Tess Roby’s Cat Has Mastered the Keyboard, But Don’t Ask Him to Tell You What He’s Playing
Montreal-based musician Tess Roby shared the process of making her latest album, Ideas of Space — of which her cat, Lou, seems to approve.
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If there ever were a person designed to have a cat, it’s ethereal-pop musician Tess Roby. The Montreal-based artist — who just dropped an enchanted sophomore album, Ideas of Space — has been heralded by The New York Times and BrooklynVegan alike. But perhaps even more significantly, her cat, Lou, is her biggest fan.
“He’s such a calming presence,” she remarks, “and I never take that for granted.” We spoke with Roby about Lou’s honorary role in her four-years-in-the-making album, Ideas of Space, and how her cat became a foodie.
Because you’re in music, I immediately assumed Lou was named after Lou Reed.
You’re actually spot on. I love Lou Reed. And it really suits him perfectly. We named him in the car ride home, and it just stuck. His full name is actually Lou Malibu. The Malibu comes from when we drove him home, in a borrowed Chevy Malibu. This was five years ago.
Have you composed any songs in his honor?
I actually don’t have any songs about Lou. He’s more this constant calm presence in my life. But he definitely enjoys listening to music, and we listen to a lot of music in our house.
Does he like your music?
When I was playing the test-pressing for my record that just came out, it seemed like he really liked it. I was asking him, “Do you recognize my voice?” And I don’t know, but I remember he was lying on the carpet, and his tail was wagging.
Have you ever tried putting him on your keyboard and seeing what he comes up with?
Yeah, I have. I’m like, “Can you hear? Are you aware that your paws are, you know, changing the notes?” And he just kind of looks at me like, “Why do you have me here?” I’ve definitely recorded his purrs, and he’s quite talkative. So sometimes I’ll do little recordings of what he’s saying.
I feel like cats would connect with Ideas of Space more than dogs.
There’s that, like, “music for cats” on YouTube, and it’s a lot of slow piano music. I’ve never really tested that with Lou, because I assume he would like the music that I like. But I could definitely see cats vibing with a more ethereal synth sound, for sure.
What’s the theme or idea that runs through your album?
I hear, like, a real confidence in a lot of these songs. I was working through some traumas when I was writing. That was, you know, looking at my mind as this house with all the rooms. So that’s coming through lyrically. And then of course, the album is called Ideas of Space. There’s all these titles on the albums like “House/Home” and “Euphoria in August” — references to space and time.
When you write and record, is Lou around?
Yeah, I write a lot of my songs from my home studio. I love his presence. It’s particularly calming. Before the pandemic, my boyfriend and I were both working and leaving the house for full days at a time. At first in the pandemic, we could tell that Lou was kind of like, “Why are you guys here all the time?” Then he started to really enjoy us. But to answer your question, he’s definitely around when I’m writing, but usually he doesn’t like to be confined to a room. But if he’s inside, sometimes he sits next to my desk. Lou is extremely social. When we have people over, he wants to be a part of whatever’s going on.
Is he spoiled at all?
One of his favorite treats is seaweed, which he eats every day. Apparently this is quite good for cats’ digestion. At seven pm on the dot, this is what he demands. He puts his paws on the fridge door and does some jumps for it too, which I’ve never seen another cat do. His real passion is food. He’s a total foodie. He eats a ridiculous amount of human food. He likes everything from strawberries and watermelon and cucumber, to the obvious things like prosciutto and canned tuna.
Owners and their pets frequently have similar personalities. Would you say that’s accurate in this case?
Definitely. We’re both Libras. There’s like an intrinsic connection, and we’re often on the same wavelength.
How the musician’s pets — present during the making of her new album — counterbalance the weightiness of her work.
“She’s been to my shows where I was trying to focus on my witchy mood, but I also wanted to just laugh because she was doing her head tilt.”
“I started learning piano pieces during quarantine, and she would hear the music and come scooting into the room and lie down, lounge, and listen to it... She likes music!”
The dream-pop musician on how her speckled rescue pup got her through the pandemic.
Nisha Gopalan has been a writer/editor for The New York Times, New York magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and NYLON magazines. She currently resides in Los Angeles.