WHEN: July 20, 8 PM
WHERE: Just Jake’s, 30 Park St, Montclair
Petite Celine’s songs sometimes arrive full blown, after she sits in silence for a time. They’ll come as polychrome images, vividly blowing the embers of ideas into little flames. She then sits down at the piano or harmonium, or with her guitar, and captures the song.
On Man Made Fire (release: March 15, 2019), Celine shows how varied the lights and shades of these moments can be, projecting through an extremely personal lens of globally inflected indie pop. She may sing in multiple languages in the same song, or incorporate steel pan and tuba (“The Great Unknown”), koto and trumpet (“Jezebel”), Brazilian drums and Django Reinhardt-esque pentatonics (“Qui Sommes Nous”).
The combinations are deliberate, and they get to the heart of what Celine wants to express as an artist. “I create these fusions because I want to build bridges,” she reflects. “Beauty is everywhere and it’s interconnected.”
Interconnection comes naturally to Celine, who is also a visual artist and uses her work as part of her performances and videos. Growing up bilingual, savoring summer stays with family in France, she recalls wondering at the range of sounds she heard on French radio, how it varied from the America-centric pop dominating the airwaves in the US. The notion that music could be catchy and quirky, yet hop from language to language intrigued her. “It’s the sound I hear in my head,” she notes.
That sound sometimes bursts into Spanish (“Explorame”) or Portuguese (“Cartographers”), French (“Tigre Fondant”) or German (a passage in “Man Made Fire”). Each language has a feeling, a sound that enriches the song or its story. “I would love at some point to experiment with singing in a made-up language,” laughs Celine. “I feel you don’t need to know what I’m saying to know what I mean. It just needs to resonate with you.”
Celine’s talent for conveying emotions through music was honed during her first years as a performer, when she found herself busking regularly in New York’s Washington Square. She was homeless at the time, and playing for spare change was her only source of income. She had to make a connection with the passersby to survive. She mastered the art, and that urgency to reach listeners remains palpable in her songs.
The songs on Man Made Fire create a narrative that resonates universally: the struggle to find and honor one’s self in a world of conflicting messages and confounding relationships. “This whole album is about discovering myself as a very independent woman, discovering love and heat, and learning how to heal,” muses Celine, “and becoming comfortable in my skin. All those moments in my past when I had felt less than, like someone weird; it’s the beginning of me saying, no, there’s nothing wrong with me.” Sometimes Celine traces this process via loss and heartache, and sometimes via delicious snark, on tracks like “Wine and Cheese,” the delightfully barbed musings of gal sitting at a wine bar, contemplating the guy serving her.
Beyond its immediacy and openness, what makes Celine’s songwriting stand out is its globetrotting curiosity. She imagines a Miriam Makeba and Camille collaboration (the vocal choruses of “We Were All Good Kids”), a track where reggae and polka collide (“The Great Unknown”). She loves these “mad scientist” moments, when anything goes and all her influences can intersect, a process further bolstered by the album’s savvy co-producer Christian Medice.
The risks are worth it, as they translate into songs that relay the intensity and joy of life. “In the end, it’s about confronting your own heart, but you’d rather embrace it than suffer any longer. About new beginnings and taking leaps and risks,” reflects Celine. “Being alive is all about that. It’s about recognizing when it’s time to move on, let go, and hope for what can be built.”