At Work: Cate Le Bon

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Mike Ayers on May 11, 2022

At Work: Cate Le Bon

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I don’t subscribe to any notion that what you did the day before is a waste of time,” Welsh musician Cate Le Bon says on a recent winter day, while stationed in Topanga Canyon, Calif. She’s on a quick break from her current day job— producing Devendra Banhart’s latest album. It’s an adage almost anyone could live by and, honestly, probably should. But, in this instance, Le Bon is referencing her sixth and latest LP, Pompeii—a collection of nine songs steeped in ‘80s-sounding art pop. It’s a synth lovers delight that sounds highly experimental, yet also strangely accessible. 

Le Bon’s earlier releases, like 2012’s Cyrk and 2013’s Mug Museum, were well-versed in indie-rock and jangly pop—with flourishes of weirdness showing their heads here and there. But she quickly moved on from those worlds, and really struck a chord with 2019’s Reward, which was nominated for the prestigious Mercury Prize. 

For Pompeii, she returned to Cardiff, Wales, hunkering down in a house that belongs to Super Furry Animals’ Gruff Rhys, who was an early supporter. Le Bon actually lived in the same house 15 years ago, and the location is still steeped in memories of her halcyon early days as a musician.  

“The plan was always to go somewhere remote and to tap into that place where you’re creating without any sense of having an audience. The plan was to be able to shut the windows on anything,” Le Bon says.

The pandemic kept Le Bon grounded in the capital city while the world came to a halt around her. Working with her longtime producer, Samur Khouja, Le Bon spent two and a half months constructing the songs for Pompeii—they’d get up, go for a walk, get coffee, and work all day and into the night. The result is a striking set that finds Le Bon exploring surreal narratives about relationships of yesteryear—dreamscapes and conversations that might never happen—and digging into an experimental groove.

Elsewhere, Le Bon’s become an in demand collaborator over the last several years, too. She’s shared the stage with Velvet Underground legend John Cale, worked as a producer for Deerhunter and John Grant, and recently recorded with Courtney Barnett.  “It feels timeless and locationless—I want to embrace the chaos,” she says of making music these days. “You’re allowing yourself to be a vessel, where you get to the point where you don’t really have any notion of where these things you’re making are coming from. And you’re OK with that. It’s a mystery to yourself.”

Written by: tazz

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