Most people know songwriter and musician Felix Riebl from The Cat Empire.
He’s the high-energy percussionist and vocalist who fronts the group alongside Harry Angus. As an integral part of this internationally touring high-octane band Riebl is at home on the world stage as he is in quiet Melbourne theatre. In fact sometimes, admid the chaos, it’s the ‘calm’ that Riebl seeks in his solo endeavours.
He is currently touring nationally on the In Your Arms tour, and note that it’s the moment that stands still in the middle of the mayhem that he often values most.
‘There is a song called Snowflakes that has a really good moment for that. I feel it has as much energy as a big Cat Empire song, but so few notes and spaces between.’
When it comes to songwriting, Riebl is attracted to diversity.
‘I write songs that are very different from each other,’ he says.
‘The context and the style don’t really matter; I am searching for an atmosphere. It can happen on a festival stage or it can happen in a small room.’
Riebl doesn’t have a conventional singing voice. In fact he’d probably get voted off The Voice, but ironically it’s his voice that is one of the most mesmerising aspects of his performance.
‘I have a distinct voice – I learnt to write to its strangeness and top its weaknesses. Mine isn’t a perfect voice; I recognised my faults. It informs how I phrase and I sing, so I tend to write in a very distinct way.
‘Songs can be quite prophetic in a strange way.
You often start to write in a way about things and you can see it hasn’t happened yet. You understand it more later down the tract. I am in tune with that intuitive moment. I look back and feel a bit frustrated with earlier songs where I have tried to explain too much.
‘Music is a place where you enter into a conversation where no-one knows the language, and there aren’t defined rules, and music says fuck meaning. I think in music you stop thinking about literal things.’
Cat Empire are renowned for their improvisation, something Riebl looks for in all his shows. ‘It’s that level of wildness – it haunts me. It’s something I always chase. You still remember what it’s like not to know what is coming next. The joy is terrifying. There is a great line from Paul Simon on his recent album Stranger to Stranger where he says I am just jittery, just jittery, it’s a way of dealing with my joy. It stayed with me because it’s so true, and for me in general that is what music does.’
For the In Your Arms national tour he will be joined onstage by some of the country’s most celebrated musicians, weaving songs from Paper Doors, Into the Rain, new works, and re-imagined material from his extensive catalogue with The Cat Empire.
Felix Riebl performs at Lismore City Hall on Saturday. Sam Buckingham support. Doors 7pm. Tickets $30 / $35 from lismorecityhall.com.au or 1300 066 722