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Interviews |  09 Feb 2016 15:49 |  By RnMTeam

"Exposure to various styles of music makes The Cat Empire's sound what it is"

NASHIK: For those who entered the Sula establishment for the first time during the SulaFest last weekend, the walk to the amphitheatre explained why the gourmet music festival is one of its kind.

SulaFest provides a very intimate setting with tiny stalls- selling handmade crafts, branded sunglasses, and party accessories- set beside each other. The tattoo shops, the immense range of cuisines and Nashik's climate ensured these elements act as the cherry on the cake; of course, the cake being music. 

SulaFest has gradually gone through tactical changes as the Festival grew, although what has remained constant is the love for wine and the emphasis on music. SulaFest, through the years, has created a reputation and a balance between the relatively lesser known international acts and mainstream popular Indian ones. The intent was repeated during this edition as the festival hosted Mumbai-based 'Kailasa' and Australia's ska-jazz band 'The Cat Empire'. 

The Cat Empire's vocalist, and self-obsessed Nick Cave follower, Felix Reibel spoke to before the band performed their debut set on Indian soil. 2016 would be special for the band with debut performances at various cities, and an album release on 4 March 2016.   

Be honest, what idea of Indian music did you have before Sula even approached you?

We have played in many festivals, and we have seen some Indian acts. We are definitely aware of Indian classical music. Although I have not been into the music, as I have been with music from other countries- for example, I had been to Cuba when I was younger and the music drew me towards it. I am still a stranger to Indian music and hence it is very mysterious for us. 

How does a band with different members carrying different musical influences manage to find a common ground of music? 

The song is important. The song brings us together. I got a lot of similar questions from India and I understand why, and I appreciate it. When it comes to Indian classical music, an artist spends an entire life learning and mastering a particular style and I respect that enormously. There's more discipline in any kind of classical music. In our case, the song has to lead the way. I, personally, try to get as much from all the music that I hear and try to put together into a piece. 

Ever thought The Cat Empire would come such a long way? Literally and musically?

Never. never expected it to go this long. Visiting India has been the best part for us. When the band started, the biggest goal was to play for a room full of 100 people. Then things started getting bigger, and we wanted to play for 1000 people. And incrementally, it stepped up. Then came the album. Then came more international shows. And now we have a great following. We do not want to repeat the same things over again. A show like tonight's makes me really nervous because I have never been here. So to answer your question, we did not expect it to go for 16 years. It's a nice position to be. 

Irrespective of how the response at Sula goes, are you guys planning for an independent tour to India? 

We hope to use tonight's show as the answer to that. Since we have come here, we could see that people are excited about our performance. Irrespective of what happens, The Cat Empire would come back to India, if not for performances, then at least for the music. 

At what point in The Cat Empire's journey, did you realise that the band and its music is now getting serious and popular? The a-ha moment, as they call it?

That's a very interesting question. Two moments come to my mind. The one when we played our first show, back around 2002. The room where we played was very dodgy and the sound was bad, but there was something special about the combination between the musicians and the response from the people present in the room, that the room really came alive. 
Another moment was a series of events. I remember when we played at Edinburgh festival in Scotland. We played for 14 nights in a row- from 3 to 5 am- so there was barely anyone on the first night. The next night, there were 20 people and by the end of the first week, there were 400 people. And all of that happened due to word-of-mouth. That moment when people like your music so much, they recommend it to your friends and the chain continues, is more special and memorable. 

Does the fact that countries like India which are not exposed to The Cat Empire's sound make it an advantage for you? Or is that a drawback because they may not like what they hear?

I do not know if you can see this, but I am really nervous because of the same reason. We are neither a ska band nor a jazz band, we do improvise a lot. There are Jamaican influences in some of our songs. We have not defined the band's genre and perhaps, that has helped us to play good music through the years. On the other hand, we have remained open to various styles and sounds from other parts of the world. That fact has helped in shaping of The Cat Empire's sound. 

Some artists put out their music for free, whereas some artists charge every penny for whatever they create. This has created a divide inside the industry and the streaming services are making the most of it. Where does The Cat Empire stand on this argument? 

My personal feeling is - if streaming or downloading leads to a case where new bands cannot start up, if the band starts making music for commercial purposes, then that is bad for society. It is important for musicians to get paid. We made money by performing live. It's a shame when artists have to compromise on their art. And unfortunately, in a capitalist world, paying musicians a lot of money represents showing respect and appreciation. 

Do you agree the music from Australia has not been received as widely considering the potential?

I really do not agree. I do not feel Australian musicians aren't popular or anything. Take Paul Kelly or Nick Cave from the 80s and you understand the talent that the country has produced. Of course, there are many modern artists that belong to the elite set of internationally acclaimed bands (Tame Impala, Chet Faker). I guess, we listen to them and not impose our music onto them. Australian artists are very aware of the extraordinary music in the world. 

Right now, what are the artists that you are hooked up to?

I have been listening to a lot of rap lately. Kanye West, Li'l Wayne, M.I.A. are few of the artists. I do not believe in one kind of music. I like club music, pop, my exposure is immense.