Petite Celine may have one of the most original albums this year. It is filled with arrangements that challenge the senses, and a catalog of languages that enhance the music. The album is called Man Made Fire and it came out in March. Here is the title track:
Petite Celine is based in NY and is influenced by her French and American upbringing. She has a history of acting at a young age. She has been a homeless busking artist in the past. Now she is making fusion more alive than ever. For info visit http://www.petiteceline.com/
FEMMUSIC: What was the biggest challenge making Man Made Fire (the album)?
PC: The toughest part about writing the kind of fusion music that I do was making sure that every track within Man Made Fire sounded like it was part of the same album – like how a good fusion restaurant makes sure all its different dishes still taste like they are from the same kitchen. Funny enough, the hardest part of the process was deciding in which order to put the tracks on the album.
I’d also add that, though it is as much fun as challenging, learning and incorporating so many different sounds into a pop frame was difficult at times. But these are what I call my “mad scientist” moments. It takes a while to get it right, but once I do, it oh-so-satisfyingly scratches a hard-to-reach itch and produces a unique sound. Combining different modes into one song, or instruments that don’t logically seem to pair together, such as trumpet and koto in “Jezebel,” or fusing polka and reggae in “The Great Unknown.”
FEMMUSIC: Tell me about Christian Medice. How did you meet him? What made you decide to have him co-produce? How was he in studio?
PC: I met Christian Medice in 2012, when I was part of a band called Wooly and the Mammoth (no longer in existence). I was a back up singer and mandolinist for the band. We had gone to his studio in Brooklyn to record some songs at that time, since he and the lead singer already had a relationship. Christian and I got a long very well and his immense talent and intuitive ear was immediately evident.
A couple years later, after leaving Wooly and the Mammoth, I found myself broke and homeless and playing on the street of Manhattan. Busking near Bryant Park one day, I was discovered by Epic Records and brought up to their offices to have a meeting with one of their A&Rs. I performed a few songs for them, to which they responded well, but told me I needed to come back with a fully produced demo. I had no money at the time and was in no position to do so without their investment. So they lost interest. But feeling my compositions and performance had been validated in some way, I reached out to Christian as soon as I was able to gather the funds. Together, we recorded and produced my debut album, Young Soldier. It was an 8 track album that showed promise in the world music / fusion realm, but leaned predominantly towards the folk-rock genre.
After a couple years of performing that album and refining my sound, I came back to him in 2017 for this second project with a very clear vision in mind. This would be to put together Man Made Fire, my first Fusion-Pop album of what I anticipate being a long-lasting love affair with the genre. What I love about working with Christian is that he trusts my ear but also knows how to tame the sound when my crazy ideas get ahead of me.
FEMMUSIC: Tell me about Jake Deter? What was the songwriting process with him?
PC: Jake Deter was my boyfriend at the time. We were in a serious relationship and living together. We are still on very good terms and I consider him to be one of my best friends today. But it was fun working on this with him while we were still living our romance! Especially since he is a very skilled writer himself (mostly in screenwriting). What I’ve always loved about Jake is his sense of humor and wit. I wanted to write a song that was more fun and didn’t take itself so seriously. Especially since many of the songs on the album, whether evident or not, deal with pretty heavy subjects. So I invited him to write this song with me. I drew from our relationship for inspiration, as well as some of my past: he was a bartender, and I was a French wine enthusiast, enjoying going around to many French wine bars in New York City. So we decided to write this sassy, snarky song about a wine snob getting tipsy at a wine bar and hitting on the bartender. We worked well together. Between his cleverness and my knowledge, we were able to throw some great wine puns in there and even some other languages towards the end as the leading lady becomes more and more drunk.
FEMMUSIC: The arrangements on the album stick out. What was the most challenging arrangement for you? What one was the most fun? Why?
PC: So glad to hear that they do! I am definitely very interested in curating unique sounds within a palatable formula. I think that’s the hardest part really, is not the combination of sounds exactly, but finding the right balance. I didn’t want any one song to feel like it was one style written on top of another, or highlighting one culture over another; I really wanted to find the harmony between the influences: creating a space for a sort of dialogue between the cultures, demonstrating that beauty is everywhere and it is indeed interconnected. I want to accent cultures, not homogenize them.
I believe the best way to teach others about your culture is to share it. Of course I try to do this with as much respect as possible for the cultures that are not inherently mine. And if I felt it was not my place to incorporate a certain sound myself, I would bring in musicians that were studied in or native to that culture to fulfill the vision. The most difficult was probably “Jezebel” as I was working with both Japanese and Jazz scales, and the most fun was “The Great Unknown,” which is also a complicated mix but somehow meshed seamlessly in the process – was kind of a no-brainer.
FEMMUSIC: Can you describe your songwriting technique?
