The Welsh singer-songwriter and producer on her best work to date
Photo by Ivana Kličković
Originally published in Uncut’s June 2019 issue
“Quite different? Yeah, it’s almost the complete opposite,” says Cate Le Bon, pondering her move from Los Angeles to rainy Lake District. There, she took a year-long course at a renowned furniture school. “Since finishing school,” she explains, “I made a chair that looks like my record sounds. I’m gonna build that chair again during the Marfa Myths annual festival in April. I’ve been asked to do something musical at the festival, but it’s like, ‘No way, I’m here to build a chair…’”
The new album in question, Reward, is Le Bon’s fifth, and perhaps her most complete work. Taming the weirdness of Crab Day and her records with White Fence’s Tim Presley, it finds the Welsh singer-songwriter composing primarily on piano. Now back in her native Cardiff, Le Bon takes some time out on her birthday to talk us through her work so far, from 2009’s Me Oh My and Drinks all the way through to this year’s Reward and the latest Deerhunter album, which she produced. “I hate everything I do right after I’ve done it,” she laughs, “then sometimes I hear a song and go, ‘Oh yeah, that one’s all right!’ It depends what mood I’m in!”
CATE LE BON
ME OH MY
IRONY BORED, 2009
Le Bon’s enchanting debut, stripped-down and folky
Kris Jenkins, who played with Super Furry Animals a lot, had seen me open for Gruff Rhys and told me I should go and do some recording with him at his studio, Signal Box. He’s a wonderful man, really kind, really encouraging, so I started working on a record and had lots of fun, and experimented. I’d never really been into a studio before, and we had this loose idea to make a record, but I had this moment – I think it was where I was putting down the mouth harp – where I thought, ‘Oh my God, we’ve completely lost our way…’ And I totally scrapped that first record. So I got 10 songs together and rehearsed with a band and then took that into Signal Box again, but with a bit more structure. I couldn’t even tell you what that scrapped record sounded like – it sounded like about 15 different records playing at the same time! I guess Me Oh My was probably a reaction to having become completely lost, so it was pretty stripped-back and pretty classic, I suppose, instrumentation-wise. I think it was pretty indicative of what was going on musically then. There was a lot of talk of freak folk and psychedelia, and I guess it seemed like the record to make at that time.
CATE LE BON
A more freewheeling album, inspired by Le Bon’s new German passions
What had happened in between the debut and this was I’d found krautrock. I discovered Faust IV, which continues to be my all-time favourite record – it’s one of the best records ever, I think. Its playfulness and experimentation, not just with instruments, but with melodies and form. It’s insanely inspiring. And I had probably learnt a bit more about being in a studio, that you can employ abandonment and still get a record finished. I was back at Signal Box for Cyrk, with Kris Jenkins – I was again experimenting, but with one eye on actually having to finish a record so it doesn’t turn into a quagmire. I remember Kris really pushing me to try loads of things and not be timid in the studio, so it was a really joyful, exciting process. The “Cyrk II” EP collected the slower songs from these sessions – I guess things sometimes pool together in two very separate puddles. Gruff Rhys worked out the tracklists for this album, and Me Oh My and Mug Museum, I think.