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Louis Cato is the new bandleader of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and a genius multi-instrumentalist, whose music field includes from jazz and pop to soul and R&B. Since childhood, music has been his life and his passion, as his mother was a church organist and a singer, so it’s not a surprise how Louis began playing drums at age two. Now he is really into his new plans and his new “role” as the bandleader of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert after the Jon Batiste and Stay Human’s departure.

For two decades Cato has been active in the music industry as a member of different projects but in 2016 he chose to release his first solo full-length album, entitled “Starting Now”, a title and a project that marked the new chapter of his career.

Apart from that, Cato is going to release a new studio album, entitled “Reflections” and its creation is his main activity right now along with the show. Following social reality, Cato released a couple of covers about the female empowerment “which is a message that he tries to convey to both of his daughters that they can really do” as he says. His musical career is shining even more due to the luminous collaborations he’s done along the way. Among them Mariah Carey, Beyonce, John Legend, Scary Pockets and of course John Batiste to name a few!

Honesty and calmness are characteristics that distinguish him and now you can read the whole interview that he gave to!

Hello Louis and welcome to What have you been up to lately?

The main things I’ve been up to lately have been for the Late Show where I service as the bandleader and then also my new album “Reflections”. We’re in the mixing phase right now and it’s really exciting. It’s been a long time coming and it’s been five years since I released music so that has occupied almost all of my time.

How did you become a musician? What was your first time to perform in front of an audience and how do you recall this experience?

I started playing music when I was two years old and the first time in front of an audience I guess it was at church in Ohio, where we were living at the time, and then Maryland and North Carolina. My first audiences were in church as a toddler. I was playing drums and my mum sings and plays piano, and that has been my biggest musical experience and education. That’s the sound that’s always in the back of my brain and my heart.

 You were born in Portugal, right?

Yes I was born in Lisbon. My father was in the military. He was in a station there. I thought that we left when I was just three months old but my mum recently told me that it was even shorter than that. But I have gone back many times since then, to play and perform in jazz festivals. Most recently I did a project called “Mirrors” which was a collective that included a Portuguese fadista, Gisela João, and we spent two weeks in Portalegre, Portugal, writing and recording that album. It’s one of my favorite projects I’ve ever been a part of. There were five artists that got together and wrote songs and we just recorded it. We set up a recording studio, and we did it looking out to sheep and fields and beautiful Portalegre. The music reflects there. It was really beautiful.

How about Greece? Have you ever been in Greece?

I have! I’ve played in Athens a few times, with a few different people. I used to tour with Marcus Miller, and we played in Athens at least once. I remember playing there with John Scofield, the guitar player and possibly with Bobby McFerrin.

How do you recall these experiences from our country?

Well my closest connection to Greece is my best friend. His name is Elias Logothetis, he’s a singer and a drummer. We met actually our first day of college at Berkeley School of Music. It’s a funny, cute story, I won’t bore you with, but he was a fast and close friend, and we’ve been through all sorts of life and music together. Our colleague, is mixing his records right now. We’ve been through everything together. My one tattoo was done by his wife but I haven’t learned very much Greek over the years. Whenever he starts talking in Greek, it’s all Greek to me!

My experience in Athens was very pleasant people, very pleasant promoters, I can’t remember the names of any of them, but they’re in my phone, my e-mail and in my heart.

In May you released your cover “Put Your Records On” by Corinne Bailey Rae, with Scary Pockets. What was the inspiration behind choosing to cover this song?

The inspiration behind doing that song was very clearly my daughters. I have two incredible daughters. The youngest is 10 and the oldest is 17. I’ve been working with the Scary Pockets for some time now, and one of the most fun parts of the creative journey is deciding which songs we want to do and reinvent. The last Scary Pockets song we did was a Beyoncé song called “Love on Top”, and we just thought that was really fun, like, for me, being a guy singing a song that was made popular by not a guy, and particularly that song. The message of it, is sort of female empowerment which is a message that I try to convey to both of my daughters that they can really do. Society, especially over here, can be a bit not equal, and being a woman in this society, there’s a lot of challenges that they’re facing already in their schools just growing up as kids. The inspiration to reinvent that song was that I could sing it to them, to encourage them that they can do whatever they want to do, that no dream is too big, and I’m lucky enough to be their father, and I can see how capable they are, beyond any of the limitations that society may put on them because they are female.

