This time, we get to know Cecilee, an alternative piano pop/indie artist from the US East Coast. Her music is an emotional journey through her experiences and her soul, her passionate voice accompanied by intricate piano playing and occasional beats.
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1. Tell us a little about where you are from and what you are currently doing.
Well, where to start! I’m an East Coaster. Born and raised on the Atlantic end of the country and I love it here! It’s funny because if my parents hadn’t moved here from California in the early 80s, I would’ve grown up there instead. I love the East Coast. There’s a lot to see and it’s so pretty and green back here! I consider Virginia my home state and that’s where I’ve lived most of my life. I did have a brief stint where I lived in North Carolina, but that’s a story for another time (keyword: U-haul!).
As for what I’m currently doing, well, it’s a lot! I work by day over the phone helping people, but by night and when I’m waiting for calls, I love to sing and play piano. I perform regularly on my Twitch channel twice a week on Wednesday evenings and Friday afternoons. Wednesday evenings are “songwriting streams,” where I broadcast myself writing a new song from scratch. Doesn’t matter if the song is good or not. What’s important is to keep writing. There’s no such thing as “writer’s block,” in my opinion. Then on Friday afternoons, I sing for about two to two and a half hours, sets full of originals and covers and my viewers can even request songs from my song list. Every show is different; I never play the same set twice (though there are certain songs I do play more than others, but not consecutively!) Twitch was a great platform I discovered in 2019 and I was drawn in by the community aspect of it. And the people are so supportive of other musicians too!
2. What inspired you to start playing and making music?
I was immersed in music from a young age. My parents ALWAYS played the radio, whether we were driving to the grocery store or just hanging out at home. Sometimes it was the local soft rock station. Sometimes it was the oldies station. My parents loved the oldies station especially because that was the music they heard growing up.
Also, my dad was and still is a huge John Denver fan, so I heard his music a lot too. John Denver was the first act I ever saw live when he came to a local venue when I was nine years old!
My parents often played music to be put on in the background, but I always listened intensely to the music. The emotions. The melodies. I loved the 50s music my parents would play because the music was short, catchy, and just FUN. The 60s music was always an interesting mixture of genres that later morphed into the music we have now. I connected especially with the music of Simon and Garfunkel, and their music is still something I hold dear to this day. I wanted to learn to harmonize with myself the way they did with each other. I love music with harmonies and hearing voices together, something I miss from a lot of modern music.
I was hearing so much music that I wanted to know how to write a song, so my mom sat down with me one evening with I was about seven or eight and showed me how to write a song. She told me a song consists of lyrics and music. She didn't know chords, but she showed me how to notate melodies so I could play it back later. That very first song I wrote with her was called “This Love Moment” and I can’t even remember how it goes! But it was the first, the very first one.
I knew I wanted to try writing my own songs because of an incident when I was about seven or eight. I remember telling my mom that all the songs on the radio were about love! I asked her why that was. She said that it was because it was a universal feeling. I responded that “Well I want to write songs that AREN’T like that! All that kissing and stuff, eeeewwwww.”
I don’t think much of that way anymore! BUT! To this day, I tend to write songs that are about the world, life before and after coming out, poking fun at myself and my flaws, looking at a relationship from all sides, etc. I get into the nitty-gritty of it all, rather than black and white “you did me wrong” sort of songs. I do have some romantic songs, but they’re more thoughtful. It’s more like “this is how you make me feel and how I make you feel and we’re in this together.”
As for what inspired me to become a singer/songwriter, it was my own need to express myself. I always wrote poetry and songs and so songs became another outlet. BUT! I didn’t actually get remotely decent for MANY years. It’s taken over 500 songs to actually get to the good stuff! But I have kept going, even when I wanted to quit almost every month. I started off on guitar but I eventually moved to the piano. I still pull out the guitar every once in a while, but I’m a piano girl! And the piano, just, all the keys are right there and I can be so much freer with my chord shapes!
