“Sometimes you need to frighten yourself”: For The Cat Empire’s Felix Riebl, it’s creativity over comfort
01.03.2021

“Sometimes you need to frighten yourself”: For The Cat Empire’s Felix Riebl, it’s creativity over comfort

Words by Tammy Walters

The Cat Empire are back in their element, bringing their infectious, feel-good jams back to the stage.

Known for their unparalleled, vibrant live shows, the band who constantly put ‘Two Shoes’ forward have been making their way across the nation with The Teskey Brothers, John Butler, Boy and Bear, Montaigne, Missy Higgins and Emily Wurramara for the SummerSalt Series. 

“It’s been really incredible to be back on stage again and to be around musicians who have made a career as really great performers. It’s been so enlivening to see great crowds and musicians doing the things and people having fun,” says frontman and principal songwriter, Felix Riebl. 

The SummerSalt series was their first round of shows following their cancelled European tour last March and is just the first in a bunch of appearances. The Cat Empire are joining the all-Australian Bluesfest 2021 lineup and have added a hometown show as part of Art Centre Melbourne’s Live at the Bowl series.  

What will be their first Melbourne live show in over a year, the Sidney Myer Music Bowl performance on Saturday March 6 will see The Cat Empire supported by Australian soul queen, Kylie Auldist, for an unforgettable feast of festivity. 

“The Live At The Bowl show is a very special one for us because it’s a hometown show and we really love that venue – it’s got a very special place in our hearts,: says Riebl.

“Having been away from touring and performing live for so long previous to the SummerSalt festival – we were over in the UK about to head to Spain when COVID kicked off sort of Feb/March last year, so we spent a lot of time in Melbourne not playing – to come back and play a show in the heart of the city and in the heart of the city that raised us, musically, is going to be really special.”

The Cat Empire’s live music career started 20 years ago in Australia’s live music capital, debuting their Latin grounded, funk, jazz and ska fusion in the Spiegeltent at Melbourne Festival.

Their on-stage improvisational antics and bold sound has not faltered across the double decade, with Riebl acknowledging the spontaneity only adds to the experience. It’s the one thing to expect from their upcoming live show; the unexpected!   

“I tend to write the set list about half an hour before we go on stage so it will be a very special occasion for us and we’re very excited it has come about,” he explains.

“It probably comes from the earlier days of performing when we were much more sporadic and, perhaps it’s neurotic on my behalf, but to me it’s really fun to start the show totally different to how you started the night before and how it tricks you into being alive on stage. Sometimes you need to frighten yourself and surprise yourself to get yourself into the space. 

“The Cat Empire built its live reputation around being very, very improvisational. It’s a unique experience that night, not like the night before. You make a pact with the audience at the beginning of the show that you are going to go some place together and hopefully it will be something remarkable and that’s a very romantic notion to try and do the same thing different. If you could do that in a relationship, you’re doing quite well.”

Riebl also uses that relationship and the vibrant environment to inspire new music material. Previously considering the translation of toe-tapping numbers on albums Steal The Light, Rising with the Sun, and their most recent Stolen Diamonds for the live show setting, this time around Riebl is letting the atmosphere, energy and the relationships both off and on stage inform their ongoing sound.

“A band like us, we’re kind of like a shark; if we stop moving creatively, then we die – you have to keep on moving and creating internally and working to something new in order to stay contemporary to yourself. That’s the most important thing. That’s what I’m trying to do at the moment.

“We’re working on some new material and being back on stage is providing a lot of good energy for that. Even being around exceptionally talented musicians is fuel for the songwriting fire.”

The Cat Empire hit Sidney Myer Music Bowl for Live at the Bowl on Saturday March 6. Grab your tickets here