Your debut album “Starting Now” was released back in 2017. What should someone expect from this project?

That album was at such a place in my life. If I had to describe that album to someone who doesn’t know my music, I would describe it, as sort of pop produced, soulful singer songwriter.

Is there a song that stands out for you from this project and why?

Yes! “Look Within”! It’s the song on that album that is most timeless. Every now and then, as a songwriter, you write things that you can’t always understand fully. Why you feel what you feel in one moment but there’s always those things that are coming up, from deep within. That song felt like it was coming from a place that I didn’t fully realize at the time. I co-wrote it with my dear friend Adam Tressler and a lot of times in co-writes you are sort of pingponging off each other. It’s influenced by your emotional state at the time, for me, at least. Some people write 100% from where they are. I think that’s sort of what makes it to stand out from the rest of the album. Some of these other songs like “Starting Now”, for example, is very much like of that moment. I’m writing from a place of my experience of moving to New York City and feeling the weight of the pressure of that moment, starting right now. Everything that I do matters. I’m aware of the gravity of that moment, whereas “Look Within” is kind of writing from the same place but it’s also like looking ahead to a place that I’m not in yet. It’s like when I figure out how to settle down. At that point I haven’t yet figured it out.

So every couple of years or so, when I perform that song, I feel like former me, 2017-me, is like talking to 2022-me. It’s like, “hey, it’s all right to look within, to take a deep breath”. It stands out to me in that way of just being sort of evergreen and it was writing from that place, but it’s also speaking to every version of me.

You are working on any new music now. Should we expect your new album anytime soon?

My next album is called “Reflections”. I can’t wait for you hear it. It’s so good. I wish I could play it for you. We’ll be releasing some music before the end of the year. The record is fully recorded and two out of eight songs, I believe, are fully mixed now.

Are there any surprises in this album?

There’s a great guest appearance actually from Elizabeth Ziman, who has a really powerful band called Elizabeth & the Catapult. She’s out right now, I think, touring with Amy Helm and most recently she was opening for Madison Cunningham. She’s just always been one of favorite souls, singers and songwriters. She has a song called “Someday Soon”, which is one of my favorite songs, of all time. We did a duet together, that’s really beautiful. We just finished that mix.

In general, people can expect a bit of a less produced sound but with  more nuance in the individual layers. My goal into this, was to strip down a bit. It’s sort of a reprise to “Look Within”. That’s the theme, I think, for me.

Do you know the release date or which is going to be the first single from this album?

No, we haven’t set a date yet. We actually have a meeting with the team tomorrow where we’re going to iron out release dates and the single. Maybe the actual tittle track, “Reflections”, is likely to be the first. There’s also a cover of “Miss U” by the Rolling Stones, which could also be the first single. It’s the only cover I did on the album. I sort of reinvented it and put my own spin on it. It’s up in the running to be the go-ahead single. We’ll figure these things out soon.

In August you were announced as the bandleader for The Late Show Band, the house band for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. How do you feel about replacing Jon Batiste on the show?

