Swallow The Town Like A Vitamin

 Cate Le Bon

Much is made of Welsh chanteuse Cate Le Bon‘s morbid lyrics, but in reality her art hardly reflects her personality. Me Oh My, her debut album released in late 2009 on Gruff Rhys’ (Super Furry Animals) label Irony Board, was originally titled Pet Deaths in honour of the animals that lived on Le Bon’s family’s farm as she was growing up. “Living with loads of animals you’re faced with death pretty soon on in your life, and when your favourite animals are dropping like flies…” she trails off in laughter.

The recording of the initial album was a long, drawn-out process that eventually dissolved, seeing Le Bon start afresh. “We didn’t have a time-scale and couldn’t stop putting more and more stuff on and it just completely lost direction. So I thought it was quite apt to bury the album and start again.”

The resulting Me Oh My is a mature, realised vision of growing up and dealing with a downcast view of the world. The album’s enduring qualities of starkness and psychedelia are held together with abstract lyrics that are mirrored in ’60s-referential psychedelic music. Almost carnivalesque in aesthetic, there’s an undercurrent of a retro horror theme. The production is sparse, accentuating her crisp enunciation and startlingly pure, strong voice. Backed by intricate guitar parts, strong and prominent basslines and minimal yet hardy percussion, the album is affectingly simple, delivering blows in stand out songs with a unique vantage point. But this perspective didn’t come out until after she’d moved away to the big city, Cardiff.

Growing up in rural Penboyr afforded Le Bon the isolation to hone her musical talents with her equally music-obsessed father, and the two would listen to records and play guitar together.

“My Dad was completely into music… he always wanted a son but mum just kept giving him girls, so I think he decided that I was maybe the more tomboyish of all of us, so he would teach me just guitar chord sequences so that he could plug in his electric and just jam over what I was playing, which was great for a while until you’re like ‘Dad, can you teach me something new?’” she adopts a low, gruff voice, “‘No! Keep playing!’” she laughs.

Barely a review goes by that doesn’t compare Le Bon to Nico. “Yeah,” she sighs, “I think it’s just ’cause I have a deep voice. And I’ve got a terrible heroin problem as well,” she deadpans. One reviewer encouraged her to stay away from bicycles. “It confused my dad a little bit!”

Cate Le Bon

While most of Me Oh My is composed in English, occasionally you’ll hear charmingly bizarre-sounding Welsh words come through. It is almost by chance that she can even speak it; her school happened to teach in the native tongue. “It’s insane, I think it’s probably the most impossible language to learn. Neither of my parents speak Welsh at all, and they’ve tried so hard to go to lessons, but because I think only 20% of the country speak it, it’s so difficult to immerse yourself in it.”

However her use of Welsh is not down to patriotism. “I find it a lot more difficult to compose in Welsh for some reason… I’ll write a song and then it will become apparent that maybe the sound of the Welsh language would work better. There’s nothing political about choosing which one, it’s just about viewing each one as a different instrument. But the majority I write in English just because it comes a bit easier to me.” She lives her life “50% in English and 50% in Welsh”, and like Gruff Rhys, agrees the language should be preserved.

“It’s such a beautiful language and it’s an incredible, unique culture in Wales, of course it should be preserved. I don’t think people view it with as much respect as they would maybe other languages. But with all minority languages it’s important to keep it alive and to respect it as its own language.”

Le Bon completed her first mini tour of the UK a few months ago, playing eight shows with Lawrence Arabia before crossing to America to play more shows including SXSW. After spending time with the kiwis she boasts she’s now “got an extensive knowledge of New Zealand music”.

Daniel Ward of Lawrence Arabia and The Sneaks ended up drumming for Le Bon at SXSW. “We were in a bit of a pickle because we couldn’t all make it out to the States, our drummer that was gonna step in was unable to make it, and I’d kinda spoken to Dan, (and asked that) maybe he’d be able to step in? He was playing some shows with Lawrence Arabia and his girlfriend was coming and he hadn’t seen her in a while; he didn’t really have the time. But fortunately for us, James (Milne) and Hayden (East) couldn’t get their visas too, which is obviously an awful thing to happen, but it meant that Dan was freed up to play for us and he kinda knew all the songs… Unfortunately our fortune came out of someone else’s misfortune. But it was great! We played three good shows and saw some great music and just had a lovely time!”

Studio time in LA that followed the tours will hopefully result in some new material, as the album’s material is now driving Le Bon “up the bloody wall”. While her music may sound lonesome, it’s a collaborative effort, and an upcoming release is in the cards. She says it’s all up to whoever “will be around to help me”.

Cate Le Bon- Myspace

Posted by Sarah Gooding under Cardiff, Wales
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