𝟯. Who are your biggest influences?
Oh so much! If we’re talking musical influences, I’m inspired by many of the alternative women of the past. Specifically, the artists like Kate Bush and Tori Amos (yes it’s possible to be a fan of both!). The ones who made it OK for the rest of us women to speak up and be ourselves. Which is something I’ve had to deal with in my own emotional journey of coming out and figuring out who I really am. I’ve had a lot of trouble learning to be myself and those women have helped me do that. Charlotte Martin as well. She’s also my vocal instructor and has been since 2018! Imagine that! Getting to write with your favorite artist? I do that several times a month!
I’m also influenced by 80s groups like Pet Shop Boys too, funny enough! Depeche Mode too! Their melodies and electronic backgrounds inspire me a lot. As for Pet Shop Boys, they are SO underrated even now in the United States. They’re so much more than West End Girls (Which is a classic song, don’t get me wrong!). Their sense of melody and the often wry and dry lyrics are what inspire me a lot, what inspire me to inject some of my own humor into my songs. I have a wry sense of humor that I don’t often use in my music. But who else could get away with lines like “I’d rather die than satisfy their curiosity/I’m kind of shy and dry and verging on ugly”? They’re the reason I don’t mind making fun of myself or my flaws in my own music.
I also love music with harmonies, as I mentioned earlier with my love of Simon and Garfunkel. So that influences me as well. I was in choir for a number of years as an alto (the lowest female part), so I learned to harmonize. I’m actually a soprano (if you’ve heard my music, you’ll know I have a high, mermaid voice!), but I can harmonize and come up with countermelodies because you learn to do that as an alto. Altos always get the harmony rather than the melody. One of my favorite parts of recording music is recording overdubs of my own voice. I have Kate Bush to thank for that! The way she layers her voice in her songs is just incredible! All of those voices are JUST HER!
As for what influences my own music, I’m inspired by a LOT. Usually it’s something that’s just happened to me and I HAVE to write it down or it may disappear into the ether. I often write as a way to work through my feelings about something or someone. For example, my song “Martyr” came out of a place of deep hurt, sadness, and anger. I was going through a dark spot of my life when that song came to me from who knows where.
4. What are your goals in the music industry?
You know, I just want to reach people. Let them know they’re not alone. Share my experiences and hope I reach people who might be going through the same things. It would be nice to be well-known for what I do, but fame and fortune isn’t what I’m looking for. I do this for the love of music.
My other goal with music is to speak about my life and my experiences in coming out and figuring out who I really am. I'm the L in LGBT. Some years ago, when I was still VERY much in the closet, I wrote a song about a girl I had a crush on but who I knew wasn’t interested. It was the first of MANY songs I wrote about such situations! (One of them was released last year, called Water on Glass). As I continued writing songs, especially unrequited love songs for other women I was crushing on, I realized I was tapping into something new for me.
I don’t always write love songs, but instead I write about life, figuring myself out, and the power of vulnerability. Human experiences. Things that anyone can relate to, no matter who you are. What’s important to me is that I’m true to myself, because the audience will see through it if you’re not.
I think it’s also important to show that members of the LGBT community like me are normal people who are living their lives and trying to figure themselves out. It’s just that when I write a love song, I’m going to be talking to a woman, not to a man. I never set out to write a song for a specific audience. If you love music, come right on in and take a listen!
I’ve released one full album and two EPs now. In the future, I’m planning to do something a bit different. It’s funny but I think we’ve gone back to the era of the single! In the pre-rock and roll days, it was common for people to put out a single and a b-side. Albums weren’t really a thing, as we know them, at least not yet. Now, I think in 2022, we’ve gone back to the era of the single. Putting out a few songs at a time. So, I’m going to start putting out singles rather than albums for the foreseeable future. I find that this frees up my creative process so that I’m thinking more about individual songs rather than how they fit on an album. I feel like I can experiment more. I don’t have to think about whether these songs would all work together as a cohesive unit.
