In 1967, while wrapping up one of the most needlessly tense and hostile TV interviews ever broadcast, classical musicologist Hans Keller summarised Pink Floyd as “a little bit of a regression to childhood. But, after all, why not?” If he had lived to 2015, one can only guess what he would make of DRINKS, the brain, body, love and hate-child of Tim Presley (AKA White Fence) and Cate Le Bon.
Much of what makes their collaboration noteworthy is tied up in a track on their new album Hermits On Holiday called ‘Tim, Do I Like That Dog?’ – sounding much like a six-minute jam session that refuses to start, with Le Bon repeating the title every so often over the discordance. It sounds like that because, give or take, that’s exactly what it is. “It’s all in the name of like ‘in the moment’ recording,” explains Presley, “any White Fence thing that’s a mistake or a happy accident was just spur of the moment – it happened then, it’ll never happen again, it’ll never sound the same again, you can’t recreate it. So I think with the DRINKS record, we did that but in a live band sense.”
I guess the whole record is a mistake really.
“You go for the take that’s more exciting over the perfect take,” says Le Bon, “even if it’s full of mistakes. We didn’t really know where we were going with a lot of the songs, so there was no right or wrong anyway. There’s no barometer of what a mistake is. I guess the whole record is a mistake really.”
For Presley, this was the second time recording in a studio rather than his bedroom, an approach that served him well up until the last White Fence album, For The Recently Found Innocent, which was co-produced and mixed by Ty Segall. While not a ‘mistake’ as such, it’s a transition he’s made with some reluctance, though he cites Segall and Le Bon as the catalysts for making him “a little bit more comfortable in that situation.” Still, he’s yet to chuck away his trusty four-track for good, “I’m not giving up the bedroom stuff at all, I still do that every day. It’s just of matter of whether it’s good enough to put out or not. In the meantime, I’m not as shy or scared of the studio as I once was.”
Regardless of where it was recorded, that Presley has thrown himself so enthusiastically at this project is perhaps the most striking thing about it. Bar a one-off album co-written with Segall, 2012’s Hair, he’s spent the best part of this decade writing and recording solo under the White Fence moniker. Le Bon’s gentle folk-pop, meanwhile, is a long way off the scratchy, lo-fi garage-psych Presley is known for. What’s more, neither of them are all that crazy about collaborating in general. “It’s that thing where you’re friends with musicians you admire,” explains Le Bon, “and there’s always gonna be a drunken conversation, like ‘hey we should make a record together…’ ‘Oh OK, see you later.’”
“I know what she’s saying. You say that in a passing way… I’m really picky when it comes to that stuff. ‘Cause it really is an intimate like… you have to trust that person or else it won’t work really.”
In DRINKS’ case, getting accustomed to one another’s tastes, talents and eccentricities played out quite gradually, beginning with Presley supporting Le Bon on a run of American dates before she returned the favour by joining White Fence as a guitarist. “I think when I toured with White Fence, that was a nice slow entry into working together on something creative. I guess I kind of realised off the back of being in tour mentality… if we don’t get into a studio immediately after this tour then it’ll be just one of those records that we talk about doing.”
Alongside all of this, the pair would regularly meet to talk about and play each other records, learning to work around each other’s foibles in the process. “I showed Cate Wire,” recalls Tim, “because I thought she would love it immediately, and she did.”
“Strangely, Wire are one of those bands everyone will tell me are my favourite band, and because of it I just won’t listen to them, because I’m so stubborn.”
“And then I tricked her by playing her a song without showing her what is was and she was like ‘what is this?’”
“‘I love this, it’s my favourite!’ Turns out I’m my own worst enemy.”
At this point, for reasons unknown, Presley sees it fit to half-heartedly sing a verse from ‘My Own Worst Enemy’ by Lit, and claim it was a “big influence” on the album. It’s just one of several jokey interjections he makes, laughed off by Le Bon in a way that makes them seem like a couple who have been married for decades.
Sitting with a musician like Presley, who’s output has attracted the ‘psych’ label more times than he would care to remember, the conversation inevitably turns to drugs, but not before he and Le Bon give a kicking to the term’s contemporary misuse. “It seems to me lots of reverb and wearing a paisley shirt,” says Le Bon, “it seems to be more about the image currently than the music. I guess ‘psychedelic’ to me just means following a path that is the most exciting… that freedom to follow something without the confines of what is traditional in a song.”
“It’s kind of like any record or music you can put on and your imagination can just go kind of wild with it,” says Presley, “and that could be a jazz record too. Something where your mind is just like constantly creating weird little scenarios. That to me is psychedelic music, y’know, but just like taking drugs and shit and looking like certain bands, who I won’t mention, yeah, that’s just playing the part.”
When I ask Presley if and how his own drug use has influenced his songwriting, he’s typically candid in his response. “I used to smoke weed a lot, and I think it got me into, not a psychedelic place, but a more free and experimental state with music. But, I don’t know, it’s not like a ritual, like smoke grass and make music or anything. I have to yet to take mushrooms or acid and write and fuckin’ song about it. It’s like maybe a little cliché, but…”
“I think it’s been done,” says Le Bon. “Sleep deprivation is my favourite. Like in the middle of the night when everyone’s sleeping…”
“For you that would be like 11.”
“[Laughs] When you’re out of your mind on sleep deprivation, yeah, that’s when I write mostly.”
“I think I’ve had more psychedelic experiences, and applied it to music more, with coffee than I have with like grass or anything.”
They want to see Tim play a nice song and me play a nice song, and I’m repeating ‘Tim, do I like that dog?’ whilst Tim’s throwing a guitar at the amp, you know. It’s not for everyone.
There’s usually something quite passive-aggressive about two people making in-jokes between one another in the presence of someone outside their circle, but DRINKS have a peculiar knack for doing it in such a way that they’re almost inviting you to try and understand their world, not alienate you from it. It’s a trait that’s audible throughout their album, fleshed out in their live show, though not everybody wants to know. “Potentially people are gonna leave, and they do,” says Le Bon. “I mean, they want to see Tim play a nice song and me play a nice song, and I’m repeating ‘Tim, do I like that dog?’ whilst Tim’s throwing a guitar at the amp, you know. It’s not for everyone.”
After twenty minutes of chatting to them, one gets a fairly clear idea of how Presley and Le Bon came to make the album they did – that’s more than accounted for by their shared sense of humour and love of psychedelia, krautrock and post-punk (in the true sense of all those words) – but there’s still the niggling matter of why. Two successful solo artists creating something apparently unwanted by their collective fanbase doesn’t sound like the smartest career move, but if, as Le Bon put it, “the whole record is a mistake really,” perhaps that’s its very raison d’être. Like Keller, if far less riled, about the best answer I can give is why not?