The Cat Empire’s Felix Riebl Talks Solo Music And Touring The World
Written by Elisa Parry on 4th January, 2016
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Felix Riebl, percussionist and one half of The Cat Empire’s energetic front-duo, released his first solo album, Into The Rain, in 2011. Since then, between completing about four laps of the world, making a couple more albums with The Cat Empire and working on number of various other projects, he’s managed to find the time to work on a second EP, Lonely Truth, with a full album set for release early next year.
Over the phone from his Fitzroy studio, Felix casually explains, “my life seems to be made up of sort of following where whatever songs I’ve recently written take me. I find it hard to map out a calendar and say this is what I’m going to do now, it really depends on what material I’m writing.”
For the Lonely Truth EP, this means heading in a slightly different direction from his previous solo work.
“Into The Rain is an album that I really love, but it’s just a very natural album – I liked the simplicity of those songs. This album that’s coming out next year for me is probably more exciting in terms of its production and a bit more unexpected in terms of what the songs are about and where they go. I suppose this EP really bridges the distance between Into The Rain and what my new album is going to be. There are songs on there that indicate where I’ve come from and where I’m going.”
The title track has it’s own story, a rough-mix of a song recovered from a lost session.
“Lonely Truth was written a while back. It was a song that we recorded, it’s completely natural, the vocal performance and the band take is just all what it was and then we lost the session. I always thought I’d re-record that song and actually mix it, but this is just a rough mix of that performance.”
Yet other tracks have been far more carefully crafted: “Crocodiles is probably more thought through as a song, it’s one that really tells a story, in its performance and it’s more layered in terms of its production.”
Luckily for Riebl, balancing the demands of writing for The Cat Empire and under his own name simultaneously has never been a problem.
“Often songs sort of turn into what they are slowly. You don’t really have a sense of linear time of when they were written or how they were written, you just go ‘finally I have a collection of songs now that’s ready to turn into an album’. So you start thinking about how that might become an album or an EP or whatever it is you’re making. That happens all the time. I don’t really ever switch off in that way. I enjoy a life of trying to find songs and trying to find a way for music to get out. You’re just sort of always working away and you follow it when it feels good.”
When it comes to deciding whether a song will work for The Cat Empire, he’s found there’s no real rule.
“I try not to compartmentalise too much, because the best songs are surprising. There have been songs that I’ve thought ‘there’s no way that this could be a Cat Empire song’, and then it’s really taken off with The Cat Empire. When we’re in a session with The Cat Empire, it’s very combustive, there’s a lot of different personalities, the instrumentation is pretty unique to that band, and often an idea will really change a lot in the studio.”
Yet working on his own EP and album is a much more free-flowing process.
“We don’t rehearse before we go in there, the songs tend to play themselves. I work with musicians who I know are going to do something quite natural to the sound and to the movement of it. So I enjoy the experience of those two things really differently, but in terms of the songs, I think I like letting the songs decide for themselves where they’re going to go.”
As far as finding inspiration, spending a serious amount of time travelling the world in the back of tour bus always helps. The EP easily evokes those rambling tales of travel, of life on the road, of the return home.
“I think a lot of songs get written on tour in your head. You see a lot of cities pass by, a lot of landscapes. I don’t make much sense of those things when I’m on the road. So when I go to write music, that’s when I feel I’m kind of travelling in the truer sense of the word I suppose, because a lot of those images all of a sudden become really useful in a songwriting context, because they are images or atmospheres that you can still register, that you can still kind of reach back into and that you can process in a much more colourful way by writing them.”
While the EP touches on some political issues, the upcoming album, Riebl assures, is quite light-hearted – full of songs about things he finds curious.
“There’s this notion that when I write for the Cat Empire I’m sort of just in this one festive state of mind and when I write for me I’m compensating for that by writing darker material – it’s really not true. There’s a lot that I’ve written in The Cat Empire that covers a dark undertone, and in the same way it can be a very joyous band as well. With my music, I feel like it’s possibly even more light-hearted than The Cat Empire album in a lot of ways. But albeit not with the same obvious hallmarks of what that is. I think probably my voice when I’m writing under my own name is quite intimate, and so I look for a different space. It’s not necessarily got to do with different themes, or trying to differentiate what those themes might be. I just follow the song and see where it’s going to go and try and keep an open mind as much as possible.”