June 28, 2021
Culture & Music
Fresh-faced with her hair swept back, Celeste is all smiles when she dials into our early evening Zoom call. The past 12 months have been wild – the 26-yearold singer-songwriter has nabbed the top spot in the BBC’s Sound of 2020, the Brit’s Rising Star Award and has released her debut studio album Not Your Muse. Celeste’s music blends a smoky jazz club nostalgia with a modern perspective that is uniquely her own. Authenticity being at the core of her work, Celeste is refreshingly open about the ups and downs of the music industry, love and life in lockdown and finding the confidence to claim her voice.
Full outfit Gucci
Shirt, tank top, trousers & boots all by Gucci
Cordelia Speed: Let’s start from the beginning. What led you into music?
Celeste: I was about 16 when I first started thinking about music in college and I took up a music BTEC in the second year. You had to sing in front of everybody in the classroom and I remember being quite embarrassed about it! After that it sort of spread around college that I was quite good and then some boys asked me to sing in their band. We found out we could play some gigs and earn 10 each which was really our motivation for doing our first gig. The feedback at that show gave me a confidence boost and encouraged me to take it further. I started recording rehearsals on my laptop and posting clips online and that’s how my first manager found me.
CS: When did you know that you had found your voice?
C: I’ve only felt like I’ve found my voice in the last two years. 2019 is when I really came across it. There are so many reasons why it took me such a long time to get there and why I’m still unveiling it. As I don’t play an instrument I collaborate with other people and sometimes their ideas overshadow mine because I might not be the most outspoken person in the room. I always felt like I was just lucky to be there, so I didn’t always speak up! Finding it came as a result of listening to myself a bit more and trusting myself to see things through on my own.
CS: Who inspires you to embrace your individuality as an artist and to kick back against the gatekeepers?
C: So many people! Eartha Kitt was adopted and sent to New York from a plantation. In the North, where slavery was illegal, she lived a free life and got to go to theatre school. Within all of those constraints she was really brave stepping out of what people expected of her. She was being threatened by the Black Panthers because she didn’t align with their political ideologies in the public domain. In the press she stood for Martin Luther King and a Black Panther threatened her, telling her not to walk home after a gig in New York. She basically didn’t give a fuck and she walked on home! There should never have been that kind of rivalry between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King but there were different extremes because of the extremes they were facing. Her bravery definitely set a precedent for you to go after what you want to keep your integrity. She was also overtly sexy which wasn’t really allowed at the time. Of course, that somewhat appeased the male gatekeepers, but she made it her own and I respect her ability to do that.
CS: Given that restrictions can suppress an artist’s creativity, how did you find working on Not Your Muse during lockdown?
C: The change in pace allowed me to evaluate what I had experienced in the past two years and how that made me feel. Time pressures often restrict this exploration and the music is not as honest or pure. This last year gave me the time to let those things come out in the studio naturally. There have definitely been constraints though – I’m really missing being able to play live shows! The presentation of myself online isn’t always accurate to who I am in real life. When I do shows people get to see that a lot more!
Dress (on cardboard cutout), gloves & necklace all by Gucci
Blouse, blazer, trousers, gloves & belt all by Gucci
CS: What story are you telling through this album?
C: In understanding your vulnerability and embracing it you can find empowerment. That’s why I went for the title Not Your Muse because that was the statement – me trusting myself to be who I want to be. When writing Ideal Woman and Not Your Muse I wasn’t only thinking about myself but about people in the trans community and feeling empathy towards those who have had people telling them how they want them to be when it’s not their choice! The message is, ‘This is my body, my mind, my say’. It’s about not worrying about living up to others’ expectations.
CS: This record whisks us away into an old-school husky utopia of romance and emotion. It seems to be a place for you to explore your new relationship openly. What have the past few months taught you about love?
