With an indisputable rawness to her vocals and emotional transparency, Celeste reveals her most reminiscent moments and highlights which have shaped her year so far.
With the incorporation of Jazz and Soul lyricism and subtle melodies, the artist Celeste modifies the sound of soul in her emotion and thought-provoking approach. Celeste’s personalised touch works to tell a story based on her encounters of vivid memories and feels which she openly vocalises. Celeste’s upbringing alongside her British mum and Jamaican dad and grandparents in Dagenham shaped her passion for the Jazz and Soul sound as she takes inspiration for Soul icons; Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding. Her inspirations continue to grow beyond the names of the past as she takes to the works of Kanye West and Solange too.
Not only does her music withhold a sense of lucidity, but the emotional expression that lays as the foundation to Celeste’s music also recreates her journey of exploration whether it be emotions or music itself. Celeste’s love for music became apparent in her late teens as she drifted away from the mainstream journey of education to pursue her career as a singer-songwriter. Her stages towards becoming an artist, down to her earliest standout moments, remain attached to many memories throughout her childhood which were surrounded by music.
Celeste’s latest body of work ‘Lately’ places her vocal talents at centre stage, complemented by the simplest yet sweetest acoustic elements. The building of instruments works to create a texture which continues to elevate throughout her breakout track, ‘Both Sides Of The Moon’. Not overwhelmed by anything but the sound of her heartfelt vocals, she expresses a rawness in her emotion in ‘Lately’ which remains throughout the EP. Within a year that she describes as a highlight as a whole, she has been able to recreate her streams of consciousness for many to hear live on the honoured stages of Glastonbury, the Great Escape, Primavera and more.
Her new single, ‘Strange’ which is officially out, was partially inspired and written during her trip to LA last November having witnessed the destruction caused by the California wildfires. She relates what she lists as ‘the destruction the fires caused, the loss, the isolation’ to her own exposure to loss.
Celeste talks us through the stages leading up to her career now, her musical influences and the process she goes through when writing and recording a track.
So, how did you begin your journey into music and writing?
That’s a good question. Probably when I was about 18, when I finished college, I’d already been doing music during those two years at school and stuff. There have been points on and off from when I was a kid where I’d try different stuff like singing, just like messing around really. And then, it was just at that age of 18, when I just started figuring out what I really wanted to do, with all my friends going to university and stuff, I knew that really wasn’t for me at the time. Music was the thing I was most interested in, so my mum was just like ‘treat it like it’s your job treat the next two or three years as building towards the goal’.
I feel like I tell a lot of people this but definitely from when I was like 3, my grandad used to play Aretha Franklin all the time like non-stop and Ella Fitzgerald, so even though at the time it wasn’t necessarily clear to me that it was jazz or soul, I just knew that I liked it. I kept on hearing bits like Otis Redding and discovering things and music through my family more than anything. It was only really when I was a teenager, like 14, where I actually started looking for music myself. Having my own iPod and downloading stuff on my iTunes and going on YouTube, that was really when I started to discover music for myself. But the jump-off point was stuff that my mum, nan and grandad played.
What is your creative process like when it comes to making and writing music?
I guess there is almost a process. I like the whole songwriting thing itself to be quite spontaneous but when I go in, as soon as I hear chords if they kind of like make me feel a certain emotion, then I’ll just sing a melody; whatever comes out naturally. Depending on how it feels, that’s what the lyric will be, to fit the melody. That’s one thing that I do that’s always the same.
Other than that, I always try different processes of writing, whether it’s to just a beat or to a piano. I really like having a few people in the room that play different instruments at the same time and because of that sort of spontaneity, even the stakes can lead to really cool sounding things.
What are some of the key messages and themes within your new work to come?
I think without giving away too many things, ultimately, I just want people to enjoy my voice. I quite like to just come across as nonchalant and confident but not showing off. Sometimes, that can come across as shy but some people that come across like that have their own power within them, it’s just that you’re not feeling the need to show it.
What else in life inspires your work that people may not know about?
When I was younger it was funny actually and I never knew how to explain it to people but there were a few buildings that I had seen that inspired the sounds that I had in my head, and I noticed around that age which was quite a while ago, but Kanye West has an album where a lot of the artwork was based on architecture so now that I’m older I guess I understood that.
