Cate Le Bon opens up about new album Reward and coming back to music after furniture school…
After completing her touring commitments for her fourth album Crab Day, Welsh singer-songwriter Cate Le Bon told her record label that she was taking a break from music.
For most artists, taking a break from music might mean a year spent working on a side project or just a month on a beach before they get bored and pick up the guitar again, but Le Bon meant it.
She moved back to the UK from California, where she had been living, and enrolled at Waters & Acland, a furniture school in a remote part of the Lake District. She spent a year learning how to build furniture, and, in the moments where she wasn’t crafting chairs, used her songwriting as a chance to escape.
Eventually, she collected enough songs for a new album, Reward, which arrives in hmv stores today (May 24th).
As the album drops, we spoke to Le Bon about finding her way back to music and why this is her most personal album to date...
When did you start putting the songs together for this album?
“For this record, I’d taken a lot of time out and I was working to re-adjust my relationship with music. I enrolled in furniture school. I wanted to fill my time with something else. I needed a break from music and I didn’t just want to sit on my hands. I wrote these songs in my spare time, my time away from school. Music had reverted to being a cathartic outlet, I wasn’t writing an album. It was my hobby again. I started school in April 2017 and finished a year later, they all came over that period.”
Did you ever think you might not come back and make another album?
“I had a record deal, I’d signed with Mexican Summer, which is my dream label. They were very relaxed and very accommodating about me taking time off. I love music, I just needed to reassure myself that I was doing it for the right reasons and not just out of habit. When you’re making records, you’re asking people to invest if you. If you’re not invested yourself, it’s just impolite.”
When did you decide you had enough songs for the album?
“In early 2018 I started getting excited about the songs. I booked the studio and started phoning people up. Normally the way I work is I book studio time and that gives me the impetus to write songs, but it was different this time. I had the songs and I was excited to record them.”
You did the album with Samur Khouja, what did he bring to the process?
“Samur and I have worked together for a while now and it was a lot of the same people. I worked with Josiah Steinbrick again. But rather than working with everyone at the same time, it was more incremental. Samur is an unbelievable engineer. He’s open to everything and always want to try things, whenever I make records I always want him with me.”
Stella Mozgawa, who drums for Warpaint, is back with you too…
“She’s an unbelievable player and one of my best friends. So easy to work with and so lovely to share my songs with. I love her and I trust her. Stephen Black, who I’ve worked with for most of my records, played too. When you’re making a record like this it’s great to allow yourself to be vulnerable and you can only do that when you’re surrounded by people you trust.”
Is that reflected in the lyrics?
“It’s a more considered record. I was more involved in every aspect of the album than I ever have been before.”
It’s a 10-track record, did you set out to make such a disciplined record? Os is that just how many songs made the cut?
“I had 12 or 13, so there weren’t loads left. I find tracklisting really hard. I’m always overjoyed to finish an album and then I’m reminded I have to do the tracklisting. It’s killer, it makes such a difference, it’s the character of the record. To be honest, in the past, I’ve always asked Gryff Rhys (Super Furry Animals frontman and Le Bon’s friend) to do my tracklistings for me. For this one though, I made myself do it, I had to see it through.”
How did you find the process?
“It started as a seven-track album. That confused people. They had no idea why I’d left so many songs off. I still can’t tell if I’ve got it right. You always overthink things.”
When did you decide that Reward was the right title for the album?
“It was lingering during the making of the record. But I wasn’t 100% sure until afterwards. That was new, I usually know the title while I’m making the album. Reward felt right after the record was done.”
You said earlier that Mexican Summer was your dream label, how’s being signed to them going so far?
“It’s great. They’re so artist friendly. They truly want you to be happy and there’s never any pressure to do anything you don’t want to do. It’s a lovely environment to be part of and they have a lot of my favourite artists.”
You’ve got a busy summer of gigs and festivals, are you excited to get back on the road?
“I am. I’ve got an amazing band with me and I think it’s going to feel like a holiday. Mind you, ask me in two weeks and I’ll probably be crying with tiredness.”
How’s your set coming along? You’ve got five records now...
“It’ll be a lot of new stuff, some obvious old ones and some not so obvious old ones. It takes a while to craft a set, to find out what songs work next to each other. There’s going to be a lot of saxophone, which has always been a dream of mine.”
Finally, do you have a plan to build more furniture?
“My course is over, but the school was lovely and they have benches you can use. If I have time off, I may well go back for a couple of months. I always want to build things now.”
Cate Le Bon’s Reward is out now and available to purchase in hmv stores.