As I say this, I am sitting on a few songs that are VERY different from what I’ve done before. One of them is a 90s downtempo techno song. I have a deep love of electronic music ad so I top-lined a song background I put together a few months ago. I came up with the vocal melodies and harmonies and recorded it a while ago. Now I’m waiting for the time to release it.
5. Tell us about your creative process when you make new music.
So I started out as a poet. And I carried that with me into music, when I was starting to really get serious about writing songs. The problem with turning poems into music is that you have to make the music catchy for people to latch on to. Also, some words REALLY don’t sing well at all! Writing lyrics meant to be sung, versus words meant to be on a page, are two very different things.
So I used to start off with the lyrics and then try to put the music to them. But more times than not, my music was…… not good, and that’s being nice! Nowadays, I start with the music. That’s what people are going to remember first. So I come up with something on the piano, like a chord progression that sounds interesting, and I go “do do do” over the progression, trying to come up with a melody first before I put any words to it. I make sure it’s a melody I can sing back to myself several times before I commit to writing lyrics. Again, I want to put in something people will remember! And if I can’t remember it, then no one else will either.
When I want to challenge myself, I’ll step away from the piano and instead, while I’m waiting for calls on my job, I’m on my computer creating some song background in Logic Pro. I’ll create my own drum beats by cutting up samples, then I’ll paint in some chords, other little sounds, etc, to create essentially an instrumental. If I’m completely focused and not on a call because it’s a slow day, it can take me up to a half hour to create something. Then once the music is how I want it, I’ll go “do do do” over it, coming up with a vocal melody, before putting in lyrics. It’s a process called “toplining,” and it’s a common process for music producers. That way, you’re focusing on the melodies and the music first.
It’s different coming up with something over drums because the rhythm affects the words and you can often come up with other hooks that way. I also sing differently too over drums than when it’s just me and the piano. When it’s just me and the piano, the rhythms are more flowing and less rhythmic sometimes, depending on what I’m coming up with. But when I write on the piano, I try to make things interesting since it’s just me! I don’t want people to be bored. So even between verses, I don’t always play the piano in the same way.
6. What is your all-time favorite song?
I had a hard time answering this question because SO MUCH music has touched me over the years. But if I had to absolutely pick one song, it would be Cloudbusting by Kate Bush. Not only is this my favorite song of hers in general, but also it lifts me up and hits my emotions like no other song does. It can leave me in tears if I’m in the right mood. Most people reading this probably know Kate for Running Up That Hill. For those who are unfamiliar with Cloudbusting, it’s a track from her 1985 album Hounds of Love, which has gotten a major resurgence this year because of Stranger Things. You can’t imagine how ecstatic I’ve been that an artist whose music has meant so much to me (Kate Bush) has now found an even larger audience in 2022. I’ve been a fan of Kate for 20 some years, so seeing people connecting with her music is just wonderful. I hope that those who came to her because of Stranger Things, will also check out the rest of her music because it’s like nothing you’ve ever heard before. Kate’s sense of adventure with music was also such an influence on so many artists who came after so it would be remiss to not listen to her more. What hits me about Cloudbusting is the way it builds and also the chorus. Kate Bush was inspired by a book called A Book of Dreams, written by Peter Reich about his father Wilhelm Reich, who built a machine that could make it rain. The song is a longing by the narrator for his father, who was (and this happened) taken away by the government for his experiments and his beliefs. It’s about a specific thing, but it speaks to a universal experience. Who hasn’t felt a longing for something that’s gone? Who hasn’t looked at something sad that’s happened to you but known that when that’s done, things are going to get better? She sings in the chorus: “Everytime it rains you’re here in my head, like the sun coming out, I just know that something good is gonna happen, I don’t know when, but just saying it could even make it happen.” I haven’t heard another song that encapsulates those feelings as much as Cloudbusting does. What a beautiful song and what a beautiful artist Kate is.
7. What is the best advice or council you have either given or received in terms of music?
Focus on the music and keep writing, because no matter what happens to you in the music business good or bad, you have your songs and your ability to connect with people, and that’s worth more than gold.
