Cate Le Bon's Escapism
"I managed to get to a really positive place I kind of thought, well if the world is ending and nothing matters - it's quite liberating"
Fifteen years on from her debut, self-released double A-side No One Can Drag Me Down / Disappear, Welsh musician and producer Cate Le Bon has been one of the most interesting and unique artists in the very broad “indie” world, with her distinctive blend of alt-folk and baroque-inspired indie-pop as unique as it is instantly recognisable and catchy.
Releasing her acclaimed sixth studio album Pompeii in February (sure to appear on many end of year “best of” lists), Le Bon is at her creative and intriguing best, which audiences across the world have been able to soak up recently, with Le Bon and band taking the new album on the road all across the US and Europe.
No stranger to Australia, having toured here a number of times over the last decade, Le Bon is bringing her live show to Australia in June for a string of east coast dates, including Vivid LIVE and Dark Mofo. Ahead of the tour, kicking off Thursday June 9 in Sydney (all dates below), we caught up with Cate to find out all about Pompeii, recording during “the end of the world”, the joys of touring again and more.
We’re chatting now, a few months since your last album Pompeii was released - what’s the experience been like now that your latest creation has been released and had some room to breathe?
You know, I've been touring pretty much since it came out. So for me, there's always, especially at the moment, there's such a huge gap between finishing a record and it coming out because of the, you know, the mess in the pressing plants and whatnot. And that time is torturous for me, you know, it's like something you've crafted in private suddenly becomes very quickly public - as soon as it's mastered, the record company take it and it's kind of not yours anymore.
And, and so, I guess, when I start to play a record live, then, you know, there's the whole process of figuring out how to play the songs and trusting your band and your close friends to learn the parts and play the songs and then you piece it all together, it's kind of quite cathartic, and you start to reclaim the record, and you see it in a different way, you know, because you've had that break from it, and you've got a bit of a different perspective on it.
So it's been, it's been really lovely, just kind of the record came out, and I never read press and ever read, you know, anything. So it's really, just all I have is my own relationship with it. So I've kind of, yeah, just been really enjoying playing it live
So just how long ago did you hand over those masters to get to your relationship with the record now?
God, it would have been, I think it was the beginning of May that it was mastered, put to bed last year. So I think there's like a period of eight months now where your record gets put in a queue and, yeah, it's wild. It's like, it's too long, a lot changes in that time *laughs*
And speaking of changing, you recorded this album in a pretty hectic time of change, and I want to ask about what it was like recording this in 2020 when it was like, “is the world actually ending?!”?
I mean, you know, there's almost like, somehow I managed to get to a really positive place I kind of thought, “well if the world is ending and nothing matters” - it's quite liberating when you're making something, you know, to go, “Well, you know, who cares? Let's just do what feels good and do it”, you know, total escapism, there may never be an audience for this, so there's no point thinking about one which is really liberating and it allows you to kind of travel with no preconceptions, because you kind of meet the reality that you really don't know what's gonna happen? So, you know, just lean into it, I suppose. So I was able to find a really productive and liberating kind of thing within it all, which I feel really glad about, you know?
Yeah for sure, I guess nihilism in a positive way almost. So I have to ask, tying in to “end of the world” themes, of all the lyrics on the album I’ve been obsessed with the phrasing “every fear that I have I sent to Pompeii” - where did that phrasing come from, it sounds like it could be an old saying almost?
Yeah, I suppose that's this idea that we kind of push - you know, we, as humans, we probably are where we are, because we don't often connect with pain, we kind of palm it off as something else. You know, I remember when I first heard about Pompeii, and I couldn't really fathom that such suffering in such a, you know, what was in a horrific way had happened, and that you had these statues that were, you know, these people who are playing out their final moments in absolute fear, and it has become something, that your final moment is something so permanent, and that this private moment of your very last seconds on Earth has become something so public, and I just couldn't handle it. So I'd palmed it off as, I thought it was, it must be a biblical tale, you know, someone must have gotten the wrong end of the stick. This is so horrifying. And I think we always find ways of disconnecting with, with pain and disconnecting with tragedy. And yeah, so that's kind of where that kind of ties into that.
Oh absolutely, I remember being like, eight years old or something and learning about Pompeii and just being like… what a terrifying concept!
Yeah, like surely this cannot be real, you know, when you think of all the reasons why it would never happen to you, and all the reasons why it was different then and yet, you know, it's yeah.
