Cyrkus musings from the Nico of the valleys
Let’s get one thing clear straight off the bat: CATE LE BON has not, to our knowledge, dabbled in any black arts. Still, that doesn’t mean that you won’t be utterly bewitched and beguiled by Ms Le Bon’s sultry tones, and nor would you want to prevent being taken under her spell. Ever since we first heard Le Bon’s first full-length solo effort Me Oh My we’ve been smitten, and this year’s follow up Cyrk built upon those foundations and found the Camarthenshire-born songstress really hitting her stride with her own perfectly-placed blend of Gothic pop and off-kilter folk psychedelia. Now based in Cardiff’s French quarter, Le Bon has developed a songwriting style and sound all of her own: think Factory-era Velvets with a Gallic shrug and the faintest whiff of a death fixation (the original working title for Me Oh My was Pet Deaths), all held together by Le Bon’s innate playfulness and ability to dance between a myriad of genres.
Le Bon then followed up Cyrk with Cyrk II in August, a mini-album composed of a clutch of songs that were originally recorded during the sessions that formed the basis of Cyrk. These five tracks (which could quite easily go under the header Cardiff Girls such are the sonic parallels with Nico’s classic Chelsea Girls), knit together seamlessly and show a more introspective side to the flitting nature of Cyrk.
As a frequent collaborator with fellow Welsh psych wizard Gruff Rhys (Le Bon appeared as guest vocalist on Neon Neon’s single I Lust U) and Gorkys Zygotic Myncis Megan Childs and Richard James, Le Bon is further proof of the rich seam of inventive musicians hailing from the valleys. So, when it was announced that Cate Le Bon was dropping by her former stomping ground of Liverpool on her headline tour, all thoughts turned to the Leaf show on 6th September. A very excitable Christopher Torpey caught up with Cate on the phone prior to the show to ask her a few things about how Cyrk II came about, and found some pretty interesting answers.
Bido Lito!: Hello Cate! I hope the sun is shining where you are?
Cate Le Bon: Ah no, unfortunately it’s a bit grim.
BL!: You’ve just announced a run of shows in North America, where you’ll be touring after this current UK tour. Is that something you’re looking to get your teeth stuck in to?
CLB: Yeh, I mean things are going great. The radio’s been great in North America, so it’s just nice to go back out there and continue touring in the places we have toured, and visit some places we’ve not been to yet. I supported St. Vincent on her massive American tour in October last year, and that kind of made us rush the album out in America first. And then we went back in February to do a headline tour.
BL!: How do you the think difference is between the way you’re perceived over the pond to the way you are here? Do fans pick up on certain things for example?
CLB: I just think the audiences in America are far less pre-occupied with pigeon-holing acts, and far less pre-occupied with this sense of people being trendy or whatnot. Which I think makes them a little bit more open to anything.
BL!: So you’re doing this UK headline tour now, off the back of a decent run at festivals in the summer (Bryn Fest, Green Man, Port Eliot), with Festival No. 6 in Portmeirion this year…
CLB: The line-up looks incredible, and the setting looks phenomenal. We’re really looking forward to that, and it comes just before the end of the UK tour, but unfortunately we’re not able to stay for the whole weekend.
BL!: When you’re playing festivals do you look at the rest of the programme you’re on with and the setting?
CLB: Err, kind of yeh. I mean we’re happy to play different festivals anywhere. Obviously it’s more exciting playing something like Portmeirion…
BL!: Are there any festivals you wouldn’t play?
CLB: I don’t think so… I probably wouldn’t play Download Festival, but then I probably wouldn’t get asked! Unless there’s a massive U-turn in genre for the next album, ha ha!
BL!: Now, onto your new record, Cyrk II. Is it an EP or mini-album?
CLB: I’d say it’s an EP. Though it’s only 5 tracks long it’s actually quite long. It clocks in at not much shorter than the full album [Cyrk].
BL!: The songs that make up Cyrk II were written and recorded during the same sessions that came to make up what became Cyrk. What is it that distinguishes these ‘new’ songs from the ones on the full album?
CLB: I think it was quite difficult for me, because I was in the thick of it, to come up with a tracklisting that made sense, because my favourites were constantly changing through the process, and you just want to whack all your favourites on the album. So [Cyrk] didn’t really flow as well as it should, so I asked Gruff Rhys and he helped me out with the tracklisting. Having not been involved in the recording process, he was impartial and saw them naturally pooling in to two different camps: the album and the EP. The EP harboured the more confessional songs, and I guess just the more traditional ‘song’ songs in a way. Once he’d kind of constructed all that for me it made total sense, it was a huge weight off my mind!
BL!: The EP does flow more easily than the album, and we’ve also heard you say before that Cyrk II is like Cyrk’s older sister. Why does the EP merit that tag?
CLB: Because I suppose Cyrk bounds around quite a bit, and is quite erratic, while I suppose Cyrk II is of the same… I can only think of the word in Welsh at the moment, which doesn’t really help! They’re from the same family: Cyrk II is a little bit more levelled out, a bit mature.
BL!: When you did the All Souls Church Sessions it was like alight going on for us in that the style and sound of your music was perfectly suited to that environment. Was it naturally evident to you too, and felt like a natural thing to do? Or was it more of a spur of the moment thing?
CLB: Well, we did have to let the church know before we turned up, ha ha! No, we wanted to do different versions of the songs, and I had the idea of maybe doing them on the piano. And then Ovni, who put my records out in America, said how do you feel about doing them on a church organ. And I thought, wow that would be incredible, and it would look amazing as well. I don’t really watch myself so I haven’t seen them, but I’ve heard the recordings and they sound pretty eerie.
BL!: We’ve not caught you live in Liverpool before, but you must have played here at some stage…
CLB: Not with the band no, but I supported Gruff Rhys in The Philharmonic, which was incredible. I am massively looking forward to coming though: I spent quite a lot of time in Liverpool growing up because my family are all from Warrington. I absolutely love the city, and the people. I’d like to hang around and take the place in but unfortunately we’ve got to shoot early and get to the next place on the tour. But hopefully we’ll get there nice and early, give me plenty of time to amble round.
BL!: Have you even thought about writing new material for a new album, or is it all concentrated on touring at the moment?
CLB: It’s pretty much all formed really. I’m going to look to put some loose demos together for it, with a view to recording early next year.
BL!: Once you’ve got a batch of songs that you’ve written do you get impatient to go and lay them down as recordings straight away?
CLB: I think it’s kind of best to wait until you’ve got more than you need. And also, if you record them too soon then there’s going to be a huge gap before you get to gig them, and by then, in your mind, they’re old songs. You need to keep them back so you’re not catching up with yourself too soon.