Not Your Muse

Celeste

Not Your Muse

In early 2020, Celeste was riding high. The LA-born, Brighton-raised singer had just topped the BBC’s Sound of 2020 list, claimed the equally prestigious BRITs Rising Star Award, and announced her debut album. But something didn’t feel right. “Everything was moving quite quickly, and I almost didn’t have time to think about how things made me feel or allow them to settle in,” the singer—full name Celeste Epiphany Waite—tells Apple Music. “The songs people had responded to the most were the ones that I had put the most genuine feeling into. At some stage, bringing out singles and stuff, I think that got lost. I felt weakened.” When the UK was put into its first lockdown back in March 2020, Celeste had a chance to reassess. “Everything slowing down was quite helpful,” she says. “I could take stock of what was really important to me and focus on why I was here in the first place.” All of which led to Not Your Muse, a rethought debut on which Celeste explores “conversations and dialogue and bits of stories about the things I’ve experienced.”
The songs here are about loss (“Strange”), the thrill of new love (“Tonight Tonight”), political disenfranchisement (“Tell Me Something I Don’t Know”), and finding hope after dark times (the exquisite “Some Goodbyes Come With Hellos”). And across it all, Celeste turns any weakness she might once have felt into strength. She takes her nostalgic yet current blend of soul, pop, and R&B—music that’s prompted breathless Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, and Amy Winehouse comparisons—to even bolder places, with jubilant brass melodies, stomping rhythms, and heart-stopping vocals all decorating a startlingly accomplished debut album. “I felt more and more confident with each leap I took,” she says. “The message I wanted for people to take from this project is the idea of trusting yourself to finally get to where you want to be.” Read on as Celeste walks us through her powerful—and empowered—debut, one track at a time.
Ideal Woman “[UK producer] Josh Crocker played the chords to this song and I loved them straight away. I held the microphone and just started to speak what was on my mind. This song is like a conversation with an old friend. And that’s how I wanted people to feel at the beginning of the record, because the songs on it are conversations and dialogue and bits of stories about things that I've experienced. When I wrote ‘Ideal Woman,’ I was feeling disappointed with some of my romantic experiences with men. With them had come insecurities, which is what the verses are about. But the chorus is me reaching a place that’s like, ‘I’m just myself and it’s okay to be that way.’”
Strange “To a lot of people, this probably sounds like a breakup song. But for me, it’s encompassing lots of feelings of loss. I wrote it in LA, during the 2018 California wildfires. One day, we passed the hospital where I’d seen my dad for the last time, before he died, and my stomach just dropped—the emotion was as raw as it had been six years earlier. I was also feeling heartbreak about the distance that had come between me and some of the friends I'd grown up with. And I was scared, too, that I’d lose my voice because of the ash in the sky. All those things came together in the studio. I approached the microphone very gently, because I was worried about my voice. But that also filtered into how I would treat this song, which was respectfully. When we finished it, there was this moment of quiet. I think we all felt proud of what we had done.”
Tonight Tonight “When I first started hanging out with the man who’s my boyfriend now, we’d both be working during the day, so by the time we got to see each other, it'd be late. All of this romance would occur in the night. This song was just what I wanted to say at the time. I remember working with [UK songwriter and producer] Jamie Hartman and he started to conjure up this imagery of the shadow and the light beneath the door. And in that, I just remembered the moment of laying in my bed and knowing that Sonny [Hall, Celeste’s partner] was going to come in. Feeling nervous and feeling excited—all that intrigue about another person.”
Stop This Flame “This was the first song I wrote with Jamie. I was nervous about working with him, because I really liked the stuff he’d written before. I remember him asking what I liked and, all of a sudden, I couldn’t remember any of it! So the most significant names just came out of my mouth, including Nina Simone. He was immediately like, ‘Oh, I've got this piano thing that's a bit like “Sinnerman.”’ I thought it was amazing, but by the time I’d moved on to writing other music, I felt it was too close to the music that’s inspired me. I was quite hesitant for people to hear it. But then, as time went on, I began to evolve in a way, as did the meaning of the song to me. Which is that you don’t let too much dishearten you or get in your way.”
