The weird world of Cate le Bon

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 27 Mar 2012
  • min read
Her debut album Me Oh My was released in 2010, bringing critical acclaim and attracting comparisons to Nico and Syd Barrett. Her sophomore album CYRK is out on 30 April.

Here, she talks to M about the Welsh music scene, the making of her new album and the first song she ever wrote...

How long have you been writing songs, and how did you start out?
My mum and dad always encouraged us to play guitar and write songs for them, mostly for a laugh. I wrote my first song at the tender age of six. It wasn't great but it was a start...

Take a walk down the road and see a buzzy bee
Buzzy Bee up a tree
Buzzy Bee up a tree

Take a walk down the road and see a fat cat
Gregory up a tree
Gregory up a tree

Around about the same time as I wrote said song about a fat cat being up a tree, my sister, who is two years my senior, wrote an incredible song that commented on the social divide between the classes. ‘Hell,’ I thought to myself, ‘She's going to be the next Bono,’ but alas she turned her hand to Veterinary Science and is very good at it too.

You’ve said before that you grew up listening to Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Super Furry Animals – two Welsh bands with very unique aesthetics. How have they influenced your music?
Being a teenager during the Britpop explosion it was invaluable to be able to look to two incredible Welsh bands that were blazing their own paths. They were both totally unique and inspiring. I don't think I would ever have been immersed in this type of music and attitude towards composition as a young teenager had I not lived in Wales. There was a genuine, polite disregard towards any scene and I think this has influenced many Welsh bands that have followed and has allowed them to have confidence in whatever music they are making. It certainly has done that for me.

There is a strong experimental thread running through a lot of Welsh music. Why do you think that is?
I think the Welsh have always had a very unique identity that we relish in.

Do you find freedom in that?
I still love making music because I don't feel pressure to deliver anything specific or relevant to any scene, and there's definitely a freedom in that. I've been extremely fortunate in having Gruff Rhys as a label 'boss'.

Cardiff has a very close knit musical fraternity. Why do you think it’s worked out that way?
There is an excellent music scene in Cardiff, loads of great bands and musicians. It's a very generous and humble scene. Everyone plays in each others bands and so it’s very supportive and non competitive. As well as the musicians, there are some wonderful people working within Cardiff's music scene that make it all the more close knit; Ashli from Spillers Records, Mark and Bernie from Musicbox Studios, Radio 1 DJ Huw Stephens and music promoter John Rostron.  As musicians and bands change it's people like these who will continue to peddle the generosity and humility of Cardiff's musical fraternity.

You have worked with lots of other musicians, such as Gruff Rhys and Meilyr Jones (from Racehorses). What appeals to you about collaborations?
I always write on my own so it's really nice and refreshing to be able to work with other musicians. It will always tap into something new and inspiring musically but I have also learnt and taken a lot from watching other musicians’ methods and attitudes.

What is your favourite song you’ve written and why?
It's not a song I have recorded for any album but a song I wrote for my niece, Greta, in which we tell Ga-Ga (her grandmother/my mother) to make her a sandwich. It fills her with total glee when I sing it to her. She looks at me like I'm Paul McCartney, but that wont last for long!

How did making CYRK differ from putting together your debut album?
When I wrote the songs for Me Oh My, I had written them on my own on a guitar without ever any thought of recording them. The instrumentation was an afterthought once the bare bones of the songs were put down. When I wrote the songs for CYRK, I had been touring Me Oh My with a live band for quite some time and started to change my approach to songwriting. I had mapped out the instrumentation before going into the studio and had quite a definite idea of how I wanted it to sound. The execution was almost identical though. For both records I rehearsed in the mountains in North Wales with a band who are all close friends, and then went to record with Krissie Jenkins, in Cardiff. He is the greatest and most enjoyable person to work with. Never once will he tell you something isn't possible.

How do you construct your songs? Do you have a set way of working?
I'm not one for demo-ing songs. I mostly write them on the guitar and in my mind and hope to god that I remember things by the time it comes to recording. I will always write the melody first and will mouth sounds that I want the lyrics emulate. I will always, without fail, leave the bulk of the lyric writing until the night before I record vocals.

You sing in both English and Welsh. Is that a conscious decision?
I am bilingual and use both languages equally in everyday life so I naturally desire to sing in both tongues. Having said that, I find it easier to compose in English and style doesn't translate. Welsh is a tricky language to write lyrics in. Gruff Rhys, David R Edwards, Euros Childs and Meic Stevens are my favourite Welsh lyricists and are all blessed with an ease and flow that is impeccable. I however struggle and so write the majority of my songs in English. I count myself lucky to have another language, which sounds so different to English, as an extra sonic tool. It really is a beautiful sounding language.

Is there a song you wish you’d written?
There are thousands but the most recent song that made me feel like that was when I last listened to Giggy Smile by Faust. It's got the best organ line in it ever.

An excerpt of this interview was published in the latest edition of M magazine, M43. More magazine extras.