Celeste Buckingham, by the tender age of 20, has already conquered the European music scene and established herself as a force to reckoned with in the ever-changing music industry. Her story begins in Switzerland, where she was born to an American father and Swiss-Persian mother. She found herself drawn to music and immersed herself in the art form. It wouldn’t take long for her to rise to international recognition on the program ‘SuperStar,’ solidifying her status as a pop star in Eastern Europe along the way. Her 2012 full-length debut, “Don’t Look Back” [EMI Czech Republic], yielded the Top 10 single “Run Run Run,” which even garnered the honor of Best Czech & Slovak Act at the MTV Europe Music Awards. In 2013, Celeste officially arrived in the United States, immediately turning heads as she commenced her next conquest.
Flaunting individuality and an inimitable presence, she captured the attention of fans and tastemakers alike via her soulful delivery and impeccable vocal stylings evocative evocative of Etta James, Adele and Joss Stone. “I never follow a specific genre,” Celeste exclaims. “The music that I like to write and perform is raw and organic with a lot of soul and even a little bit of jazz.”
Stateside, she began a partnership with musical director Earl Cohen — whose credits include everybody from Lady Gaga, Pharrell and P!nk to Whitney Houston, Anita Baker and David Bowie. Together, they began working on her inaugural North American album in earnest during early 2014 with Celeste co-writing everything. In the midst of creating music, she was nominated in the Best New Artist category at the Radio Disney Music Awards, marking a major U.S. accolade.
Ultimately, the best way to meet Celeste is through her music. “I am a songwriter first and foremost,” she declares. “I live the song, and every single piece is like a story or a movie. I develop a relationship to it, and I like to write about subjects that are important to me, my friends and other young people out there. Music is a ladder for the soul. It should have content, meaning and beauty.”
That mentality extends to her pursuits outside of music as she remains dedicated to numerous philanthropic and charitable pursuits. Her track “Nobody Knows” benefited children with Autism, while the video for “I’m Not Sorry” spoke out against discrimination towards women. She also works with The Boys And Girls Club of America as well as CARE.org. Celeste stands poised to make a very big impact and could change pop music in the process. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with this star on the rise to discuss her musical roots, finding her voice, her evolution as an artist and what we can expect from her in the months to come!
Take us back to your early years. What are your first memories of music?
Definitely Disney! I think “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” is one of my first music memories. I used to be able to sing the whole soundtrack as a toddler! At age 4, I started taking piano lessons, at 5 years old I was taking ballet lessons and at age 7 I started voice training, which I continued until the age of 15.
Who were your biggest influences as a songwriter and performer?
I have a wide range of favorite artist and performers but some of my biggest influences are Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, Frank Sinatra, Tina Turner and so on. My taste is a little old school.
They say a career in music isn’t a journey for the faint of heart. What made you take the plunge and pursue a career in the music industry?
Actually, I still wonder sometimes! I guess I never thought about it this way when I started getting into it in the first place. Music has been a part of my life and as I grew up I was writing songs and enjoyed singing, and it just developed into a full-fledged music career. But I also think that music is a ladder to the soul and contributes to people’s well-being. Also, it can be the means of a lot of social good, if one would use it for that purpose.
How have you evolved as a musician through the years?
I have grown up. The lyrics and the voice of the 12-year-old version of me, now belong to a 20-year-old woman. My lyrics are more about life and experiences and my voice is more mature. But my style has remained the same, although it has also matured.
You recently released the single, “Unpredictable.” What inspired this song?
I was at a place in my life where I wasn’t sure what direction it was taking. I think a lot of artists can relate to this, because when you’re trying to break into a new part of the music world, especially in pop music, it can sometimes seem like you’re frozen in time, and there’s no moving forward. Also the unpredictability of life as a whole, how your expectations and the reality can be so different. So, feeling that way really inspired the thought behind “Unpredictable” and I’m glad it did. It’s one of my favorite songs I’ve worked on.
When it comes to songwriting, where do you look for inspiration these days?
I often write about experiences and issues that matter in everyday life, things that people, especially young people, are concerned about. I write about daily struggles, equality, as well as love songs. It also happens that I can’t sleep at night and I wake up and start writing. One of my singles “Run Run Run” was born in this way, at 2 a.m.!
You spent the better part of a year in the studio finding your sound and crafting new songs. What can you tell us about the challenges you faced through the process?
