In Conversation with Cate Le Bon
and Tim Presley

Skype interview by Zofia Ciechowska
Photos shot by Suzanna Zak in Los Angeles, USA

The idea for DRINKS was hatched in the back of a tour bus when Cate Le Bon played guitar for Tim Presley’s band White Fence last autumn. It would take a while before the two put their heads together as Cate and her boxes had to make their way across the Atlantic. Once those were unpacked, the two made a pact: bring unfinished songs to rehearsals and serendipitously piece them together through their common love of guitar-strumming and word play. The moment it felt good, they recorded these happy coincidences for others to hear.


The cover of DRINKS’ upcoming album Hermits on Holiday depicts the silhouettes of both musicians looking onwards, drawn in Presley’s unique black, scraggly hand. After what seems to be a long time spent working on their own, the two insist that DRINKS is not a collaboration but a new form of solo project. And as the drawing suggests, it’s a game of follow the leader, where the leader doesn’t know where they’re going and the person following is actually leading – or maybe they aren’t. Your guess is as good as theirs. It’s funner and funnier that way.

We ring Cate and Tim on a Wednesday morning. And when they pick up, we find ourselves in Cate’s apartment in Highland Park in north-east LA. They tell us the weather’s a little shitty and murky. Both of them like it that way; it reminds them of the rainy days from where they come from – Wales and San Francisco. After moving, it turns out they miss those wet, broody days back home. Cate and Tim let their sentences trail so that the other can finish them, like a verbal game of exquisite corpse. It’s precisely their revelry in the unexpected and embracing of the absurd which makes DRINKS so glorious to observe as a project, or more so, two friends having the time of each other’s lives.

Zofia: You’ve mentioned DRINKS is a solo project and not a collaboration. What makes it one and not the other?

Cate: I think the way we chose to work was to have a project that went down an unknown route. It was very much the two of us operating as one system; we just went with it. There was no map, no right or wrong. We were just so consumed with being excited and energised by where it was going. We were moving in the same direction, no push or pull between us. Just holding on to each other for dear life.

We were moving in the same direction, no push or pull between us. Just holding on to each other for dear life

Z: What are you exploring with DRINKS that you’ve not been able to do before?

Tim: Because Cate and I have been making music on our own for so long, this was an exciting way for us to get away from that.

C: There was no intention necessarily, just two people who love each other’s music, working together for the sake of working together. It’s music for music’s sake. It’s something that we as people and musicians wanted to explore for our own nourishment.

Z: Has it allowed for you to have ‘the time of each other’s lives,’ as you like to say?

T: We both respect each other so much and we’ve become really good friends, everything is fun and exciting. And Cate loves playing guitar.

C: We love playing guitar! We’ve grown used to working on our own. But now we have someone egging the other on whenever we’re doing something borderline ridiculous. Having a partner in crime is the best, the best! Without that there’s much more self-doubt and reigning yourself in. We’re both big fans of playfulness, the ridiculous and taking things to that extreme.


Z: What makes you believe in this partnership?

C: The fact that we’re both excited by it. I’d just come off a really long touring cycle and you’d think making a record would be the last thing I wanted to do, but making this album reignited this hidden passion in me. You make music because you want to, not because you have to. It’s nice to have someone like-minded like Tim to do that with. We sat around playing music for each other excitedly, which I hadn’t done in years. It never felt like a chore, it just naturally happened.

T: I want to tour with Cate. I respect her so much – she’s so talented, great and like-minded. This just feels so new and refreshing. To be doing that with someone who I admire so much is just damn exciting. We’ve become unstuck from our old routines. And when you’re excited like that it feels like a very pure experience.

Z: Your album teaser features rapid flashes of dogs snatched from internet clips and a split second of a kitten. How do you come up with the ideas for your somewhat hilariously absurd videos?

Having a partner in crime is the best, the best! Without that there’s much more self-doubt and reigning yourself in.

C: Tim’s not entirely sure what a dog is.

T: I google-searched ‘dog’ and that’s what came up. I dunno. I dunno any more.

C: I have some animals that I left behind in Wales. An old horse called Teifi, named after a Welsh river. He’s being taken care of by the family. Blythe and Tommy are two small dogs we have too.

T: Tommy’s actually going to drive the van on our next tour.

C: But he’s having some visa problems at the moment. All those drugs…

Z: The video for ‘Hermits on Holiday’ features your roaming around San Francisco and visiting a seal colony, a pet graveyard and aimless rides up and down mall escalators. I couldn’t stop grinning when I watched it. Who are the two older people dancing with you in it, by the way?

C: We didn’t want a disparity between how the video and record were made. We wanted the videos to come directly from us, there’s no grand plan for them or their plots. Somehow they just unexpectedly fall into place. We were supposed to spend the whole day shooting, but we looked at our watches and it was already 4:30pm. We’d been drinking coffee and eating all day in the city instead. So we quickly darted around San Francisco and ended up in some pretty rubbish places. We got kicked out of a mall because Tim was wearing a black polo-neck and shooting with a VHS Camcorder. Apparently 35-year-old men in that kind of attire who are carrying that kind of equipment don’t inspire much trust in shoppers.


T: I looked in the mirror and saw the security guard’s point….

C: So we got back to Tim’s mother’s house and decided we needed more footage. We asked Nan and her partner Donald to dance and play guitar on camera for us. At first she was worried about what to wear, but it didn’t take too much coaxing to get them to play along.

Z: Looking back at the road you’ve taken to where you are right now, do you feel like you owe anyone anything?

C: No. I’m grateful for many things, but I don’t feel like I owe anyone anything.

You can’t keep a tally of things that you do for each other, friendship is a constant give and take.

T: No. I don’t feel indebted. For instance, if I struck it rich, I would shower my mom with gifts even though she probably wouldn’t want them. I don’t have any debts. Debt seems like a scary word.

C: It’s an unresolved word. I know there are many wonderful people who’ve done wonderful things for me on the road and I’ve tried to show them gratitude and I’d reciprocate the favour if they ever needed it. But neither side would ever see it as a debt. It’s genuine kindness, not something that needs to be repaid. It’s not an equation that needs to be resolved.

T: I try to show as much gratitude as I can to, say, Jeremy at Woodsist, or Eric from Make a Mess Records. There’s so many people throughout my life who’ve showed me kindness, it’s a long list. But I don’t feel like I have a debt. I don’t feel guilty.

C: I’ve had many friends who’ve helped me out. You can’t keep a tally of things that you do for each other, friendship is a constant give and take. You do things when they matter and when you can, but there’s no deadline or anything numeral at play. I don’t believe in the notion of debt. What goes around comes around. Also, when someone owes you something, it’s liberating when you can write it off and see it come back to you in another way.

DRINKS’ Hermits on Holiday is out now on Birth/Heavenly. They play a Subbacultcha show with Year at OT301, Amsterdam on 02 September. This interview was first published in the Fall 2015 issue of the Subbacultcha quarterly magazine.