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Cate Le Bon on pet sounds and penicillin




When Cate Timothy adopted the stage name Cate Le Bon, she had no particular fascination with Simon Le Bon. But that didn't stop fans from speculating — and in some cases insisting — that she was the Duran Duran frontman's daughter.

That was back in 2008, when the Wales-reared folksinger was releasing her 2008 Welsh-language debut EP, Edrych yn Llygaid Ceffyl Benthyg — which, you'll be glad to know, translates to "Looking in the Eyes of a Borrowed Horse." Since then, she's made enough of a name for herself that the monicker mixup is no longer an issue.

Now, at 30, with her newly released third, English-crooned, neo-psychedelic album Mug Museum on the shelves, she laughs about the understandable moniker mixup, while remaining somewhat cagey about her original reason for adopting it. Put it this way, she says: "It was a joke that went too far until it ended up on a poster. And then that was that."

Cate Le Bon first came to overseas prominence when Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys hired her to play bass in his side project Neon Neon. Once off tour, she set about composing her 2009 English-sung debut Me Oh My, under the original working title of Pet Deaths.

"When I started writing songs, I realized that they had to be about something," she explains. "And the only experience I had to draw from was that of animals dying." Le Bon says she even had a pet goat named Bluebell that she'd regularly walk through the Welsh countryside on weekends.

"We had a string of cats and goats, but we lost a lot of cats," Le Bon sighs. "I think it was mostly the road. But my favorite cat got shot by a weirdo kid who was into guns and fancied himself a hunter. I guess living in the country, you come face-to-face with things that maybe you wouldn't in a city."

Mortality again comes into thematic play on Mug Museum, in particular on the chugging, Hammond-organ-underpinned "Sisters," in which the Nico-lissome crooner addresses the recent passing of her maternal grandmother. A pet death is one thing, she says. "But with my granny's death, it kind of feels like she passed on this baton to us all. It suddenly put everything into a perspective that I hadn't noticed before, where everyone shifted up the ladder. So all of a sudden, I realized that — where once I was the niece — now I'm the auntie, and there was a real sense of being a link in a never-ending chain."

The Mug Museum title, in turns out, was another in-joke. One of Le Bon's old roommates used to derisively refer to the singer's bedroom as the mug museum, due to Le Bon's habit of rarely returning her used teacups to the kitchen for washing.

"But you know that's how they discovered penicillin, right?" she chortles.

Currently, Le Bon and her longtime boyfriend/collaborator Huw Evans have new permanent digs in Los Angeles, which has required minor adjustments.

"We don't have half these Hollywood things in Wales," Le Bon enthuses, in her Welsh burr, "Like pantries!" What? "Pantries!" she repeats. Beg pardon? "PALM. TREES," she repeats, slowly. "This is probably my biggest hurdle — being understood in California."

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