It feels equal parts bizarre, and natural. John has been a friend, a mentor and a collaborator for a long time. I feel really lucky and blessed to have had a front low seat of the house that he and Stephen built. We started off the gates. John called me to work on the theme-song in the very beginning, back in 2015. I saw, literally from the very beginning of what they wanted to set out, to accomplish, the standard of excellence they wanted to bring and the spirit of exploration and creativity that they wanted to embody. I felt like it was something that I could find myself in. I got to play a lot of different versions of supportive roles. I got to bounce around to be a producer and eventually, I took over as the music producer of the show. I got to bounce around and see my different instruments. There was a time when I was playing kazoo on the show, and I stood there as the bass player or the guitarist. In the beginning I was playing drums. I had a ProTools rig on the stage, a laptop and a Midi controller keyboards… It has been really educational over seven years so when John decided to leave, it was a really natural succession, although bizarre, because my focus was on the creative product and making just the best music that we could enroll in with all of the day-to-day changes that are a part of doing a Daily Variety show. But when a change like that happens, it’s like “Oh, alright. Here we go”. So that’s why I say that it feels equal parts bizarre and natural, because the bizarre part is like “whoa, the timing!! OK, now here we go!” whereas the natural part is like “we’ve been here”. I’ve been learning and studying and I realized that in some ways there’s lots of people who could do this job, but in my experience, I’m kind of uniquely suited to have been able to be there from the very beginning and learn who Stephen is and how he operates or what the role of the music is in this show. That’s the work that I’m trying to continue.

So I guess it’s an harmonic collaboration with Mr. Colbert.

It really is. Mark McKenna, our stage manager, had given me some advice when things were moving kind of quickly and I was feeling a bit overwhelmed. He’s been with Stephen since the old show, and he was like, “Stephen is a very gracious improviser! He’ll never leave you out to dry” and that’s just the thing. He’s a very thoughtful, caring person to share a stage with. I have found that to be true. He wants everyone on stage to succeed. What I’ve found and I’ve been learning is, that if I show up and bring my best self, there’s room to grow.

What was the funniest experience for you so far on the show?

There’s lots of nuance that goes on behind the scenes. The comedy rehearsals are some of the most fascinating parts of the behind scenes to me because it’s the first read through of the script. This is one of my favorite things about Stephen or just his ability to play a teleprompter. I have the same teleprompter as he has so I get to see the script as he’s reading it, but he’ll change it in real time as he goes. So it’s like I’m reading one joke and he’ll just make a whole another joke in the same space or just change a word or a punchline that’s just like completely funny. Sometimes there are things that he can’t say on the show, but it’s so quick and those of us in the comedy rehearsals, we’re just dying, laughing, and no one will ever hear it. It’s really amazing to watch him improvise and just make new jokes or skip jokes as the teleprompter is going along. He’s really brilliant in that way.

Over the years, you have collaborated with top talent such as Beyoncé, John Legend, Mariah Carey among others. Which of your collaborations so far is the most important to you and why?

Beyoncé was separately but I worked on a record with Mariah Carey and I worked on and co-wrote a song with John Legend and both of those were made possible through Q-Tip, who is one of my favorite human beings. He’s a brother and very much a mentor. He brought me into both of those rooms. My musical and personal relationship with Q-Tip has been probably one of the most meaningful and significant in my journey because through him I worked on the Mariah Carey record and I met John Legend. Still one of the proudest projects that I’ve worked on, has been that last one A Tribe Called Quest-album, on which I co-wrote a song and played a lot all over the album, basses and guitars. It’s been really meaningful for me. I also met Jack White first through Q-tip working on that album. We both played guitars on the same track and then I later went on to work on a record with Jack White, “Boarding House Reach”. Just some of my most creatively fulfilling endeavors to date have been out of just Q-tip. He’s been a really kind and open creative force in my life and recommending me to all these people.

What’s your motto in life?

I think it’s changing from time to time. This necklace is a replacement of one that I lost in a tour bus accident in 2012. I was Switzerland and our tour bus driver passed away and I broke my back, T-2 and T-3 screened my neck and I still live in chronic pain from that accident. The original necklace that I was wearing at the time, I had engraved in Japanese the word “集中” which means concentration or focus and so that’s sort of like my guiding principle mantra motto for myself. If you’re ever in New York City and you look at one of my computer screens, my screen saver is “focus, plan, do, finish”. That’s sort of the model that I live by and the changes right now, I’m sort of practicing acceptance and all things, and love is a huge encompassing part of all of that. Focusing my energies and choosing acceptance services to practice in guerilla and deepen in that.

Interview: Theodore Kolliopoulos

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