BRU talks to LA-based artist Celeste Olliver about the trials and tribulations of being a young musician.
“Every time I’ve made a song, I’ve accomplished something personal in myself,” Celeste Ollivier explains, her voice faraway over speakerphone. She talks quickly, often continuing for more than a minute without finishing a sentence. “I feel like I’ve opened a door into myself. It’s involuntary.”
Celeste is eighteen, a college student in Southern California, about two hours from the Los Angeles neighborhood where she grew up. She started writing songs and learning guitar in fifth grade, but it wasn’t until high school when she got a lap-sized keyboard that making music became a serious part of her life. After hearing a song she recorded using Voice Memos on her iPhone, her best friend Dali Brljevic suggested that they make an album together. He proposed they name themselves Plato Forgets; it was Celeste who titled the resulting album Polaris.
After releasing Polaris, she was surprised by the positive responses she received. “Our friends were freaking out and everyone really liked it. Then we made more and more and I found myself in making music. There are periods where I can’t do it anymore… and there’s times where I have to.”
Celeste and Dali would go on to release two more albums as Plato Forgets. Their final album, We Were the Joke, stands out as the culmination of their signature qualities — uninhibited, barely (if ever) produced, and heavily improvised. Most songs are composed of playful vocals from Celeste and/or Dali, backed by nothing other than guitar or keys. Many don’t pretend to be anything other than a Voice Memos recording of Celeste and Dali experimenting, chatting, and laughing. Making sounds. (The opening track of Polaris, “Bile is Beautiful,” is just 38 seconds of spit noises.)
“My journey is figuring out what the hell sound is and figuring out how to create it in new and exciting ways,” Celeste answers when I ask her about the role music plays in her life. She describes her creative process in the following way: “Nothing makes sense, do it anyways. Do what doesn’t make sense, because that’s what’s fun… and then let it go, and don’t try to make any edits.”
Since the dissolution of Plato Forgets, Celeste has worked as a solo artist under a variety of names — first Brownie Points in Heaven, and more recently, 222222. She is now learning how to produce using Logic, and some of her most recent songs — especially “Canyon” — have begun to sound more streamlined. However, rawness and improvisation continue to guide her approach; she is inspired by everyone from Wadada Leo Smith to Mitski to (Sandy) Alex G. The Voice Memos app remains her go-tool tool.
To me, Celeste represents a case study of the artist at the beginning of their musical journey. She isn’t yet established, or even up-and-coming; in fact, she’ll be the first to talk about the fact that she’s never played a real concert: “I could only play like one or two of my songs live, out of maybe sixty [that I’ve created]. All the acoustic ones are completely spur-of-the-moment and we just happen to have recorded them.” Then, laughing: “If I got famous, I’d be a huge disappointment.”
And yet, making music is a central part of her day-to-day life and her identity. Her musical projects are emblematic of the ways that the internet has altered the industry, creating new channels for creators, and digital spaces where amateur artists can share their work with the entire world. As of right now, according to Plato Forget’s Spotify data, the band has listeners in Seattle, Zurich, and Barcelona (says Celeste of the “Where People Listen” list: “I don’t trust those things”).
Furthermore, the challenges she faces — from picking a name to work under (“I can’t choose just one … I guess that’s just a reflection of questioning my identity; I feel like I am always changing”) to balancing her artistic pursuits with her schoolwork — are the same fundamental challenges faced by other young musicians across the globe.
At one point during our conversation, when describing the naming of Plato Forgets, Celeste recited the Plato quote which Dali and she loved: Welcome out of the cave, my friend. It’s a bit colder out here, but the stars are just beautiful.
Out of the cave and settling into her second year of college, with the origin story of her musical practice behind her, Celeste is officially in the cold and facing the same questions as so many other college students. Does she want to devote her life to music? And what is music, anyway? In her own words: “Does it have to have rhythm? Does it have to sound good? Can music even be ‘bad’ or ‘good’?” Though she may be at the very beginning of her artistic journey, and still far from the stars, she’s anything from pessimistic. Instead, she’s focused on their beauty, and on the wonder that music inspires in her. And for young musicians in the same boat as herself, she has the following advice:
“Release your music. It’s not supposed to sound perfect; it’s supposed to sound like you. And the music does that beautifully on its own.”
Cover photo by Nina Sinclaire Fletcher.