Tell Me Something I Don’t Know “I wrote this on February 8, 2020. I was in LA, but was thinking about what was going on in England. I was very disappointed that the Conservatives had won the [December 2019] election, which came from a place of feeling that, in my opinion, they speak for so few people. I was in the studio and was listening to a lot of Gil Scott-Heron. This song is like, ‘Okay, this is the hand we’ve been dealt. But are we going to get a different answer this time?’ That’s why I wrote the lyric ‘Tell me something I don’t know,’ because I wanted to have some different answers—and different outcomes—from these people.”
Not Your Muse “I'd had the title of this song for three years. I always knew what I wanted it to be about, but I probably tried to write it five times without knowing how to get there. And then, I just surrendered to it and realized that there was something I hadn't experienced yet, which would reveal how I’d write it. I had become intrigued by the relationship between the artist and the muse, and the muse as this vessel. I would come up against different obstacles, [such as] people I was working with having a different expectation of me. They became the artist, where they had their idea of what they wanted me to exude and emit, but it didn't really align with the ideas I had within myself. And so that became an underlying thing in my periphery, which I think contributed to eventually being able to finish this song.”
Beloved “This song is very ’50s—like those old crooned, whimsical, mellow kind of love songs. I’d just got back from playing some shows in Germany, and I was missing being around my friends and being in London. I went to the studio because Jamie was only in England for a day and a half. I wanted to write something, but I also wanted to be out seeing my friends. So it was written with this kind of tired, post-flight feeling. And that’s come across in the delivery of the melodies. It’s quite woozy. Here, I’m the secret admirer and it’s my love letter to the person I admire from afar.”
Love Is Back “I don’t know how many people experience this as often as I have, but I get a fantasy about people before I really know that much about them. When I wrote this song, I’d probably met someone at a party and been like, ‘Oh my god, they’re the love of my life!’ And then it gets to two weeks later, and I’m just like, ‘I got that so wrong.’ This song started as me being like, ‘Oh, here she goes again, she’s in love again!’ But when I came to finish it, I had actually fallen in love and was in a relationship. That changed my approach. I was feeling more bold, and that’s reflected in the bigger arrangements in the song and those louder horns.”
A Kiss “This song details the knowledge gained from different romantic interactions, which I assimilated to types of kisses and what they turn into. But I also see this song as my older self talking to my younger self. It’s like, ‘I hate to say it like this, but this is how it’s going to go.’ A kiss is so important. All of these things just sprouted from that one quite literal thing.”
The Promise “When I heard the chords to this song, I felt like they were going round in a circle. Straight away, it made me think of those people you always go back to. And it reminded me of that moment where it’s 7 am at a house party, and you and that other person are both hanging on for dear life because you both want to go back with each other, but neither of you want to make the last move. The outro to this song goes back to the guitar that starts it, which is a metaphor for that idea of going around again and again.”
A Little Love “In October 2019, [department store] John Lewis approached my team and told us that they wanted to do an original piece of music for that year’s Christmas advert, which was a first. There are certain things you feel quite starstruck by, and I got straight to writing it! The song is very simple. It’s about the idea that if you’re giving and loving to people who surround you, it contributes to the world being a better place. I liked how unpretentious that was. I’m proud that I got to do this and be part of something that had never happened before.”
Some Goodbyes Come With Hellos “I wanted to say to the people who were listening to this album that this isn’t an end. It’s more ‘Goodbye for now.’ But I also wanted to end it with a sense of optimism. Some of this album talks about the harsh realities of life, and this song is saying that I’m always hopeful. This song has the demo vocal on it. I often try to keep the demo vocal on songs because it retains the emotion that’s the closest to the source. To me, it’s important that that emotion isn’t being performed in a superficial way. Hopefully, that shows in the music.”

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