PC: I feel like it’s always different. But overall, I would describe it as a very organic creative process followed by intense editing. Most of the time I don’t feel like I am actively trying to write a song, at least at the beginning, but more-so drawing out sounds from a universal source. What I mean is, I’m usually first guided by a melody, or riff, or even a phrase, that seems to come to me, even slap me across the face, from out of nowhere. The next step is to capture that, fill in the blanks, and “edit.” The fusion combinations sometimes come as early as those first moments, and other times it doesn’t happen until I’m in the recording studio. I very seldom write lyrics first. Usually what happens is I’ll play a riff or progression over and over and add-lib over it to find my melodies. In doing so, there are usually words or phrases that my subconscious puts together in this improvisation that will stick out to me. So I’ll keep the ones I like, and it usually paints a picture for which I later connects the dots, by filling in the lyrics between them to complete the story. Almost without fail, I’ll look back on those lyrics a few months later and it’ll become apparent exactly what my subconscious was trying to communicate, but I almost never realize it in the moment. It’s a quirky process, but I think it’s one that keeps a lot of the integrity of my creative and expressive being.
FEMMUSIC: What song (not your own) has had the biggest influence on you and why?
PC: That’s a tough question. Because of my interest in fusion, I’d say there are many influences! Camille was always a strong early influence for me though. I was entranced by her live looping performances (which I also do today) and evident cultural influences. I don’t know if I can identify a single song from her but can confidently say her album “Le Fil” was my biggest inspiration. It was spunky and different, cinematic but raw, and healing and very culturally inspired.
I was also influenced by artists such as Sting, Santana, No Doubt/Gwen Stefani, Gypsy Kings, Sia (before she got big), Brazilian Girls, Beirut, and Stromae.
FEMMUSIC: What challenges, if any, have you faced as a woman in the music industry? And how did you overcome them?
PC: Well, unfortunately, there is a lot of sexism in the industry. I’m sure men may have their own challenges and expectation but, unlike most men, I have found it’s been very difficult for me to present myself as an artist FIRST to an industry dominated and controlled by men who choose to see me as a female, and potential sex object/symbol, first. Not only that, but there is of course the daily pressure I feel to make it while I’m still young and pretty, since that seems to be what is valued most from me. I’ve turned down a lot of opportunities because I didn’t want to compromise myself in this way. I urge allies in the music industry to open their eyes to this and what is really going on. There are so many talented female musicians, singers and songwriters out there in the world who are so much more than how they have been repeatedly received. I don’t if I’ve totally overcome this yet, but it’s definitely something I’m trying to fight.
This is a particularly important time for nuanced art created by women. The entire album, apart from it’s mission to blend world sounds, is truly about my journey into adulthood, especially as a very independent woman: what that looks like in romance, in career, and even in women’s history. The song “Jezebel” began as an ode to the Biblical figure. I had never understood why, in pop culture, Jezebel always got such a bad rep. So I looked her up one day, and while she’s not a saint either, she really seems to be a misunderstood woman. She was not promiscuous or manipulative, though she is depicted that way; she was simply a powerful and opinionated woman, who grew up with different beliefs and didn’t want to compromise that. As a result she challenged the profit Elisha and perhaps stirred the pot a bit too much in a place that didn’t want to accept her to begin with when she married King Ahab of Israel. One of the biggest critics is that she got all dolled up before her execution. Many believe this was to seduce the king into sparing her. I believe it was no different than her daily routine, and that she wanted to keep some say over her body before she was cruelly thrown to the dogs. The interesting spice, is that I was writing this song during the 2016 election, so it sort of became about Hillary Clinton too, and other women who have sought power in a man’s world.
FEMMUSIC: Whom would you most like to collaborate with, or tour with? Why?
PC: Oh man, haha, well how much can I dream in responding to this question?? I’d love to work with/collaborate/tour with Camille, Xenia Rubinos, tUnE-yArDs, Kimbra, and other live looping artists working with world sounds.
But there’s also Ibeyi, Mojo Juju, Banda Magda, Ginkgoa, and if I’m dreaming big: Stromae, Anitta, Angèle, Thom Yorke and Sigur Rós (somehow in a wet dream of a reality). The awesome part about writing the kind of music that I do, is that collaboration with just about anyone from any genre is fair game.
FEMMUSIC: What one thing would you like to change about the music industry?
PC: Sexism and royalty percentages. Both seem to be heavy topics these days and you know what? Good. It’s about time we started having these conversations. What’s messed up is Napster definitely changed the game for music and killed record sales, but today it’s one of the highest paying per streams, with Youtube and Spotify among the lowest. I want these platforms and the unions to put the value of music into perspective. The consumer will pay $60 for a video game that he or she will only get a certain number of plays out of before it becomes boring. I don’t know about you, but my favorite albums are still my favorite albums even decades later – they still soundtrack my life. I say this as a former gamer. I still love the games from my childhood but I never make the time to play them anymore for the fun of it, it’s usually for nostalgic purposes. That said, it’s mind boggling to me that unlimited access to all kinds of music would only be valued at about $10/mo on average. I don’t know a single person who does not listen to music. I know listeners who have niche tastes or who perhaps do not listen as often as others but unlike video games, I simply don’t know anybody who does not appreciate some form of music on a regular basis. All this to say, streaming platforms should be paying their artists more, either shaving off from their exploitive profits or raising the subscription pricing. And with the discussions happening today, I believe we might see this change soon.
As far as the sexism goes, unfortunately I think we still have a long way to go. I may not see the change I want in my lifetime, but I know that my female artist friends and I are actively trying to make that game a much better and fairer one for the next female players.