For this advice, I have my friend and mentor Charlotte Martin to thank. Charlotte Martin is an artist whose music I have followed since the mid-2000s, when I was getting into other female singer/songwriters like Kate Bush and Tori Amos. I was a huge fan from early on of her music because of how she uses her voice and her songs. At the time, I was getting more into other female singers who were not so mainstream. I wanted something that sounded similar to my own voice, which I was still grappling with. I was starting to write my own songs but I was undoing a lot of the classical training I’d done since I was sixteen. When I discovered Charlotte’s music, I found in it an artist whose voice was most similar to my own. I always recommend her albums Stromata and Dancing on Needles to anyone.
So how did I come to know Charlotte? Well, since 2017, she’s now gone behind the scenes a little and offers voice lessons and coaching through Skype. I went to her farewell tour and it was bittersweet. I hadn’t been able to follow her on the road like other people had but her music had meant so much to me. When I heard she was becoming a voice teacher, I signed up. I was one of the first people to ever sign up with her and let me tell you, it was so hard to not just fangirl! Now, I consider her a good friend.
They say to never meet your idols, but let me tell you, Charlotte is truly such a wonderful and genuine person. More than that, she’s helped me a LOT! I’ve had probably four voice teachers over the years. They were all helpful in ways, but most of them wanted to put me in a box vocally. I either had to learn classical or musical theater. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy those genres! But that’s not what I want to write. None of them let me sing my own music.
Of all the voice teachers I’ve ever had, Charlotte has been the best teacher because she is a singer/songwriter herself, so she’s not trying to put me in a box of “well I only teach classical voice lessons so that’s what you’re going to learn with me whether you want to or not.” I’ve even written songs with her! And she’s given me SO MUCH advice over the years I’ve worked with her.
But the best advice she’s given me was to focus on the music and to keep writing no matter what. That no one can take that away from me. And so I do that.
8. Proudest accomplishment?
I would say it’s my latest EP Supernovas. It’s taken hundreds of songs to get to this point, but I’ve never been prouder of anything I’ve put out. And I’m just getting started!!!
I was working on my previous album Never Enough Flowers when the songs that would become Supernovas started coming to me. To make a long story short, 2020 was a weird year. Two major relationships came to an end that year. Meanwhile, the world was coming to a standstill because of lockdowns and a global pandemic. I was in a weird place emotionally because of it all, plus I was also still figuring myself out. I was realizing I was gay too, so there was that. I’d suppressed a lot of myself for years, and now it was time to come out (pun intended).
The songs starting coming pretty quickly after those two relationships imploded. When songs like the ones on Supernovas come to me, it means I have a lot to work through. There’s something I’ve been suppressing and it needs to be expressed. I needed to figure out what happened, where it went wrong, and most of all, see what I needed to learn for next time. Examine myself too, because it goes both ways when it comes to relationships.
So, I ended up with four of the best songs I’d ever written. The melodies, everything just came together so well. Of the songs on there, my most proudest moment is Martyr. I have never warmed up so much before recording vocals like I did for that song! I wish I’d gotten pictures of myself while recording, because I was up on the microphone, gesturing with my hands, pretending like I was singing it right to the person I wrote it about. I was LIVING in it. I went back to the moment that brought this song to me from across the universe.
The theme of that song is relatable. It’s about communication. It’s telling the other person that you’re there for them, even though they’d rather take on everything themselves and not let you in to help. And it’s allowing yourself to be angry and hurt. I’d never really allowed myself to be angry at someone. I was taught directly and indirectly from an early age to never be angry. Girls don’t get angry. They have to be good and just hold it in and take whatever comes to them. (A sentiment that I do NOT agree with at all!)
Well guess what? I couldn’t do that anymore. I was sick of being the good girl. So I went into my anger and hurt and brought it to life. I had to be in that feeling and let myself be angry. So, I let that come out in the song.
