Welsh singer-songwriter Cate le Bon produced one of our favorite, underappreciated (well, by those who didn’t hear it) albums of 2013 with Mug Museum. Blending the cool demeanor and husky voice of someone like Nico with jagged post-punk guitars and beats, Mug Museum sounds like a hard-to-place unearthed precious relic, like something whispered into your ear.
She’ll perform at Amoeba Hollywood April 30 at 7 p.m. Before the show, we caught up with le Bon, who recently moved to L.A.
What spurred your move from Wales to Los Angeles?
I have always been intrigued by Los Angeles ever since coming to the city to rehearse with Neon Neon way back when. When the opportunity presented itself to record an album out here, which has always been a dream of mine, it felt like it was time to bite the bullet. Money mouth etc. ...The weather is also a definite perk.
I read that you wrote most of the album in your home country, but I do feel a bit of SoCal sunshine poking through in Mug Museum. Do you think the new locale affected the sound of the album?
It has most definitely seeped into the album, but how, I am not able to say yet. I think that will become apparent to me when I listen back in many years.
The two are so wildly different in so many ways, it’s unfair to draw comparisons, especially as it’s all still relatively new to me, and the enthusiasm and new spring the change has brought is still informing my perspective, which was the intention. I have been very lucky to be spending lots of time touring here and there of late, and since moving, touring the U.K. has become an absolute treat.
One of the most striking things about the album to me is the guitar playing, very intricate and layered without being too dense or challenging. Can you talk about the guitar playing and what inspired the sound of it?
It became apparent as the instrumentation of the album was being built that the guitar solos of the record were more like anti guitar solos, but in order for them to hold any weight, the surroundings had to be sparse. I become very self-conscious when writing guitar parts in a studio, especially as I was not really able to explain my intent with them and had to sit playing guitar like a child hoping that I could come up with something that highlighted my half-baked vision. Fortunately, Noah and Jo (producers Noah Georgeson Josiah Steinbrick) were behind me and would dial up incredible guitar sounds that gave what are fundamentally crappy little parts some clout.
Lyrically I’ve read the album deals with the death of your grandmother and your familial role. I feel that it also has a very impressionistic style, dealing in strange, small details and feelings rather than big, overarching moods. Do you feel that those kind of small moments are more revealing than speaking about something very directly in your songs?
I suppose so. I just don’t have the mettle to sing directly in song, it seems both presumptuous and exposing.
They were very good at coaxing things out of me, spookily so, which is a real talent when either one of them at any given point could have taken the guitar off me and played a ripper. They understood what it was I was trying to achieve, even when I did not, and they facilitated that to the upmost rather than guiding me into how they envisioned the album sounding. Noah had a wonderful, calm brutality, which suited me down to the ground, and Jo was infectiously enthusiastic about the smallest things, which was exciting and often paramount to pushing through a sticky spot. Add to that the fact they both have impeccable taste and are hugely enjoyable to work with, and Bobs your Uncle.
Another huge factor was the studio we used, Seahorse Studios, which is owned and engineered by Samur Khouja. He is an absolute treasure to work with and has the gentlest presence that is appreciated so wildly when you’re spending endless house in a small space with the same three people.
Can you talk a bit about your musical upbringing? Did you grow up surrounded by a lot of music, and when did you start playing?
I was raised by parents who loved music, and so on a weekend the TV was banned, and we’d listen to dad's records whilst they’d go about their business, singing their faces off. When my sister and I would kick against that, we’d leave the house and take our goats for a walk in the fields with the dog and cats in tow.
Wales seems to have an interesting and tough to define musical heritage as far as popular and rock music is concerned. Can you give us a list of five of your favorite albums by Welsh musicians?
Datblygu - Wyau
Eitha Tal Ffranco - Os Ti'n Ffosil
R.Seiliog - Doppler
Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci - Tatay
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