Summer festivals and The Cat Empire go hand in hand

FESTIVAL VIBE: The Cat Empire have been exciting music lovers for 17 years - and counting.

FESTIVAL VIBE: The Cat Empire have been exciting music lovers for 17 years - and counting.

It has been 14 years since The Cat Empire first rocked our socks off with their debut self-titled album and hit singles Hello and Days Like These.

ENERGY: The Cat Empire doing what they do best. Playing live.

ENERGY: The Cat Empire doing what they do best. Playing live.

They’re not showing any signs of slowing down, either. Yes, they’ve matured and had babies and their sound is a more even balance of light and dark. But get the band on stage and it’s still a case of anything goes. 

The Cat Empire and Xavier Rudd are joining forces for the inaugural SummerSalt festival at Hope Estate on November 25. Five concerts in total will take place at what organisers describe as “gorgeous summer settings” prior to Christmas.

Missy Higgins and John Butler Trio are also on board. 

The Cat Empire have shared the bill with Xavier Rudd on more than one occasion and are looking forward to soaking up the festival vibe at Hope Estate on November 25.

NATURAL: Xavier Rudd's honest, rootsy songs strike a chord.

NATURAL: Xavier Rudd's honest, rootsy songs strike a chord.

Riebl and his bandmates are renowned for their energetic and infectious live performances, not to mention their musicianship. They just “keep on keeping on”, says vocalist and percussionist Felix Riebl. 

“Being in this band, it’s a bit like being a shark – if you stop you die. It’s pretty thrilling to make new music so we tend to look forward rather than back, as a rule.” 

Improvisation on stage also helps to keep things fresh. Among other things, it keeps the many band members on their toes. 

“It’s best when you improvise as a whole band,” Riebl explains.

“Improvisation is never perfect but it’s full of energy, and thinking that something unexpected might happen makes it fun. I mean, there are songs we’ve been playing for close to 17 years now.

“We have a set list but it gets distorted and I’m fairly well known for making set-list changes on the fly, much to everyone else’s annoyance. I think my job is to drive everyone up the wall in this band.”

I remind him of an interview he did recently with a Vancouver media outlet where he said he “liked playing overseas because there were less expectations”.

“The greatest of experiences when performing live is to forget yourself and to enter this colourful and chaotic space but before the show it’s hard not to feel nervous and start second-guessing yourself,” he replies.

“When you’re overseas you don’t worry so much. There’s something absolutely wonderful about anonymity, even when you’re on stage in front of thousands of people. That’s what I’m looking for on stage, when you just follow the song and the rhythm and at that point you don’t have time to think about who you are and the context.”

When it comes to musical influences and preferences, Riebl likes to keep an open mind. His mother used to pick him up from school playing Eminem or Bach in the car, he says. There was no middle ground.

“I’ve been influenced by a lot of African and Spanish music. I’ve always loved it because I’ve felt I can access a song free from the tedious meaning we put on things and I can go into an imaginative space. For me that’s the starting point of music, much more so than the boring message of what it might be about.  

“We’re unified by mutual misunderstanding more than we are unified by mutual understanding and music celebrates that. It doesn’t try to excuse it, it tries to say lose yourself rather than find yourself and explain yourself. 

“Music is about how you’re responding to it at the time. About everyone taking a leap of faith and embracing a joyful chaos. That’s something we crave as people. I do, anyway.”

By all means have the time of your life at a Cat Empire gig. Take that leap of faith and lose yourself in the music. Just don’t refer to them as a “party band”. 

“Oh how I hate that expression, it drives me up the wall,” Riebl says. 

“We have such an intimate experience with audiences in a very loving and intoxicating space and that can never be explained by something as simple as ‘party band’ denotes.”

SummerSalt 2017 featuring The Cat Empire and Xavier Rudd is at Hope Estate, Pokolbin, on November 25. Tickets are on sale now through summersaltmusic.com.au.