Is that something that you try to lean into then, something you actively go like “No, let's face the pain”?
I mean, yeah, I think it's more of an exploration, I think, than anything declarative.
So you’ve just been playing all around the UK and Europe, and you mentioned band members that need to learn the parts - when you’re writing a record, like Pompeii, are you sitting there like “how’s this gonna work live?” at that point?
Yeah, you know, I used to be really caught up in that stuff, but this was like - you figure it out, don't you? I think it's about the record, and you just figure out how this stuff gets played live when it's time. And also, you know, I mean, christ, there was a point when you think “god, is live music dead?”, you know, because there was just no - in the UK, the kind of attitude towards it was so disappointing. And so I think it was very much living in the moment of fate when I'm making a record and this is the important thing to me right now. And this exists as this record that's been made, and so if you start thinking about how to play it live, it kind of becomes a bit inhibiting.
But thankfully live music isn’t dead, so what’s it been like to be able to play the record live of the last few months?
Oh god - so we started in America and but just before Christmas I've been working on my friends record for weeks and I’ve kind of been in this bubble living on a mountain Topanga [California[. And, you know, there was this news of omicron and touring felt like so counterintuitive to me, I felt so detached from everything that I just couldn't imagine putting a band, you know, getting the band together and actually going out on the road and I was so ready to call it off, I was like, I've got to trust my gut, this feels so counterintuitive. And then I went to see Courtney Barnett play in the Ace in London, and I was, you know, expecting something really dystopian, and like a version of a gig, but something feeling off.
And there were obviously people wearing masks, but the overall feeling was just of this outpouring of joy, you know, people dancing in the aisles, people just losing their minds, because they've been flatlining for so long. And it really hit home the importance of live music and having that kind of collective experience. And when we've all been so, you know, separated for so long. So, it kind of totally changed my attitude, it was kind of a reminder of the importance of, you know, playing live and people coming together to experience something collectively and so I was resolute that, you know, we were going to do the tour, and it was probably quite likely that the tour would get stuck somehow but you’ve got to give it a go. And luckily, we all managed to escape catching anything.
And yeah, it was utterly joyful. You know, when I guess I realized as well how much we all need it as well, you know, and how much I needed it to reconnect with the record and how much just playing with people you love every night is just so nourishing. And so it was, it was like playing for the first time, like touring for the first time. And it was, yeah, it's been totally joyful. And we've just finished and we're all really sad and just can't wait to come to Australia and play again.
I love that with you coming to Australia, and with the whole tour in general, it was partially sparked by seeing Courtney Barnett!
*laughs* Yeah, she’s convinced me.
And you are coming back to Australia, after being here a number of times of the years, playing Vivid in Sydney as well as shows in Melbourne and Dark Mofo in Hobart - what’s your relationship with Australia, what are you looking forward to?
Yeah. I mean, every time we've been out there, it's just been incredible. You know, I love playing in Australia. Yeah, we're, we're absolutely - we're almost like looking at it as if it's going to be one of the greatest holidays we're ever going to have, because we're all so excited about playing. And yeah, I'm just so excited about coming. Coming to Australia, you know? Yeah. I mean, the crowds have always been incredible. And, and I think we're playing we're playing that amazing theater in Castlemaine again, and yeah, we just really love it.
Then for the rest of the year you’ve got a few more months on the road, with some huge festivals like Glastonbury and Roskilde!
Yeah. It's great, it's gonna be fun, you know I think we're just really - I think it kind of sounds a bit cliche, but you know, you really, really appreciate things in a different way now, don't you, when you think that they were going to be taken away from you? And then you kind of really hold on to them and appreciate them? Yeah.
I think after COVID cliches deserve a free ride forever *laughs*
I’m with you, I’m 100% with you.
CATE LE BON AUSTRALIAN TOUR
JUN 9 THU
Vivid Sydney '22 @ 7:30pm
JUN 11 SAT
Hot Dreams 2022 @ 2:00pm
w/Lucy Dacus & Andy Shauf
JUN 12 SUN*
Natural Bridge @ 6:00pm
w/ Lucy Dacus & Andy Shauf
JUN 16 THU*
Corner Hotel @ 8:00pm
JUN 17 FRI*
Theatre Royal @ 7:30pm
JUN 19 SUN
Dark Mofo @ 3:00pm