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A Quietus Interview

It ASDA Be You: Daphne And Celeste Interviewed
Emily Bick , April 8th, 2015 08:22

Emily Bick meets a returning Daphne and Celeste, the pop duo who have teamed up with Max Tundra to blaze a new trail across the pop firmament

All photographs courtesy of Nathalie Taylor

'You And I Alone', Max Tundra's surprise collaboration with beloved 90s champions of gleeful playground insults, Daphne (real name: Karen DiConcetto) and Celeste (real name: Celeste Cruz), is the kind of weird pop song at could only exist now, not only because of its internet-enabled origin story — bedroom electronics producer genius and whatever-happened-to? wonders connecting via Twitter, recording across an ocean and a continent, before only meeting up to film the video, and doing it all on a shoestring — but because of at least 40 years of pop history that came before and feed into it. (The follow up line to "You and I alone" is "Talking on the phone", a pop trope older than Blondie; how old do you have to be to think of a landline as a lifeline, anyway?)

As a track, it's brilliant, pacy and haunted full of snaky synths that ratchet up the tension. It's full of footsteps, time ticking, the spoken breakdown (itself reminiscent of a whole branch of pop history embracing REM's 'It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)', Billy Joel's 'We Didn't Start The Fire' and Madonna's 'Vogue') full of shoutouts to mixtapes and all the other footnotes of a youth spent surrounded by the music press and Top Of The Pops, taping songs off the radio, obsessions serious and ridiculous but most of all beloved. Max Tundra agrees, saying: "These are a few of my favourite things. I thought it would be fun/odd for people to hear the band who sang "your greasy greasy grandmammy" namecheck works by Flann O'Brien and Joni Mitchell. I didn't realise at the time but some of the things listed have a special significance for Karen and Celeste, which was nice."

The chipmunk-style sped up vocals of Daphne and Celeste's heyday are replaced with a slight ghostly shimmer over sultry, slightly teasing vocals, and twisty harmonies. These ladies could always sing; here, they get to show it off, tag teaming in the build up to the choruses; it's a shame they weren't given the chance before.

Karen and Celeste are grown up now and working on all kinds of creative projects; despite an internet tendency to flatten all cultural memory into an endless present, they both are and aren't their former cartoon US schoolgirl personas, but are still as playful and fun as always. What made them so endearing in the 90s was that they always seemed so aware of the pop game they were playing, working the nonstop rounds of breakfast TV and promo appearances, but not playing it ironic or taking it too seriously, just having a good time while it lasted. "I had always thought they were the perfect pop band and I admired them from afar," says Max Tundra. "If you had told my late-twenties self that one day I would make a record with them, I would have choked on my hummus and pitta bread." It's good they're back, and that all three of them are working together.

So, how did you guys first get together, and how did you end up over here?

Karen DiConcetto: Well, we were manufactured...

Celeste Cruz: Yeah, we were a manufactured pop group. They had auditions in New York, London and Los Angeles.

KD. I guess in the UK they were looking for - remember Gorillaz? Or like Blue, with aliens, there was no real singer? Our producer and our manager, they had this deal with Universal, and at first they were going to have anime characters sing the songs. But then they decided that they wanted real live girls, so they had auditions everywhere. And Celeste and I are still convinced that the reason we got the job is that we kind of looked like anime characters.

It's true!

KD: It's funny, cause we were like kid actors, that's how we got the audition. When we went in for our initial auditions, I didn't have to sing, all I did was talk about shoes for about an hour, because I was very into platform shoes at the time. Celeste, what was your first interview like?

CC: A very, very random conversation, and I don't remember singing at all. I do remember our second audition, when they called us in together and we bopped around to a track. Karen and I are not the best dancers, so we just jumped around like jumping beans for a few minutes.

KK. And we energetically danced — and the thing is, when we first went over to shoot the video, our moms were over in the corner laughing at our dance rehearsal, because Celeste and I are hardly Britney Spears. I think that all of that worked in our favour, our lack of dancing ability was a plus, our anime looks, a plus, and then they lucked out in that we weren't totally tone deaf. They had no way of knowing that! So that was an unexpected perk, I suppose?

So how was the whole roller coaster of all that, how long did it all last? it seems like it's a long time, but it's also really quick?

KD: It was pretty short actually, unless if you mean in pop years - how long was it Celeste, two years?

CC. Maybe two and a half, if we count the reunion tour or something? But you're exactly right how it felt more while we were doing it, it felt like an eternity.

KD. Yeah, once our first single came out, the other singles came out fairly quickly, and then we were recording the album. It was pretty hilarious, because I had all these ideas in my head of what being in a band was, and Celeste, I'm sure you did as well. I always sort of imagined the Almost Famous tour bus. I was just totally basing it on movies I'd seen, and while there were some really glamorous elements, there were also some totally unglamorous elements.

Oh go on, what was the least glamorous thing you saw?

KD: The Asda tour! Our big glamorous Asda tour. Mainly we performed next to the frozen food aisle. Maybe that was near where the records were a little bit? So they'd set up a stage and we'd play while these people were food shopping, basically.

CC. They'd grab a single on the way out for their kid and give it to us to sign it!

KD. I think the great thing about Daphne and Celeste, is the fact that we were in it together, that we both get the ridiculousness of situations, so like we were always able to laugh through everything.

And the most glamorous?

