16 Feb 2019

INTERVIEW: Cate Le Bon on her new album

From RNZ Music, 1:17 pm on 16 February 2019

Cate Le Bon joins Kiran Dass in conversation and she performs 'Love is Not Love' and 'Waterfalls' by Paul McCartney in our studio after 52 hours of travel to get to NZ.

Cate Le Bon

Cate Le Bon Photo: Ivana Klickovic

Someone recently told Los Angeles-based Welsh musician Cate Le Bon that a guitar solo she played sounded like "a bird playing a tin can".

"I don't know if it was a compliment or not," she laughs.

She's a sensationally good, and interesting guitarist (check out the many blistering live clips of her on YouTube), but for her five-date tour of New Zealand has opted to leave her guitar at home and concentrate on vocals, piano, synth and samplers.

"I've never really counted myself as a good guitar player, you know. It's just something that I can find my way around to help me write songs."

With an idiosyncratic style that brings together abstruse lyrics delivered in a lilting Welsh delivery, Le Bon's songs recall the weird playfulness of Syd Barrett.

Folky but noisy, abstract but poppy - sweet keyboards are met with the sparks that fly from Le Bon's sharp, jagged squally guitars.

 

Le Bon (Le Bon is her stage name, by the way. No relation to Duran Duran's Simon Le Bon. When asked if she likes Duran Duran she smiles and says politely, "not particularly.") spent a year off from performing music to live alone in England's Lake District where she studied furniture making.

While there, she bought a piano and re-purposed her songs to make them work without guitar. She says it's been an enjoyable process modifying her songs - which typically have guitar - to present them in a more stripped down manner.

"It's kind of nice to re-invent and re-think the ways you've become used to performing so you don't become too lazy."

Since 2008 Le Bon has produced four solo albums, three EPs (including the stunning Welsh-language EP Edrych yn Llygaid Ceffyl Benthyg which translates as 'looking in the eyes of a borrowed horse') and multiple side projects and collaborations.

Her 2013 album Mug Museum features the woozy duet 'I Think I Knew' with Seattle indie-pop musician Perfume Genius; she guests on the Manic Street Preachers song '4 Lonely Roads'; and recently co-produced Deerhunter's album Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared?

 

Following on from 2016's Crab Day, Le Bon's fifth as yet unnamed album is due in May. She describes the songs as more intimate and personal than her previous work because they were written in solitude during her time at the Lake District.

She then recorded the material in Los Angeles (where she moved to from Wales in 2013) and nearby Joshua Tree National Park.

"It's been dragged all over!" she jokes.

Of her move to LA from Wales, Le Bon says "I think it had been a particularly grey and rainy year in Wales and I had decided I wanted to make my next record in Los Angeles and everything fell into place with visas and it kind of made sense to just move there."

"I think it's always nice to have a change of scenery. Even if it's just to refresh your own creativity."

Music-making for Le Bon started as a hobby, but quickly accelerated to a full-blown career. After her New Zealand tour, she has an extensive tour over five months across Europe, the UK and the States.

After recording Mug Museum she took up pottery, a tactile, tangible craft away from the demands of the music industry: "I wanted music to be the thing that I get home and do as opposed to the thing that I moan about.

"But furniture making was a much bigger endeavour to commit to. It was me wanting to prioritise taking some time out and I suppose a way to remember that music was my hobby - and it still can be - so it's been wonderful re-addressing all of that.

I think Robert Fripp said that if you love music you should become a plumber," she laughs.

Le Bon loves working with clay and wood: "You can completely zone out and you're just focused on the task at hand. It's really meditative and grounding and I don't look at my phone for hours and hours and hours."

Everyone who pre-ordered Mug Museum was given a mug handmade by Cate. She says she had anticipated making enough just for the first 20 pre-orders but crossed-wires between her US and UK record companies meant she was expected to make 60 mugs in total - 30 for each side of the Atlantic.

"Making them in California was pretty easy because you've got the sun and everything dries really quickly. But when I went to Wales it was like a horrible dream where nothing dries because everything's wet!"

"There won't be chairs with the new album. A chair with every album? I think that would kill me!"

Cate's on tour and you can catch her at the following gigs:

The video below is Crab Day, a short film produced to accompany Cate Le Bon's album of the same name. Directed by Phil Collins and shot on location in Berlin in the winter of 2015. It's quite weird.