9. Just for fun! What's been your most embarrassing moment so far?
One of my more embarrassing moments happened on Twitch. And I don’t know if it could be considered embarrassing so much as…… technical?? For those who are unfamiliar with Twitch, it’s a streaming platform that started for gamers, but now includes people who stream themselves singing and playing music, creating art, etc. It’s not just for gamers. I got into Twitch in 2019, but took a break for about a year before streaming regularly in 2020. What drew me to Twitch was the community aspect. The platform is all about building your own community to support what you love. Plus, the folks who take part in the music community are all really nice and supportive.
On Twitch, there’s something called a “raid.” A raid means you bring your viewers over to another channel after you’re done streaming. It’s done as a way to introduce other streamers to viewers and to support other streamers. Some people set up what are called “raid trains.” That is, certain streamers send their viewers over to the next channel on the list, etc, and it’s all done up ahead of time.
I love participating in raid trains because it puts my music in front of more people who may not have heard of me before, and also because I enjoy seeing what other musicians are doing on the platform. Last month, I was finishing a show during a raid train session, and I was all ready to raid the next channel, so to send my viewers to the next channel.
Except that my computer is old. OK, old by Apple standards. Mid-2014 Mac Book. In between my streaming software and it being an old computer that sounds like a plane taking off while streaming, I typed into the chat of my streaming software, the command to start the raid.
But it didn’t work.
I kept pressing Enter.
Nope, no raid.
So there I was in front of thirty-some viewers, trying to figure out why I can’t start the raid to go to the next channel!
Finally I managed to access my channel on my iPad so I could start the command. Then, everything went smoothly and the viewers went on to the next channel! But it was still flustering for me to try and figure all that out, while people were watching!
𝟭0. Tell us about your lowest and highest points in music so far.
There have been a few low points, so I’ll mention those first. I deal with depression. I’m very open about that because you know what? Mental health is just as important as anything else we deal with. I feel like we’ve gotten better about acknowledging that, but we still have a ways to go. Because of my depression, I’ve often wanted to quit because I wasn’t progressing the way I should, etc. The lowest moments were the ones where I considered selling everything, giving it all up even as a hobby. Also, being rejected time and again when trying to do live shows while I saw other people I knew getting gigs with no problem.
But those have been few and far between.
My highest moments have been working with Charlotte. Can you imagine what an honor it is for me to be able to talk with and even WRITE SONGS with one of my absolute favorite artists of all time? Someone whose music was the soundtrack to my college years? Her album Stromata was always playing in my earbuds as I walked to and from my classes in the mid-2000s as a college student. Now? Charlotte is my friend, my mentor, and even my songwriting collaborator!
She and I had written a song in late 2019. The song is called Evaporate. It was going to go on my first album Never Enough Flowers, but it didn’t make the cut. I could never get the arrangement quite right. Plus, it’s difficult to sing! Remember when I mentioned earlier that some words look great on the page but don’t sing very well? That song has a lot of them! Though it didn’t work out arrangement-wise, it was still a high point for me. It pushed me to go in other directions with my music, to try other melody types ad really push myself with my voice.
In late 2020, Charlotte and I wrote a song together for my EP called Magnetic Fields. That song was one of the highlights of my songwriting career. We wrote that song not long after a breakup with someone who I thought was my forever person but the relationship fizzled out instead (the same person I wrote Broken Bird about). That song, I still don’t have it all memorized yet because it goes in so many places, but in a way, it’s the musical depiction of the relationship that inspired it! It’s quiet, it’s dramatic, it goes in different places you don’t expect….. That’s how it felt all the time with her (the girl I wrote it about). Charlotte pushed me to go different places with my voice on that song and I’ve never forgotten it. For example, I go very high on the chorus, which Charlotte pushed and encouraged me to do.
My other high point was joining NAS! Seriously, I struggled for MONTHS to get to even a few listeners. I've not even been a member but for a week and I'm already seeing way more listeners and progress than I ever did before! So, thank you all!! It means a lot to see that more people are connecting with the music. That's what it's all about for me: finding a community of people who like what you do. And don't we all want that?
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