want to say to that is I really don’t want The Cat Empire to become a nostalgic band. I know people have those memories of us but it has to remain exciting. When we play Bluesfest we don’t want to just be playing for the sake of old hits and remembering the good old days. I want to play Bluesfest and do a great show with the same ambition and excitement and intent as we did the first time we played it. That’s the secret of staying in a band for this long. You have to have that intent all the time that we’re doing something new tonight. You have to go into it with that frame of mind and it brings more excitement and enjoyment to everything.”
Byron Bay Bluesfest will be held from April 9 to 14. For tickets and more information visit bluesfest.com.au.