Entertainment & Arts

Cate Le Bon: Living for the music

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Image caption Cate Le Bon grew up in a rural idyll in Wales where she went on long walks with her pet goat

Psych-folk-rock musician and songwriter Cate Le Bon gained attention after supporting Super Furry Animals founder Gruff Rhys on his UK solo tour in 2007.

Ahead of her forthcoming festival Mas Mas on 28 August and her UK tour beginning on 9 September, she talks about her worried mind, relocating to Los Angeles and ignoring the critics.

"I will never read reviews or watch anything that I've done. It's unhealthy," says Welsh psych-folk-rock musician Cate Le Bon.

Is it a case of ignorance is bliss or doesn't she care what people think?

"I just don't want to go down that path," she adds. "It can go both ways - you can either listen to all the negative stuff and get het up on that or listen to all the positive stuff and become a massive [egotist]. So it's best to pretend it doesn't exist and [make music] for the right reasons."

Despite being softly spoken with a shy demeanour, Le Bon is self confident, an independent thinker - idiosyncratic.

Born Cate Timothy, she wrote her first song aged six or seven about her cat, Gregory, followed by a number of "angsty piano ballads" and spells in various school bands.

"I think then I figured out it was too tough being in a band, having to make group decisions, so I just figured I'd make music on my own," says the 31-year-old.

After supporting fellow female rockers Warpaint and St Vincent and playing at Glastonbury earlier this year, she is "thrilled" to be curating her own festival, Mas Mas, in Wales in August, bringing together Seattle artist Perfume Genius with a host of Welsh musicians.

It's another day in a tightly packed calendar of gigs and festivals since the release at the end of last year of her third album, Mug Museum (the title was coined by a former roommate in reference to the mounting number of tea cups in Le Bon's bedroom).

In it, she shows off the dark lyrical content and versatile vocal range for which she's gained a cult following.

As well as featuring a duet with Perfume Genius, there are collaborations with H Hawkline, Sweet Baboo and White Fence drummer, Nick Murray.

Written after the death of her maternal grandmother, you could be forgiven for thinking it's a morbid album.

"It's not about death really," she says. "It's about what happens afterwards and where you see yourself in terms of your role in the family.

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Image caption Cate Le Bon says Pavement's album Brighten The Corners began her true love of music

"I guess when you make a record you want something meaningful to write about and [Mug Museum] was all of the stuff that occurred to me after you lose a member of family."

Le Bon gained attention after supporting Super Furry Animals founder Gruff Rhys on his UK solo tour in 2007. She then collaborated with Rhys, whom she calls a friend and mentor, providing guest vocals for his band, Neon Neon.

It was at this time that she first experienced a lust for Los Angeles, where she's now based.

"I've always been enamoured with Los Angeles ever since I went out years ago to rehearse with Neon Neon and I've met lots of musicians whilst travelling who live there and so I've always wanted to make a record in California.

"It's beautiful and it's a different pace of life, which I'm sure will affect the songwriting.

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Image caption 'If I'm happy [making music] and enjoying doing it and I think I'm doing the best I can, there's no reason to have confirmation,' says Cate Le Bon

"It's nice to have a big change. There's a lot less distractions because everything's still relatively new and there's a new sense of excitement about stuff.

"When I go back in October after all the festivals it's going to be the first time I'll have sat down to write in Los Angeles and I'm really looking forward to seeing how that suits me. It might be awful!"

It's quite a different scene to Penboyr, a hamlet in south Wales where Le Bon grew up with her parents, who both worked for the council, a sister and various pet animals.

"My parents were young when they had us and really excited about having kids. We each had a pet goat and we'd take it for walks every weekend and the dog and the cats would come and we'd spend hours making dams, probably being laughed at by the neighbours because we'd gone on these massive excursions."

Not something you see every day, even in rural Wales. But for Le Bon, it was "the most normal thing in the world".

Not surprisingly, music also featured heavily in her childhood.

Her Dad, a fan of Nirvana and singer-songwriters such as Aimee Mann and Tori Amos, "made really good mix tapes" and introduced her to the 90s' American indie rock band, Pavement.

"There was a really huge turning point for me when I was about 13 and I was getting into these horrific bands that the hot boys liked, trying to pretend I was a Faith No More fan, all this heavy stuff.

"I think my father was appalled and he sat me down and played me Pavement's [fourth studio album] Brighten The Corners. I can only describe it as the first time that I felt I'd found music that was mine.

"It eclipsed all those worries you have as a teenager - what if no one else has heard of them, what if they're not cool. I didn't care because I absolutely had fallen in love this record and I had no idea if they were alive or not, hot or not."

Her happy childhood is in contrast to the lyrical darkness in her music.

"I must have been a very disturbed child," she quips.

"I just think I've got a very worried mind and music and lyrics are my way of exercising it. I'm drawn to that kind of writing in literature and other songwriters."

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Image caption Cate Le Bon's work has been described as 'wonderfully weird'

"The most important thing to me is that [the songwriting] is honest. I think when you try and be something [different] people can smell it a mile off."

Le Bon cites the German krautrock band, Faust, as another influence, particularly the "spontaneous excitement" you can hear in their music.

"That's why I only ever record in a short amount of time so that you don't iron out that excitement.

"That's important to me but other than that I think everything I write is just really boring."

Not according to several critics, such as NME and Pitchfork, which both gave the album positive reviews, describing it as "wonderfully weird" and praising Le Bon's vocal performance.

Not that Le Bon would know, as she avoids the acclaim and the criticism in equal measure. I ask if she finds that a difficult practice.

"No. I have no interest. The way I see it is if I'm happy [making music] and enjoying doing it and I think I'm doing the best I can, there's no reason to have confirmation.

"You have to do it for the right reasons. It's not that I don't care, but I don't want to enter that world of worrying what people are saying so it's best to keep that door shut."

Cate Le Bon's festival Mas Mas is on 28 August. Her UK tour begins on 9 September.

  • Since the time of writing, Cate Le Bon's festival was called off on 19 August 2014. The River's Edge venue said it had not been able to get an entertainment licence.

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