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Interview - Cate Le Bon

Posted on Thursday, 6 February 2014 | No Comments

Ahead of the pack, ahead of the Polar Vortex.

Ahead of her performance at The Sage Gateshead on Thursday 13th February, here's my interview with Cate Le Bon to whet the appetite...

“When you live in a place it’s always going to change significantly from how you viewed it as a visitor. Los Angeles can be tailored wonderfully to your own specifications.” In the case of Cate Le Bon, this has the distinct whiff of the understatement about it.

Emerging from the Welsh underground circuit and first coming to prominence as a vocalist of Gruff Rhys and Boom Bip’s collaborative project Neon Neon, she moved to Los Angeles last year before the recording of her third album Mug Museum, a record that balances heartfelt remembrances and odes with psychedelic melodies and classic 70s rock production. Rather than diluting her strong song writing voice, Los Angeles only seems to have reinforced how unique it is

Via the magic of modern technology, I got in contact with Cate during her recent tour of North America. “It's going pretty good. We've had a healthy string of sell out shows which is always nice. We seem to be one step ahead of a Polar Vortex, hopefully it will stay that way. I think we're still trying to perfect playing the songs from Mug Museum but it's sounding pretty good already. I am very lucky to have the most wonderful band alongside me who are all able to sing very high which is very fortunate. I’m happy with the record and had the most incredible time making it and now I get to tour it with my buddies, which is a real treat."

One of the great strengths of Mug Museum is how it makes the most of Cate Le Bon’s tour-hardened band to peel off all manner of gorgeous, chiming Television and Velvet Underground riffs around Cate’s songs. For an artist once tagged (arguably tarred) with the freak-folk brush, the move towards a more classic band sound is as surprising as it is refreshing. Asked about the sonic change, Cate replies, “I think it was a natural progression. I toured the first record quite a bit and all of a sudden had this incredible bunch of musicians at my disposal that I could filter my ideas through and try them out in between sound checks and stuff.”

This isn’t to say the idiosyncratic touches of her previous album, last year’s superb Cyrk, have been lost though. Album standout Cuckoo Through The Walls builds from slow, subtle to beginnings to a murky stew of fragmented guitars. As Cate recalls, “It was mostly recorded live and I would nod emphatically to signify a change to the band and hope that they would notice me. They mostly did thankfully. Then I just tried to not over do the additional instrumentation and decided to do an anti-guitar solo at the end, bash some stuff around, and bob’s your uncle.”

There’s much more going into the sound of Cate’s songs and her band than just emphatic nodding though, it should be pointed out. Discussing her influences, Cate notes: “It's hard to say what seeps in and then seeps out. I try not to think too much on it. I can tell you that the SFA and Gorky's attitude towards making music was hugely influential at a young age. They teetered on the fringe of Britpop but were doing their own thing completely and didn't care if it belonged to any scene or genre. I have been watching some Tove Jansson documentaries that I feel have inspired me quite a bit. I am quite in awe with the relationship she had with her work, it’s very refreshing and nourishing."
As well as her own Mug Museum record, Cate also appeared recently on the new Manic Streets Preachers album Rewind The Film, singing on the track 4 Lonely Roads and joining the band for selected live appearances. “I was really chuffed that they asked me, the song was a beauty. Unfortunately I was recording in LA at the time and had to send the vocal via email attachment, which is always a sad affair.”

“I didn't really think much about it afterwards as I was in the fold of making Mug Museum, but then they asked me to play some shows with them in Ireland and it hit me suddenly whilst hearing them sound check that they had sound tracked a lot of my life and I found it quite overwhelming that I was going to sing with them. Add to that the fact that they are the loveliest and kindest people to be around and their love for playing music together after all these years is palpable, which is very rewarding to witness. All in all it was pretty wonderful."

Having racked up two albums, a mini-album, several collaborations/appearances and countless tours over the last two years alone then, Cate’s work ethic seems to be something of a minor miracle. For her however, it’s just business as usual. “I suppose it's just the cycle that I've fallen into. I guess when touring is coming to an end then I start to get excited about the prospect of writing and recording again. It's the only way to keep things ticking over.” 

With Cate and her band returning to the UK this month for a fresh tour, including a date at The Sage Gateshead on 13th February,  it’s not as if she’s planning on stepping off the accelerator any time soon. Asked about her plans for the year ahead, she just says, “I think mostly touring is on the cards although I have a few collaborative projects that I'm going to attempt to pull off. Other than that it's a mystery.”

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