Q & A with The Cat Empire

One of Australia's favourite acts, as well as the ultimate party band, The Cat Empire have returned from a huge run of shows in Europe, only to jump on to a mini-festival touring throughout most of Australia in January/February.

Teaming up with Xavier Rudd, Harts, Sahara Beck, and Ocean Alley, they will be stopping by close to us on February 5, playing Sandstone Point Hotel (Bribie Island).

We've been lucky enough to send a through questions through to vocalist/percussionist Felix Riebl in the lead up to the February 5th event.

Hello Felix! Holy crap you had a massive 2016. Just looking back through the ‘Rising With the Sun’ Tour dates, and I don’t think people realise how hard the band works! In the latter part of last year, just after you played Caloundra Music Festival (hands down, my stand out set of the event) you jetted off to Canada, then a long run in Europe. How was the Europe leg?

The Rising with the Sun European tour was the last leg of a world trip, and had some pretty incredible moments - some ridiculous and some very special.   Playing in Paris for the anniversary of the Bataclan attacks was a night I'll never forget, and there were many others that are still echoing.  I think the Barcelona show was one of the loudest crowds we've ever played to.  They even sung the instrumental parts we'd forgotten to play.  We had that combination of exhaustion and reckless energy that comes with finishing a long haul, I was glad to make it through.

And now you’ve got a fairly cruisey run of dates with Xavier Rudd, Harts, Ocean Alley and Sahara Beck (stopping close to us at the Sandstone Point Hotel at Bribie Island on Feb 5)… that’s a fairly eclectic combination right there. So the question begs, will we see some epic collaborations between you all?

I’m hoping so, yes.  It really is a kind of festival we’re touring, and all the bands have a very dynamic live set, so I guess we’ll see what everyone else is doing and maybe get involved.  For me - and maybe the crowd as well - it’s more exciting when it’s collective and spontaneous like that.

Just recently, you and Ollie collaborated on a project, resulting in the song ‘Ms Dhu’ - a very moving, protest song… can you go into detail about how this came about, and the main focus of this track?

Ollie and I have been working on a project called Spinifex Gum with a teenage Indigenous choir called Marliya for the past few years.  I’ve spent a lot of time in the Pilbara, and when I was there in 2014 I heard about the tragedy of Ms Dhu, a 22-year-old Aboriginal woman who died while in police custody in South Hedland.  The story absolutely broke my heart.  She was let down by an inherently racist system and I decided to write about it and record a song with the choir. It’s a deeply political protest song that tells the story as it happened, and the youthful Indigenous voices give it a lot of heart.  It also has an incredible video made possible by support from NITV/SBS, Indigenous communities around the country, and some very talented filmmakers.  We were in contact with Ms Dhu’s family and together decided to release the song early this year so the story wouldn’t be forgotten in ‘last year’s news.’  All proceeds are going back to them.  I recommend everyone check out the song and video and share it with #imissdhu #msdhu #stopdeathsincustody. 

TCE have been pretty involved in activism within Australia in recent years, contributing to ‘Sounds of the Reef’ (a fundraising project in response to the proposed dumping of around 3 million cubic metres of dredged seabed on the Great Barrier Reef - wtf - back 2013/14), as well as being ambassadors for Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.  With current global political situations looking, well, pretty shit, would you agree now is a greater time than ever for us in the music industry to use our amps and microphones and make a big goddamn noise about it all?

Absolutely.  As long as the music comes first and that it resonates artistically, I believe we need more protest songs.  I’d like to hear more, and be involved in music with anger and social urgency, or at least songs that excite something more unexpected.  Music allows us to speak from a very distinct and broadly relatable place, it can add to the social dialogue.

Looking back 16/17 years, back in the days of Jazz Cat, would any of you think TCE would rise to become one of Australia’s favourite acts, touring the world etc, especially playing and bringing to the forefront, a genre of music that would be seen as on the outer?

It’s been an amazing journey, and I don’t think I could have predicted it.  Hindsight’s a bit boring, because it forgets the anxiety and excitement of not knowing what’s next.  In terms of our style (whatever it is), it’s funny because we’re a very Australian band, but if you tried to explain the sound to someone it wouldn’t sound like it.  I’ve come to be proud of that slightly unexplainable aspect of our music and its place in the landscape.  I'm especially glad and surprised it's leapt to the next generation.  There are kids at our shows who would have been in nappies when the first album came out!

And lastly, my trumpet player’s a massive Cat Empire fan (hell, he trekked down to Melbourne last year to see you play, then caught your set at Caloundra Music Festival), so this one’s for him - looking through your discography, seven mighty albums in all, what would be the song to sum up your journey thus far?

For me, it’s Steal the Light.

Thanks guys! Thank you for the epic music, and all that you do.  Have a fantastic run of dates with Xavier Rudd and co, and we’ll be seeing you on Feb 5th.

Tickets for this event are available from ticketmaster.com.au. Don't miss it!

Rising With the Sun is available via iTunes here.