Tim Presley and Cate Le Bon’s Drinks needs no game plan
hermit Both Cate Le Bon and Tim Presley are hard to put in boxes.
You’ll often read that Cate sounds like a ‘joyful Nico’, but not every velvet-throated female artist is a Nico, and her most recent solo LP, Mug Museum, explores emotional shifts after the death of her grandmother – hardly the most optimistic subject matter. Tim gets treated much the same: he’s the San Francisco garage rock producer done good who sounds like a warped tape, a description that skips over how wonderfully evocative his lyrics are, and that his White Fence project consistently releases meticulously crafted, warm-sounding guitar records, spawning seven original full-lengths in just four years, never mind the EPs.
How wonderful, then, that these two exceptions to the rule have found each other. “There’s not many people we’d collaborate with,” says Cate, speaking to me in her low Carmarthenshire accent over Skype from LA. Tim, of course, is by her side – it sounds like they’ve been inseparable ever since Cate toured with White Fence. “I think we both knew it would be a great collaboration and it was. I mean, not the outcome – I mean personally, for us.”
Hermits on Holiday – the pair’s debut LP as Drinks – is like a visitor’s guide to the trippy recesses of their collective consciousness. Ice-cream van chords loop into tick-tock rhythms, seemingly unstoppable riff locomotives fracture into melancholy spokes of layered vocal, but however wild and patchwork Hermits on Holiday might appear at first listen, there are ever-recognisable landmarks of the musicians’ previous works flowing throughout to keep you on track. Both have collaborated before (Cate most notably with Gruff Rhys, and Tim with Ty Segall among many others), but never, it seems, with such ease. “The definition of ‘compromise’ never really came in to play,” insists Tim. “Whereas it can when you collaborate, y’know? We never really butted heads at all.”
While they’re both old hands at the sometimes-wearing cycle of writing, recording and touring as individuals, Tim and Cate have placed the focus firmly on fun as Drinks. Try too hard to “moralise” (as Cate puts it) anything on the album and the pair will stop you short. When I try and find the deeper meaning behind the supremely strange, comedy skit-like album track Tim, Do I Like That Dog?, for example, I’m told there is no such thing. “It was meant to be playful. It’s just us having a nice time, and not taking anything too seriously, you know?”
This sense of excitement and fun was key to how Hermits on Holiday took shape. “I think we’re both lovers of spontaneity and chaos,” says Cate. True to their word, the album’s recording started with no plan at all. “We kind of went down the complete abandon route,” she continues. “We immediately came off the White Fence tour and went, ‘we have to do this record or we’re never going to do it’. Initially we were throwing around some songs that we knew we could do, songs I’d written, songs Tim had written, but we thought, ‘my god that is so boring, I’m bored, how can we expect people not to be bored if we’re bored?”
There’s a sense of mutual adoration of each other’s creative outputs that surfaces more than once during our chat. When I ask Tim for his favourite Cate Le Bon song, and Cate vice versa, I wonder if there might never be a conclusive answer. In the end, Cate has to pick two: Goodbye Law, from White Fence’s most recent LP For the Recently Found Innocent and Chairs in the Dark, from Cyclops Reap. “Still?” asks Presley, surprised. “Even though you did it [on tour with White Fence]? Really?” It’s still an unequivocal “yeah!” from Cate.
Tim finds it even harder to choose a Cate Le Bon song he’d rate above any other. He’s had a sneaky listen of her forthcoming album, you see, and it’s “fucking amazing – I think I might like it better than Mug Museum, which I thought was impossible”. So again, it’s a tie – this time three-way. Shoeing the Bones, Duke and “a few on the new one that I know are going to be my favourite” get the title.
The pair have each visited the other’s familial homes, but while Tim is gushing about Cate’s native West Wales (“Wales is so pretty”), Cate claims to have had a less enjoyable time on San Fran’s famously “touristy” Pier 39. Her review playfully ribs Tim: “It’s this horrible pier where these horrible seals that are all disgusting lie on top of each other and fight, and it makes me sad about life,” she grumbles, a smile hidden in her voice. “Some people go there to eat burgers which is baffling to me because it stinks.” Oh, she had a fantastic time there then, Tim? I ask. “Oh she loved it, yeah,” he mock sighs. Cate laughs demonically in the background.
There are plenty of moments like this, where it feels like I’m listening in on one big comfortable in-joke, but while they both share a dry sense of humour that shakes off any deep and meaningful chat about what the music means, another thing they share is a passion for making something that feels honest-to-god exciting, with no stress attached. “It just is what it is. Music for music’s sake,” Cate concludes. Tim, of course, agrees.
Hermits on Holiday is out now on Heavenly Recordings