KD: Well, the most glamorous thing was— and I guess when I say glamorous, I mean, sort of like the E list, was the Kerrang! awards. When we were invited to attend the Kerrang! awards, we obviously didn't belong there, but we got to meet Marilyn Manson.

CC: And we got to meet Lemmy from Motorhead, and I had no idea, I didn't really know what Motorhead was at the time, but i'm like yeah, this is really cool, and looking back, I'm like, "Oh my god!"

KD: Maybe when we played Reading would be another one.

But there was some drama at Reading…

CC. Reading was a totally awesome highlight, I have to say. People look at us getting bottled at the festival itself like oh, that must have been terrible. But people don't understand how high school the pop world is.

KD. Hanging out with rock people was way more fun! Even if we were getting bottled off the stage, that really didn't matter. More fun, didn't take themselves so seriously, it was a much more enjoyable experience to the pop people.

CC. We were just never invited to the cool table with that crew, ever.

KD. They were just not ever going to like us.

CC. For good reason!

What have you been up to recently? You've been working on music stuff over the past few years…

CC. Yeah, working on music stuff, staying in entertainment, it's been interesting since we got out of the group, because technology as we know has changed so quickly, and with all of the new social media. It's like I've gotten to know all these fans that I never new existed before. I didn't know why we pop into their head, or whatever, but a lot of them have stayed with us, or stayed with me through Facebook and MySpace and Instagram. All these people I've never met in real life who know us from this era and have such fond memories of it - taking that away was really interesting, because it's this part of your life that, very much happened to a lot of people, and although you've moved on, and are pursuing other things, it's still a thing?

When Max approached us, it was such an interesting thing to be like, hey, maybe. Because we have all these friend/fan people that we've never met, so maybe it would be cool to be more a part of that. We really couldn't be that much a part of that in the beginning, because we barely had internet!

KD: It's funny too, because I've done lots of different things since the pop band ended, and I've primarily been writing for the past seven years now. I wrote a play, and I've been doing television writing, and I'm working on a show over here in the states now that I co-created called Recovery Road, which is really exciting. But Celeste is the one who keeps me informed in terms of people remembering the band. Because I am the worst when it comes to social media. I barely have a Facebook account, I am always forgetting my password for Instagram and Twitter, I'm just bad at it. So when she tells me about people, I am just like, "Whoa, really?" I can't believe it, I'm always so sceptical — but it's real. People will reach out to us.

CC: Yesterday on Twitter, I got something from a mom who was from Australia and really into our music, and now her child is really into it, she just wanted to let me know. Or, you know, some reality show is happening where they're bringing pop people together and people are wishing we were on it, and all that type of stuff. I mean, it's so awesome that they remember us, but I'm just like, how? It's really interesting to see how your persona ages, and how your music ages, and how people still connect with that, after years.

KD: It's a good feeling, especially if you were a fake pop group. It's nice to know there's something real enough about you that people were like, you know, you're enough to remember, and care about.

The thing about memory and people always remembering stuff is something that your new song with Max Tundra gets to a lot. You talk about a lot of things that are kind of out of time in the pop world, you're singing about cassettes, and gatefolds and talking to people on the phone, and then the breakdown is listing classic albums. Do you think that there's something about that kind of pop that is eternal, that you're looking back at?

KD: I think it is very much looking back, what do you think, Celeste?

CC: I think everyone's kind of a fan of nostalgia, more so than ever. Right now? I think the best thing that happened to Daphne/Karen and I was that we literally disappeared, we disappeared out of the spotlight. There was no, 'We're going to try to make a comeback, we're going to do a reality show' - we were just gone. So I feel like when something is taken from people that way, there's more of a little, 'Ooooh! What?' You know? So I don't know if it's a looking back, or if it's pangs of nostalgia of what once was, or whatever. But I know that all the pop culture references in the song were something that turned me on so much, when Max sent the song over, I was like, "Oh my god it's fucking awesome." It's like the song made so much sense for us, it was like oh my god, he really thought about it — and another one, he approached me on Twitter! And he introduced himself and said, "I'm this guy" and totally ended up being who he said he was. It was totally awesome.

KD: That was what was so cool about the song, it kind of felt like very much in the vein of what we did then. It is also very much a new sound and it's different, but there are shout outs to our roots, to pop band roots, which I thought was really clever. What he did was pretty awesome… definitely not something I would have been able to do.

Well, it sounds great. You guys are almost the last generation to be popstars in the way that you were before social media really hit, you know? So do you think you were lucky or was that a bad thing? Do you think it would have been different if you had appeared five years later?

CC: I give it up to a lot of the people in pop right now, I really do. Because when Karen and I were singing songs like 'Ugly' and 'Ooh stick you', people would shout 'Ugly!' in the street when they see you. It's probably so hard now. I was 16 at the time, I don't know if I would have been able to deal with social media, being in a pop group.

KD. I also think that the nature of the way that we lied ourselves onto the bill at Reading, and we were constantly fabricating stories, and we had our fair share of controversy in our short time, I think that we would have gotten into a lot more trouble, had we had access to Twitter. Because there were many people that were quite disgruntled with us while we were in that pop band. I think that at that time, it probably been magnified tenfold if we had actually had all of the social media that's available today. that's my take. I think we were lucky.

CC: Yeah, you know what. I'm going to go with lucky.

You And I Alone is out now on Max Tundra's Balatonic label