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TV late night bandleader Louis Cato releases new album: 'Reflections'

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

When Louis Cato took over as music director for "The Late Show," host Stephen Colbert made sure to let the audience know Cato is someone special.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT")

STEPHEN COLBERT: He is a musical genius. He can basically play...

(APPLAUSE)

COLBERT: He can basically play every instrument on that stand over there. Give him an afternoon. He'll learn how to play Mozart on a shoehorn.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOOK WITHIN")

LOUIS CATO: (Singing) Take a look at myself.

MARTIN: How did you get into music to begin with, and how is it that you have mastered so many instruments?

CATO: I got into music initially as a toddler as a drummer and a singer, drumming and singing with my mother in church.

MARTIN: First of all, I don't know who gives a toddler a drum kit, OK? But that's, like...

CATO: I think about that all the time. I think about that all the time.

MARTIN: Louis Cato told us that a big part of his job on "The Late Show" is to manage the studio audience.

CATO: I'm sort of like the test buoy. If the audience is, for example, a little bit more reserved, I lean in that much more. I want to make sure that when Stephen comes out, I take it as a part of my job to make sure that that synergy has a great foundation energetically.

MARTIN: But Cato has another side that audiences don't usually get to hear. He's pouring a lot of raw emotion into his new album, "Reflections." He says this new record takes a different approach to the classic love song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REFLECTIONS")

CATO: (Singing) Forget about everything I thought I knew of love. It's all obsolete.

Like, traditional love stories - boy meets girl, or girl meets girl, or boy meets boy, and it's all sunshine and rainbows. And, like, the next moment anything goes wrong, you're trying to figure out what could have gone wrong. It was so perfect. But nothing's really perfect.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REFLECTIONS")

CATO: (Singing) I wasn't ready for reflections when she came into my world. I was too scared to face my own fears, and I could see them in her.

I was writing sort of from the place of sort of being hit with that initial honeymoon swoon phase with, like, an undertone of awareness of it was a meeting - just as much of a meeting of our insecurities as of our better selves.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REFLECTIONS")

CATO: (Singing) Forget about everything I thought I knew of love. It's all obsolete. To look into someone else's eyes and find it's yours that you see redefines complete. It's unreal.

MARTIN: I have to say it's poppy, but this is very much grown-folks...

CATO: Yes.

MARTIN: ...Music here.

CATO: Yes.

MARTIN: Did something happen that made you feel - you know what? - I don't want the easy answer anymore. I don't want the easy breakup song. I don't want the easy I'm-in-love song. I want something different.

CATO: I mean, without going too deep into the weeds of any one thing, sort of all the things in my personal life ran their course. You know how the universe will sort of bring the same lessons back around until you learn them? I felt that in almost every area of my life, in what was my marriage at the time, my career, dealing with loss - across all of those things.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMEDAY YOU'LL UNDERSTAND")

CATO: (Singing) All in all, it's my fault too 'cause I fell out of love with you. And that's a cross I'll have to bear. I never meant to cause you pain, and I'm hurting just the same. I don't blame you for saying it ain't fair.

I could no longer sustain my idea of who I should be. I had to surrender that in order to begin to find out who I am and exist as that.

MARTIN: Is that why "Human" - you've said "Human" is your favorite song on the album? It's a very...

CATO: Yes.

MARTIN: ...You know, vulnerable song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HUMAN")

CATO: (Singing) So many faces to put on, so many reasons to hide. So let it be that I keep on holding these ponderings inside.

MARTIN: I am just really struck by how much of this album is an interrogation of ego, your...

CATO: Oh, yes.

MARTIN: You know, and what we are drawn to is so often ourselves, right? We like how we are reflected in the other person's gaze.

CATO: Wow. Oh, you're right. You're right on the money (laughter). I literally could not have said it better myself. I don't think I have said it better myself.

MARTIN: Well, you kind of did in the album, so there's that.

CATO: (Laughter).

MARTIN: But, I mean...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HUMAN")

CATO: (Singing) What am I willing to give up? What am I willing to try? Maybe exposing these demons is the only way I will survive.

MARTIN: How do you feel now that you put this out there for - not just for yourself to see and hear and people who know you and love you to see and hear, but for all of us?

CATO: It feels really clear, sort of like - I would liken it to the feeling of having a perhaps challenging at times but necessary conversation. And that feels infinitely more clear than floating around in my headspace, wondering what if and any number of imaginary scenarios that you do, like, when you need to get things out.

MARTIN: That is Louis Cato. He is the leader of the Late Show Band and we've been talking about his new album, "Reflections." Louis Cato, thank you so much for reflecting with me and talking about your beautiful work and your new album and everything that's going on.

CATO: Oh, Michel Martin, thank you so much for talking with me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOOD ENOUGH")

CATO: (Singing) Under the firmament, under the sun, every word has been spoken. Every note has been... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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