Living the hippie high life
By Mike Dacks
Four-and-a-half years down their golden road to unlimited devotion, Kitchener's five-piece Fat Cats have become a staple of the flourishing neo-hippie music scene in southern Ontario. Having shared the stage with fellow psychedelic voyagers moe., Days of You, and London's Kickstand Travolta, these Cats know what it takes to keep a crowd's bones-a-shakin' and coming back for more.
"A jam band has to consist of musicians who know what they're doing, more so than a three-chord-play-guitar-at-your-knees outfit," says guitarist Todd Gillies. "With this type of music you have to go out there and plug away until you prove yourself because a lot of the fan base is just grassroots and word of mouth."
It is this same grassroots approach of constant touring, bringing the Fat Cats to The Embassy Saturday, which has led to recent commercial success for like-minded groups Phish and the Dave Matthews Band.
"There's been more receptiveness as far as the industry's concerned to back these acts," muses Gillies. "If you look at the Grateful Dead's renaissance of popularity in the late '80s, that's where a lot of the current energy comes from. And with the end of the Dead and [Jerry] Garcia's death, you can see there's a big void out there I'm sure record companies are thinking that filling this void is good for business."
Playing a style of music that has always had an underground following but has never really sought or, until recently, had much mainstream popularity, the Fat Cats realize fan support and improvisation is more important to the band's longevity than a radio-friendly single.
"I think the true alternative music has always been jam music. I think it's for people who have more of an attention span than for a poppy three-minute soundbite."
In keeping with the spirit of The Grateful Dead, the Fat Cats allow both audio and video taping of their shows, a feature which has turned out to be a good way of publicizing their music. Almost all shows get taped and are fairly easy to acquire.
"If somebody wants to know about tapes, they can ask us and we'll hook them up with someone at the show," says Gillies. "There are definitely a lot of tapes out there, so it's just a matter of getting connected."
While the Fat Cats have one indie CD out and another on the way, it's still the live shows that keep their music vibrant and fresh.
"You look out in the audience and there will always be people 17, 18, 19-years old as well as people 25, 26 and on up into middle age," claims Gillies. "There doesn't seem to be a specific group of people at a certain age who continue along with this [kind of] music and you never appeal to anyone younger or older it appeals to a wide range of people."