Right now, Celeste Epiphany Waite is riding the crest of what feels like a massive wave.
Next month, she’ll sing Strange at the BRITs and accept her Rising Star Award. Earlier in January, she was unveiled as the winner of the BBC Sound Of 2020 poll, and this week she stars on the cover of Music Week alongside Maisie Peters.
We caught up with the singer, who’s signed to Polydor for records and Warner Chappell for publishing, right in the middle of it all before Christmas for our cover shoot and interview. Back then, Celeste told us she was “buzzing”, and with a new single Stop This Flame (1,351,408 Spotify plays) making an impact and live shows on the horizon, that feeling will surely continue.
Here, in an unseen extract from our cover interview, the Brighton star talks big expectations, writing with Rag‘N’Bone Man collaborator Jamie Hartman and getting used to being on the road.
You were being mentioned in the same sentences as Adele and Amy Winehouse last year, and now you’ve won a BRIT Award. What do such comparisons mean at this point?
“I feel huge admiration for those people and it’s still flattering. If you get compared to those two people, you’re not going to be annoyed or upset, I’ve listened to them since I was young. I remember my mum bringing home the Frank album and not being aware of the context of it, I was too young to understand the stories. But I remember hearing a voice and liking it, seeing the pink font and really liking it. I remember seeing it on the side in my house, under the telly or something. Thery’re both really important and people can’t ignore or deny that, whatever kind of music you make or whatever your voice sounds like. I’ve tried to remain myself and not try to be like somebody else if people say those things.”
How has it been writing with Jamie Hartman?
“When I first met him, no one knew my music, I didn’t have that many demos or finished songs. I was excited when he said yes was because I’d grown up in Brighton and I’d seen Rag‘N’Bone Man for years gigging with a group of boys that I knew. Jamie is the first person I’ve ever consistently worked with and tried to persevere, even when we find something difficult to finish. Other days we’ll go in and do something in an hour. I’m glad I persevered. He understands what it’s like to grow up in Britain even though he’s living in LA. He’s very down to earth and I appreciate that a lot, you don’t always come across people like that who are talented too. He’s kind of like an artist in his own right.”
Spending the past year with my band has taught me so much
Are you prolific?
“It’s quite hard to see that in yourself. The most important thing for me is the title, if I have a title, even if I don’t know what it means yet, I know there’s something interesting about the idea. Sometimes I take it to someone else and they’ll completely understand what it is, or you mumble a melody, someone says it makes them feel a certain way and it’ll be exactly what you were thinking. All that stuff helps. Spending the past year with my band has taught me so much about how to communicate with musicians, too. I didn’t have a formal education so I’m not like, ‘Hey, play the B flat and dah dah dah.’ I’m learning and they’re learing how to interpret my ideas, which are probably a bit more holistic than theoretical. It’s really cool.”
You’re on the road again this year, how have you taken to touring?
“I like it. When you get to introduce new songs to the set. Before I only really had my EP to perform, which was fine when I was doing shorter sets but then when I was doing 45 or 50 minutes I needed more songs. It was a good test, we’d expand the songs. A crowd might not know any of my songs if I’m supporting, definitely in the parts of Europe where my music hasn’t been heard at all. It’s really fun to just test things and see the responses. I really like performing in France, it’s one of my favourite places. I went through a phase as a teenager of just watching Serge Gainsbourg, Brigitte Barot, Jacques Brel and Edith Piaf videos, some of the most theatrical performers. Even to extract a tiny bit of what they do into my own performance is what I want to do.”
PHOTO: Jenn Five