Cate Le Bon is the sort of artist that’s impossible to categorise. Initially synonymous with offbeat folk that revealed a propensity for psych, she’s since become a bit of a genre defiant oddity, creating music that’s both melodic and emotionally resonant, but equally singular and strange.
Her guitar playing –from subdued and jangly to cutting and dissonant- has the same jerky, rhythmic quality as that of Television, and her songwriting- as cryptic as it’s often heartfelt – would make her a modern day icon in an ideal world.
On her new album, 'Crab Day', Cate Le Bon is a welcome antidote to the beige and uninspired; reminding us that spontaneity is good and weird is wonderful. Here, she talks to Hayley Scott about the recording process, life in LA and her feelings on the sexist portrayal of women musicians by music journalists.
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Your new album is called 'Crab Day', what’s the story behind the name?
It’s a made up holiday. It’s an alternative to April Fool’s day. It’s an ode to the nonsensicalness of trying to appropriate time.
'Crab Day' must have been written or recorded around the same time as your project DRINKS with Tim Presley. Do you think the sound of DRINKS filtered through any of these songs?
Maybe not so much sonically but the making of that album was instrumental in my attitude towards making Crab Day. I found that making music with Tim was joyous because there was no expectation at all which I found completely liberating. I started to explore what this ‘expectation’ was and found it to be something mismanaged by myself, so I closed the door on it and found that everything is so much more enjoyable when genuine abandon is employed.
Your music has become more experimental over time, would you say 'Crab Day' is your most ambitious album to date?
I don’t think it’s a more ambitious album, to me that implies an intent that was not present. I feel that it’s more playful and wide open than my previous albums and I hope that comes from a mix of ageing and becoming less self aware - an attitude adjustment that came from the Drinks recording session and a knee jerk reaction to feeling that there is a lot of beige being peddled. The musicians who played on the album were all like-minded and complete trust in one another was a huge factor in the album sounding the way it does.
Some of 'Crab Day' reminds me of parts from John Cale’s 'Paris 1919' – particularly the piano and horns on ‘I Was Born On The Wrong Day’. Was that intentional?
Well, I do love that album very much indeed but it wasn’t one that crossed my mind whilst making Crab Day. In fact, I haven’t thought about it for a while, but now that I have I’m going to put it on!
'Crab Day' was recorded in California where you now reside. Did the location have any effect on the writing/recording process?
The studio where it was recorded was in the most spectacular location just North of San Francisco in a studio lodged between the Pacific Ocean and the mountains. It was residential and the air of excitement that came from being in each other’s company making music in this ridiculously beautiful place seemed to grow by the day. It really was one of the most wonderful times of my life. That certainly seeped into the album, the joyousness of it all.
Living in Los Angeles changes by the day, it is a city that can accommodate any mood well. I found that whilst it’s a mighty departure from Cardiff in terms of landscape, weather and all the other obvious pieces, you end up seeking out places that feel somewhat familiar and gravitating towards like-minded people wherever you are. Whilst it’s a giant bustling city, it’s completely viable to dip out and have a solitary time amongst the mountains, trees and ocean and so underneath it all it’s not so wildly different.
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Late night frantic foraging for words...
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What was it like working with producers Noah Georgson and Josiah Steinbric?
This was the second time in a studio with them but since working on Mug Museum I’d fostered a close friendship with them both, so there was a lot already understood before we went to record this time around. Josiah is the most honest of mirrors and Noah is a master of calm brutality. Together they have it all covered. I very much love working with them - they suit me well.
Your lyrics have always been quite strange and cryptic, what’s the process behind writing them?
It’s a delirious time; late night frantic foraging for words that suit the mood and sound of what I think it is I am thinking of.
The way you sing gets compared to Nico a lot, how do you feel about that? would you call it lazy journalism?
Not initially, it was one of the first comparisons made that I was very happy about but now it’s just a very low echo of an echo.
I see a lot of writers – mostly male – write about women with guitars like it’s a novelty, especially if the music they create is in any way challenging. E.g, if you have attitude, or you scream, then you’re ‘feisty’, if you’re attractive but outspoken, then you’re ‘sassy’. Is this something you’ve noticed, and does it bother you?
It bothers me immensely. I feel that it mostly comes from thoughtlessness, which is infuriating to think that journalists, both female and male, writing to an open audience are not fully considering the weight of the words they choose to describe women. This lack of care continues to peddle the disparity between how women and men are written about and this ‘low burning’ inequality to me is hugely detrimental to people’s attitudes towards women since it’s not so offensive that it causes headlines but it is simply tolerated or often not even picked up on and is allowed to go by the wayside.
When Drinks were being written about the amount of times that Tim was referred to as a musician whilst I was the singer-songwriter in the duo were countless. Seemingly harmless, but when you consider the weight and depiction of those words it’s abhorrent to me. It would never be the other way around and in what is supposed to be a progressive age that bothers me deeply.
‘Love Is Not Love’ is one of my favourite tracks on Crab Day. I particularly love the line “love is not love, when it’s a coat hanger”– what is it about?
It stems from the word LOVE being supposedly universal and yet when you get to the bones of it, it is not at all. The spectrum is vast and its means a multitude of different things to every single person. It is used flippantly but is also one of the most muscular words we have in our artillery. There is a comfort and a fear in that.
You’re very good at creating songs that are melancholic ballads, as much as you’re good at creating these weird, jagged guitar jams. Do you think it’s important to have occasional contemplative moments amongst the chaos on your records?
I am naturally pulled between a love of melody and a love of dissonance and I’m just happy that they can exist side by side and compliment one another from time to time.
Finally, what’s next for Cate Le Bon?
I believe I am on tour until I find myself not on tour and when I do I’ll be sure to make another Drinks record. I’m very excited to play this album live.
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Cate Le Bon's new album 'Crab Day' is out now. Catch the singer live:
21 Bristol The Lantern
22 Birmingham Glee Club
23 Manchester Gorilla
24 Glasgow Stereo
25 Leeds Brudenell Social Club
26 London Oval Space
27 Brighton Patterns