I think film inspires my work definitely; each film has a different effect on different people but if they can strongly make you remember a time where you felt a certain way, it’s really helpful to go and write a song the day after that. Obviously things happen in your life but sometimes they’re not as fresh when you go to write about them and then you might watch something and it’s like ‘wow, I remember when I felt like that’ then you can go write about it, more fresh and open. I remember watching really weird films; this film called ‘The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant’. I watched it because I thought it looked visually amazing and I watched ‘Love’ recently by Gasper Noe and I didn’t even know what to expect at all, it was strange but beautiful.
What does being in love feel like to you?
This is hard because I feel like sometimes you reflect on something and you don’t know whether you really were in love. Maybe at the time, you feel like you are because of the fallout from it if you’re feeling really heartbroken, then you feel like you must’ve been in love.
Time changes how you feel about it, and it doesn’t hurt as much. I think my experience so far from a teenager until now has been that it feels all-consuming at the time, and I think that’s just my preferred way to love someone. Everybody else is different but I prefer it to feel intense. Everyone probably has their own version of the love of their life.
- Jacket Alex Mullins
What has been one of the highlights of your year so far?
To be honest, this year, in general, has been a highlight for me in terms of making music and my career. There are loads of things that have stood out as points of moving things forward. One thing I didn’t expect to be doing this summer was performing at a lot of festivals. This is the first year I’ve done that at all and even though I’ve been writing for a few years, I hadn’t really done any show in that time. From November of last year, that was the first time I really got into doing shows again, so I’ve really enjoyed that and meeting people, testing my songs.
One of the first times I sung in two years in front of people was at the Boiler Room show and I sang my song ‘Both Sides of the Moon’ for the first time in front of anyone that wasn’t someone I wrote it with, and I didn’t know what to expect. Also, at Boiler Room, you’re so used to going and people are DJing and rapping so I was like ‘is anyone going to get this?’ My friend called James Messiah who worked at Boiler Room at the time got my tracks and he put them on the decks and was mixing them in and he was like ‘come and sing!’ There’s even a video on YouTube where you can see my reaction, but when I start singing the chorus of ‘Lately’ and everyone’s surprised and I’m surprised. That was definitely one of my highlights and still, one of my favourite shows within the last 8 months.
Do you have any life mantras that you live by?
When I’m about to perform and go on stage, I just try to be as quiet as possible to not work myself up to too much because it becomes quite hard to contain it when you go on stage. I don’t think that much; I just take every day as it comes. I think in the present and act on whatever is happening at the time. I don’t dwell too much on the past. One of my friends told me the other day that ‘dwelling too much on the past is like worrying so much about what is going to happen in the future’.
What is one album that defines you?
That is a really hard question because there are so many albums that you listen to and indulge in emotionally and have attached memories too. There’s also some for me that are more influential from a perspective of what kind of music I want to make. I listen to Stereolab and Broadcast, there’s an album called ‘Noise Made by the People ‘ and recently, I worked in the studio where the drummer from Stereolab keeps all of his equipment so I was like ‘can I use it?’ so that was really cool.
As well, listening to Solange progress from having songs like ‘Tony’ and then having ‘Cranes in the Sky’ and how those Motown influences seem to minimalize themselves and modernise and she still has all of those things like the backing vocals that you can hear in Destiny’s Child but her writing has become really profound. I’ve never heard anyone use those type of lyrics before in that type of way. Those type of things inspires you to improve, even if the sonic isn’t something that you attempt to resemble.
When I was like 15, I listened to ‘My beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy’ album probably every day for a year. I’d go home and tell myself I wouldn’t listen to it tonight, but I’d listen to it again. The hilarious thing is simultaneously I was listening to ‘The Pink Print’ by Nicki Minaj that came out the same time and I had these two CDs and my television has a CD port, so it was ridiculous. That was the last CD I ever bought. Something recent that I’ve really liked that I’ve listened to is Michael Kiwanuka’s album ‘Love and Hate’. I recently met him and spoke to him about the process of him making the album and I felt like it was something that could be similar to how I approach an album. I’m supporting him on tour in November so I’m excited about that. I’m excited to just listen to him and study him.