Cate le Bon’s music is weirdly Welsh

The pop singer-songwriter credits two important Welsh bands from the ’90s/’00s for spawning a new generation of bonkers but beautiful music.

Cate le Bon
Cate le Bon
Cate le Bon is a pop singer-songwriter from Wales, one who emerged from under the wing of Gruff Rhys, leader of the great Welsh band Super Furry Animals. She contributed vocals to Rhys’s electro-pop project Neon Neon back in 2008, and to the latest album by another pillar of the Welsh scene, Manic Street Preachers, just last year. But her global cult following was built on her solo work, three albums of melodic yet off-kilter tunes filled with echoes of vintage strange-folk, lite psychedelia and timeless classic pop and rock.

Le Bon has played Montreal once before, opening for Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier at Ukrainian Federation during Pop Montreal 2012. Now, in support of her latest record, Mug Museum, she’s returning to headline for the first time, at Il Motore on Monday. I called her last week in Houston, the second city she and her band played on their North American tour.

Lorraine Carpenter: So I understand you’ve moved to L.A. How did that come about?
Cate le Bon: About three years ago, I went there for the first time to rehearse with Neon Neon, and I was really lucky to have stayed with someone in the city, to experience the music community. I was quite enamoured with it, and obviously the weather is an absolute bonus. I love how Los Angeles is on one hand a massive sprawling metropolis but it also has some of the most beautiful nature. They seem to coexist quite well.

I’ve always wanted to go and make a record in Los Angeles, and then last year everything just fell into place with the help of some good friends.

LC: Are there reasons why you wanted to leave the U.K.?
CLB: There was no reason to leave Cardiff other than an opportunity presented itself to have a change and do something different and have an adventure that wasn’t possible being in that city anymore. I miss it a hell of a lot. More than anything, it’s the people who make Cardiff. There’s just so many good, kind, wonderful people who make up the music scene. I’m always excited to go home because I get to see family and friends as well as play shows.

That said, the weather has been so appalling in the U.K. for the past five years — really erratic, terrible weather. I was cooped up in this house because the weather was so atrocious, and so to live in a city where you can just be outside all the time, for me it was really nourishing because I love being outside.

LC: Is the scene in Wales going strong?
CLB: Oh, there’s so much good stuff coming out of Wales. There’s a specific generation of people making music now who were young when the Britpop scene exploded. We had these genre-defying bands in Super Furry Animals and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, who were doing their own fucking weird shit that was just brilliant, and it wasn’t done with that kind of bravado or ego that Britpop bands had. It was just a polite disregard — “This is what we do.”

I loved those bands musically, but their attitude and the way they conducted themselves was as influential as their music. When you look at the Welsh music scene now, there’s such an array of music but it’s all tied together by some sort of weirdness that’s hard to pinpoint. It’s my own personal theory that it’s those two bands.

LC: Which acts do you recommend checking out?
CLB: There’s a band called Islet who are fantastic. It’s bonkers but beautiful, very much their own thing. Then there’s a one-man band called R.Seiliog — he makes these soundscape-y, triumphantly childlike krautrock songs. It’s real krautrock, though — not just the krautrock beat that makes everyone go, “Oh, krautrock.” It’s infused with the weirdness and playfulness and real spirit of krautrock, which is just incredible. ■
Cate le Bon plays Il Motore (179 Jean-Talon W.) with opener Kevin Morby on Monday, Jan. 20, 8 p.m., $10/$13

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