This was an amazing time! Challenging and yet wonderful! When I met my producer, Earl Cohen, we spent some time getting to know each other. I enjoyed the freedom to be able to express myself through my lyrics but also to push my limits to a new height, which I had not done before. Generally it is challenging to reinvent yourself as an artist because you are constantly changing. And your songs change with you.
You have been working with producer Earl Cohen. How did you two first come together?
Earl Cohen had heard my previous songs, especially “Run Run Run” that was being played in the U.S. He contacted my manager and we met in New York for a brief meeting. After talking to him for a half-hour, I really wanted to work with him, so I changed my flight and stayed an extra day and went right to the studio. We created a new song then, which has not yet been released. From then on, it was an amazing journey.
What does he bring to the table in working with an artist like yourself and what have you learned from that collaboration?
Earl Cohen is a legendary producer who is a caring and humble person. He has years of experience and has worked with artists all the way from David Bowie, Tina Turner, Whitney Houston to Usher, Pink and Lady Gaga. He gives me enough room to express myself and do my own thing but, every now and then, he pushes me to a new limit, which I have not yet tried. And it is so rewarding when I get there. What I leatned from him was a lot of good skills but, above all, being humble, because that’s how he is, talented and yet humble.
You have been working on new material for an album. When might we expect to see the album release?
A new album may not be out for a while, but we’ve recorded over 16 songs with my producer Earl Cohen. However, I think that the next release is going to be another single.
How does this upcoming collection of music compare and contrast to what you have done in the past?
You asked me how I had evolved as a musician. I guess the album is also a reflection of this. It is more mature, richer and deeper than my previous albums. In terms of lyrics as well as music and voice. Also it has an exciting concept that runs through it, but I can’t tell you more about it now.
Has it been difficult to stay an independent artist as opposed to following a different path?
It certainly has and is. To make it on your own is a difficult job that requires a lot of sacrifice and creativity in addition to the hard work. But I needed this independence, especially at the beginning of my career, because it gave me the freedom to find my style, my preferences and who I am as an artist and as a person, without being influenced by other factors.
What do you have in store for us when it comes to touring?
I have a tour scheduled in Central Europe first but, when I get back, I will be touring the Midwest. The details will be posted on my social media.
Any new singles on the way in the short term?
I have a couple of singles that I can’t wait to share with the fans. I have just released “Unpredictable” recently and so it will be a while before the next single is released.
Who do you feel Celeste Buckingham is as an artist at this point in your career?
I am a 20-year-old woman with a big passion for music, who is excited about life and always willing to try new things. I love creating songs, videos and stories and enjoy singing and performing. In my songs, I share a piece of myself and it is really me speaking. I look at my music career as a blessing, a gift that I love and enjoy which I like to share and also use as a means to a greater end. I wish to be able to use my career success as means to contribute to social good.
What can you tell us about the songwriting process these days, is it different from what you have done in the past in some way?
There isn’t a big difference except I used to write a lot of my songs alone, but my recent songs are mostly co-writes, with a wonderful writer Jeff Gueritey, whom I call my brother from another mother. We relate so well together and write like a machine. But the process is the same. Usually, I have a general idea of what I want to write about, and then it kind of develops.
Is there something that jumps out at you in your mind as the defining moment of your career?
It was certainly the release of my single “Run Run Run.” It took off so rapidly as I had never expected. It was played everywhere and gained so much attention. I won a number of awards because of that song, and my life was never the same after that release.
Looking back on your career, is there anything you would do again differently if you had the chance?
There have been hurdles and challenges, but it has all been a journey that came naturally. I am not sure if I would change anything specifically. I am quite happy about where I am now. I am not looking at a destination but enjoying the journey.
What is the best piece of advice you can pass along to someone who wants to pursue a career in music in the industry’s current climate?
First figure out who you are and who you want to be. Think carefully about the lifestyle that you want to have and pursue for a long time and then decide which way to go. And be ready for all it requires, hard work, odd hours, odd places …
What can you tell us about your work with charity? We would love to help spread the word.
Thank you for asking! That is one of my big passions. It has always been. I think that there are so many people on the planet that don’t have the voice to speak for themselves or the basic human rights, or simply the privileges that the rest of us have. If I can do anything to help make their lives better and easier, I would be proud to do. I am especially passionate about the right of women and children especially in countries where their basic human rights are violated. I am also passionate about education of underprivileged children. I work with various organizations and groups such as CARE.org and UNICEF or smaller unknown organizations and foundations with humanitarian services to children.