Don’t be surprised if, as soon as you press play on any Celeste track, you find yourself transported to another place and time. It seems like a given—and maybe even a bit of a cop out—to simply compare her to greats of the past, but with her soulful, yearning voice, it’s hard not to think of names like Ella, Aretha and Amy.
It’s not just her stunning voice that has been peaking ears around the globe, but also Celeste’s ability to work through difficult subject matter in her music. She started journaling when she was 16 years old, and eventually those entries turned into poems, which then became her first songs. Her debut EP, Lately, was released in March 2019 and focuses heavily on her relationship with her father, giving us unique insight into the journey of a budding artist.
In writing “Father’s Son,” the third track on the album, Celeste began to uncover the parallels between herself and her father. “I grew up with my mum [while] my dad lived in America,” Celeste shares. “We spoke quite a lot on the telephone but it was like a long distance parenthood sort of thing. He passed away when I was 16, so there were lots of parts of my personality that I recognized in him. But I never really got to live [or experience] those things.”
Celeste grew up on soul thanks to her grandmother’s love for Aretha Franklin, but she was also heavily influenced by punk, ska, and even house music from the 80s. You can hear disco elements come out on tracks like “Summer” and jazz sounds on “Ugly Thoughts” and “Both Sides of the Moon.”
While a lot of focus is placed on the ever-buzzing London music scene, Celeste’s hometown of Leeds has its own new generation of artists, many of which have been raised on diverse musical genres from dancehall to soul, creating their own brand of music appropriately dubbed Northern Soul. “Yussef Dayes is really amazing, and there’s a saxophonist that plays in my band called Kaidi Akinnibi,” Celeste says of her peers. “I feel so honoured every time I play a show with him. He always does some crazy solo that sounds different every time. I think he is really incredible.”
Celeste’s first recording of a song is the one that makes it to production, which definitely contributes to the raw emotion heard throughout Lately. “Across the whole EP, I tried to be as honest as I could with myself, and [with] my delivery of the lyrics. [When I wrote the title track] I literally sat down and said what I felt, ‘Lately I’ve been tied up / Lately I’ve been lying.’ I actually used those takes for the final version of the song. It was truly in the moment and how I felt at the time.”
Celeste will release her debut LP, Not Your Muse, on Feb. 26, 2021.
*This article originally appeared in the October 2019 print edition of BeatRoute Magazine