They're known as one of the best festival bands in the world and this week, they will be making their live debut in India.
Australian ska-funk-jazz band The Cat Empire, known for their infectiously energetic live sets, will be playing this weekend at the ninth edition of SulaFest, a world music, food, and wine festival that takes place annually in Nashik, Maharashtra. This year, SulaFest boasts a line-up that includes more than 100 international and national artistes (including Kailasa, Dub Inc., Balkan Beat Box, Made In Barcelona, and Aqua Dominatrix) in a variety of genres. The two-day event, which begins at 12.30 pm on Saturday and Sunday, attracts visitors from Mumbai and Pune as well as a smattering of music lovers from other parts of the country for their generally eclectic music programming.
A glimpse of SulaFest 2015
The Cat Empire is this year's SulaFest headliner. This has generated considerable excitement amongst music lovers who follow world and indie music. HuffPost India spoke to the band's drummer, Will Hull-Brown, over email, about their first ever gig in India. Here is how that conversation went:
Is this the first offer you've had to play in India or have there been previous occasions that didn't work out?
As far as I know this is the first offer we've had for India.
What's the line-up you're travelling with for SulaFest (band members + crew)?
The band line-up involves 8 of us on stage — the 6 original members & the Empire Horns (Ross Irwin and Kieran Conrau). We will also have a tour manager, stage manager, and 2 sound engineers — one for our on-stage sound and one for the Front of House sound. So that's 12 of us all up. We are leaving the chef and masseuse at home this time... he he.
Your last album, Steal The Light, came three years after Cinema. Can we expect a new album this year, then?
Yes, you can expect a new album this March in fact! It's called Rising With The Sun. We recorded it last year in the same studio, and using the same producer/engineer as with Steal The Light. We're very proud of it. I think we'll play a couple of these new songs at SulaFest.
What excites you more: touring live or working on new material in the studio?
I think you really need both. They're complimentary. If we've been in the studio for a while I start getting itchy to play the new material live so that we can experience that live energy with an audience, and to see how they react to the new stuff (hopefully positive!). Conversely, after we've been on the road for a while, it's quite natural to want to make new music because you've been playing the same songs night after night. So to answer your question, my feelings ebb and flow depending on how much touring and recording we do.
Is there a songwriting process you follow or do you let songs grow organically through multiple jam sessions?
Felix and Harry are the main songwriters in the band. Traditionally it's worked that they bring in their songs to rehearsal and teach them to the rest of us, but we also have a lot of room to move creatively in terms of specific drums parts, bass parts etc. I guess what Felix and Harry want for their songs is a particular vibe, so it's up for interpretation most of the time. On our new album Rising With The Sun, we actually did a lot of jamming in the recording studio. We were much more under-prepared that we have been on previous albums. This was deliberate though. So while we were jamming, a lot of great riffs, rhythms and melodies came out and formed the basic for a few of the songs. It was a very collaborative process in that way. I don't think I will ever write lyrics though. I'll leave that up to Felix and Harry!
More and more Australian artistes have been making a mark in the international music scene over the past few years. In India, many are fans of the likes of Gotye, Tame Impala, Karnivool etc. Is there a sudden explosion of better music from Oz or is it just that we're hearing about it now?
Gotye, Tame Impala, Karnivool...what great bands! These bands have been around for quite a while now, and I guess they've been gradually making their mark around the world, with the exception of Gotye who really did explode everywhere with the single 'Somebody That I Used To Know'. These bands are not overnight successes, though. They've got real depth and talent to their music. Perhaps it just took a little while for their music to make inroads into India, I can't say for sure.
What's your exposure to Indian music, independent or otherwise?
As a drummer myself, I am amazed at the complexity and intricacies of Indian music and in particularly, the rhythms. I've heard some incredible tabla and sitar playing, and how they interact together is quite beyond me, but it's something I'd like to explore further. In terms of Bollywood music, that seems to be more on the pop side of things stylistically and culturally speaking, and it's probably what most people would identify most with India here in Australia anyway. We are exposed to some Bollywood here in through film, but I'm sure it's just the tip of the iceberg compared to what India has to offer. In terms of famous players that I know, there's Ravi Shankar, of course. He was amazing. And Trilok Gurtu is a fantastic percussionist. I actually first heard Trilok on a video I got when I started learning the drums back when I was 10 years old. He was playing a really unique drum-set where he was not standing up, but also he wasn't quite sitting down either — it was somewhere in between. He had such a unique approach, and since I was 10 years old, I'd never seen anything like it!
Tickets for SulaFest 2016 are available here.
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