C: I’m still not sure if I’ve ever learnt the difference between infatuation, love and lust. Naturally when you first meet someone those things are all wrapped up in it but what I’m beginning to learn is that love is understanding a person and working through the difficulties in life with them. If you have the willingness and the patience for that person, that’s love! That’s what carries you through.
CS: A favourite track of mine has to be Love is Back. The music video is truly iconic – it could be straight out of a pop-art cartoon! What were your inspirations for the video?
C: A lot of my songs are quite sombre and so I knew this was an opportunity to do something with more of an upbeat tinge and feel to it visually – I wanted to have fun with it! At the moment money doesn’t feel tangible – people just don’t have cash to spend right now. We’re in a world now where the only currency is love! The idea was that we’re on a stock market and in real life everything is crashing but in this fantasy because of the crash the stock of love is going up!
CS: Speaking of killer looks – you wore some incredible Gucci outfits for this shoot. Could you tell me about your relationship with fashion and how you define your sense of style?
C: Fashion is a way of liberating who I am. I remember on non-uniform day at my secondary school there was such a specific style – and of course it had to be Nike or whatever! I remember begging my mum to buy me these suede knee-high wedges which I planned to wear with jeans tucked into them and an embroidered suede gilet. Walking into the playground, the “mean girls” looked at me as if they were about to rip into me about my outfit but because I just didn’t care they didn’t have the nerve to say anything. It’s always been that way – me showing who I truly am without holding back! Fashion has been such an important tool for me – it gives me a lease of life when I find other things difficult.
Jumper by Gucci
Shirt, tank top, trousers & boots all by Gucci
Top: shoes & tights by Gucci
Bottom: coat, shorts, tights & shoes all by Gucci
Dress, skirt, earrings, brooch & gloves all by Gucci
Blouse & trousers by Gucci
Coat by Gucci
CS: You created a piece of music for non-binary fashion label Art School last year for September London Fashion Week. What was it like to be part of that project?
C: Eden and Tom, who was formerly a part of Art School, have been friends of mine for the last four and a half years. They really supported me when nobody knew me or my music. Last year when they asked me to do the score for their show I was excited to be able to give back to them! Those opportunities also allow me to explore music with a lot more freedom than I can in the pop world and show what I can do with my vision around music. In terms of Art School’s work – their bravery to break boundaries has created a world for those who are not always accepted. Fashion has always been held up against the wall for not being inclusive and that has been true but now it is a platform for those who are too often denied a voice in society to thrive and be heard. Eden and Tom went out of their way to encourage that fluidity and that openness.
CS: I imagine being a young woman in the music industry comes with more than its fair share of challenges. What changes would you like to see for the future of the industry?
C: A music teacher said to me once: ‘It’s called the music business because it is a business’. You go into it as a creative and you forget that. It’s a tough industry, no matter where you’ve come from. I’d like to see something in place that ensures internships are paid properly to create opportunities for people from different backgrounds. At my school many careers were not seen as options for us. There has to be something set in education to encourage all children to see how far they can take their abilities. In terms of women in the industry, I think a part of the reason that it can be difficult is age-old – the idea that to be at the top you have to give all of yourself to the job which might mean sacrificing relationships or families. It’s such a fast-paced industry that it doesn’t allow for anyone to take time out – woman or man. Tomorrow someone could go viral on TikTok and be the new number one artist leaving others behind who didn’t bring out a song in time. That’s the harsh reality of the industry. Whilst sexism is a part of it, it’s also that it’s a tough environment to thrive in.
CS: Having already won the Brit’s Rising Star Award despite these challenges, the future is certainly looking bright! What will you be working on next?
C: I’m going to try and write a second album in the space of this year! We have the privilege at the moment that we aren’t touring and going to different places every week which means that I can be in the one studio I like without juggling the things that come up when on tour. I’m going to make the most of having that time and hopefully make an album that’s better than the first one. I want to go out on tour next year with that music under my belt.
Jacket, socks & shoes all by Gucci
Top: shirt & tank top by Gucci
Bottom: jumper & tights by Gucci