The Welsh singer-songwriter and producer on her best work to date
A move to Los Angeles, and a more angular aesthetic, helped drive Le Bon’s finest songs to date
I’d written a lot of this over in Wales. I’d gone to a house in Crickhowell by myself to write. I had this romantic idea that I’d go and spend five days there writing on my own – but it was a pretty spooky house, so I think I called my boyfriend to come and stay with me every night from Cardiff. As soon as I got back from that trip, we got broken into that night and they took the iPad with all the demos on it that I’d written. But you kind of think maybe it’s a good thing, maybe it’s a blessing, because then you have to try and remember everything you’ve done. You think if it’s good enough then you’ll remember it, but if you don’t remember it then maybe it was shit in the first place. Then I moved to Los Angeles, finished off some of the songs and wrote a few new ones there. So it’s a bit of one foot in Wales and one foot in LA. I wrote “Mug Museum” in LA, I remember there was a Wurlitzer in the apartment we were sub-letting. I think I wrote a lot of choruses in LA, or parts that I was missing. Then I wrote most of the lyrics in Los Angeles too. The sound of the record is down to a combination of people, but Samur [Khouja] is an exquisite engineer. He’s tasteful but he’s weird when it warrants it, but never at the detriment of something sounding good. Noah [Georgeson] is probably more instrumental in how Mug Museum sounds, in terms of the width of the recordings. Has the sound of this informed everything I’ve done since? I guess so. It was the first time I’d been produced in the traditional sense of being produced. It feels almost like the first record, working with people where you consider everything and you’re messing around for ages trying to find the right guitar sounds. We all had really similar taste in scratchy, thin, shitty, DI-sounding guitars. I think at that point I was so sick of being categorised as psychedelic folk, so it was quite nice just to be making a record that was electric guitar-driven. Josiah [Steinbrick, co-producer] and Noah, who had listened and been fans of the first two records, were really tuned into trying to make the record sound like me. They were super encouraging in getting me to play guitar in the way I naturally play guitar, instead of trying to rip off some solo that I’d heard on a record. So that was really nice, that I could just do the things that came naturally to me and it all worked. My style is 90 per cent execution and 10 per cent skill.
HERMITS ON HOLIDAY
Le Bon collaborates with Tim Presley on this divisive, abstract avant-rock LP
Los Angeles was always an amazing city to come back to after tour, I loved living there, and I met some incredible people. But I always used to find myself getting a little bit antsy if I was there for three or four months and hadn’t left the city. I’d find myself driving to the mountains or the ocean quite a lot. White Fence had opened for us at a show in Santa Monica. I guess on that night I met Tim, who we were all absolutely terrified of because he was real cool, smoking where he shouldn’t have been smoking, being quite snarly at us all, we were just these frightened Welsh people. Then the first time we tried to meet Tim for a coffee in LA, he stood us up which I was thought was a real cool move… a bit too cool, yeah! He was asked to cover this lost record by The Dandelions, and he asked if I wanted to help him record. I remember him telling me he’d spent all week putting this track together. And I hated it! I remember just thinking, ‘You have to tell him!’ So I said, “Tim, I’m really sorry, dude, but I really don’t like what you’ve done with this song.” He was so shocked that someone had said that to him, and then he kind of went, “Oh my God, you’re right, it sucks.” And we spent the rest of the afternoon putting a new version of the cover together, and it was a really lovely, easy process. After I toured with White Fence, we went straight into a rehearsal space and had a really fun time playing guitar at each other. It was just really exciting for the both of us, because we’d been making music by ourselves for a long time. There was no push and pull, it was just building off one another, just doing it to please one another, which is a really lovely way to make music.
CATE LE BON
DRAG CITY, 2016
Drinks inform Le Bon’s fourth album, a wonky, spontaneous set of Beefheart-y garage-pop
Crab Day was enthused by that more spontaneous attitude, of going to a studio in the middle of nowhere [Panoramic House, Stinson Beach, CA], just being in this lovely bubble. I’d written all the songs and we’d rehearsed them as a band. I think it was as we rehearsed “Wonderful”, just before we recorded it, that I realised I wanted to do it differently, more fractured. I remember everyone being excited, because it sounded bananas, but it was also this structured song that we all knew. Stella [Mozgawa] is one of the best drummers I’ve ever worked with –if you say to her, “This song just needs a driving rhythm,” she’ll play every single hit like she means it. So Stella played drums, Steve [Black] and Huw [Evans] played bass and guitar and synths, I think, and Josh Klinghoffer played guitar, and Josiah played piano and other bits, so it was an amazing group of musicians. All of them understood and were invested in the record. Why do I like marimba? Well, there was one in the studio in Stinson, and I’d been listening to a lot of Aksak Maboul. I love that mix of writing a guitar song and having marimba on it, it’s a nice combo.