Celeste

Celeste

How do you make artduring a period of restlessness? For Celeste, the onlyanswer is to extract the beauty from everyday life, however banal it might seem on the surface.“Music has always been the place that I express myself” smiles 26-year-old artist and singer-songwriter Celeste Waite over Zoom as she describes the thrill ofreleasing her debut album into the world.Written during a period of isolation and reflection, Celeste is inviting people to share her intimate moments so that they might too find a moment of clarity. For Celeste, the best way to know her is to hear her.Born to a Jamaican father and a British mother, she grew up with her mum in Brightonin ahouseholdthat provided herearlymusical education. Celeste’s ear for music was harnessed by the big sounds of her mum’s record collection; Joyce Sims, Etta Jamesand Janis Joplin, which she calls “outlandish” voices that drew her in. “These women were so outspoken, the way that they let their emotions out in such a raw and unguarded way,” she smiles shyly.

“I liked that about them”.She also saw how music moved the peoplearound her. “As an only child, I was always around lots of adults, and I saw howmusic made them playful. I just wanted to experience that more and more. Music seemed to makepeople come out of their shells”.The ability of the music to move bodies and spirits was something that stuck with her. When she was old enough to start discovering songs outsideofher mum's music collection, it was still jazz and soul that captured her. Her Brighton school was set alight with grime music from the likes of Kano, Bashy and Lethal Bizzle and while she was “aware of Channel U” on the periphery of her world, it was the music of the '50s and '60s that she went home to absorb. “I would go home and really study the voices of people like Aretha Franklin and Bill Withers,” she says. “There was this extended version of an Aretha Franklin song called ‘Chain of Fools’ on YouTube, where she does these three crazy ad-libs at the beginning, and I'd always play it and try to match them to test myself”.

School soundtracks did trickle in though, and even the mature sonic palette of a young Celeste wasn’t immune to writing raps,as she sheepishly recalls a musical life that could have been. “I would hide them in a drawer in my room, all about my Nike IDs and my Afro hair,” she laughs.It was the writing, not the MCing,that would stick. Keeping a diary throughout her teenage years, a written entry would evolve into “something that felt like it could have melody and rhythm to it”. Early iterations of songwriting came about throughher impulse to journal everything she felt as it was happening,and those songsdocumented her world. Oneshe remembers-called ‘Sirens’-waded through the pain of her father’s death. “I felt like I needed rescuing,” she recalls.Shebegan uploading small practice snippets of songs to YouTube and SoundCloud and it was afterleaving college that she builttheconfidence to finesse her talents as a singer.

Travelling to London for a club night called Havana Affair in Soho on a Monday night openedher up to live music and performing, seeing acts as diverse as Wolf Alice and Brooke Candy. It was about the live music experience, watching what moved people and working out what moved her. “I was understanding the spectrum of what was going on in the city which, compared to Brighton, was very different. Probably me and two or three other people were the only people who were singing soul and jazz in Brighton,” she laughs.For Celeste, an artist accustomed to sharing her intimacies with melancholic jazz melodies and brooding vocals, this album gave her permission to meditate on her feelings. Drawing on set pieces from her life which include everything from Brighton parties to sunrises to heartache, Not Your Muse makes good use of a period of self-reflection that many of us have been feeling. She takes her own nostalgia further, asking questions about herself and asking us to pose them ourselves too –what can we learn from what we’ve lived?Not Your Muse, so named to defiantly discard the weight of other people’s expectations,is about making something on her own. The title is a declaration ofcoming of age and finding power in herself, someoneshe admits is most comfortable quietly making art. “’Not Your Muse’ is mesaying to people, “I'm standing firm in my idea of who I am” and not allowing other people's ideas to be placed on me in a way that affects the core of who I am”.

The gentle defiance and beauty of the albumare reflections of thepowerful female voices that Celeste was raised on. Not Your Muse is an extension of those young scribbles in her diary, polished and delicately powerful, as she transmits the message of sonic power and vulnerability loud and clear. A year in the making and recorded over lockdown, it has notes of sensual, upbeat soul thanks to production from Josh Crockerand Charlie Hugalland modern top-lines courtesy of her main writing collaborator Jamie Hartman.The sonic result is a thrilling coming of age album that invites us into Celeste’s world as she collates the feeling of shared euphoria, a yearning for live music and connection. On the heart wrenching Ideal Woman she delicately takes us through the heartache of being underestimated. ‘I may not be your ideal woman...the one that’s going to save you from all your discontent...please don’t mistake me for somebody who cares,’’ she sings. “I was thinking of all the things I have in my head when I’m questioning myself” she explains. “"Am I pretty enough. Am I clever enough? Am I too tall?” On Strange, atop gentle piano lines and bass claps she pleads for an answer on how to deal with loss. Written through fear of potentially losing her voice amid the smoke of LA forest fires, we reconcile with our own loss as she huskily implores someone for closure, through soft heartache and velvety fury.

Withthe politically inspired Tell Me Something I Don't Know, it was her disappointment in the failures of the Conservative party, an abstract musing on economic disparity. “I feel much more comfortable talking about this on a song” she smiles.Some of the moments feel like sonic explosions, like the gloriously upbeat joy in the opening piano lines of Somebody Stop This Flame, an arresting journey into catchy contemporary pop R&B. She implores us to sing along to this euphoric pop-punch and we’re met with trumpets, thundering drums and quick-paced dance breaks. It’s a process of coming out stronger in real time, and she declares that ‘You think you’re somebody don’t you /I think you’re scared of keeping somebody close’. We’re with her in his defiant stomp, feeling her power and presence with every punchy line.

Her recollection is as you might expect: “I was feeling excited again about making music, and I felt like I wanted to sing it out loud!” she grins.Full of big band moments itching forlive performances, Not Your Muse is a beautifullyproduced cathartic jazz-soul offering that has a thrillingly playful relationship with the mainstream. Celeste’s voice is uniquely formed to play a heartstring like an instrument, moving from bellowing ballads to languid whispers, while her production takes us to refreshingly soulful R&B and experimental pop production that takes us to heady heights and crushing lows -all in real time.Her only muse is seeing what she calls the ‘doomed glamour, joy and melancholy’ in life. It’s the injections of lightness and fun paired with rich, bubbling melodies that make this project so thrilling. She puts it simply: “This album is saying all those things I couldn’t say; all the thoughts that have been building up inside me” she sighs. “I’m sharing some of the stories and screenshots into very particular moments into my life”. The result is a forward-looking offering, drenched with emotional density and rich, R&B pop production. Celeste seesthe beauty in the chaotic messiness of life, and we’re with her on each song, trying to find it for ourselves, too.

NOMINATED FOR ...

 

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

Not Your Muse