We’ve gushed about our love for the pastel-hued pairing of Celine Neon, but with a new single (which you can hear below) poised for release, we thought it was about time we caught up with Emily Nejad and Maggie Kubley of the band to talk winter hibernation, Broadway musicals and the power of the pun.
Chicago is suffering from an Arctic tundra. Last week saw a rare thunder snowstorm causing near white-out conditions and pushed the city to its fifth-snowiest winter season ever. With snowfall recorded at 4.7 inches, The Windy City has been hit by a total of 66.8 inches of the white stuff. It’s not surprising then to hear that electro pop pairing Celine Neon – ordinarily based in the city’s hubbub – have flown the coop for warmer pastures this winter, hunkering down in the off-season to craft their synth-led songwriting.
Grappling with a novel three-way time zone catch-up for today’s interview, we find Nejad in the heady climates of sunny Cali (“it’s practically tropical”) whilst Kubley indulges in the not-too-shabby late teens of Georgia, Atlanta’s spring sunshine. Not the first band to take on the remote work ethos, The Postal Service were notorious (by name and nature) for their border-crossing music production – Jimmy Tamborello writing and performing instrumental tracks which were then sent to Ben Gibbard, who edited the song as he saw fit to send them back to Tamborello through the United States Postal Service. Nejad explains of the band’s cross-communication setup: “I remember reading [about Gibbard and Tamborello] and thinking ‘That’s crazy! They’re never in the same room and it just goes back and forth’, and I always share that in my mind as I get our emails; the future is now. That’s how Celine Neon exists. It exists via our emails and our internet connection.”
Debut single ‘Cycle’ is certainly testament to the group’s undeniable bond, both personally and virtually. With the production of a grimier Goldfrapp, ‘Cycle’ conjures up some of the vocal sass of the Sugababes (but like the original three, ‘Overload’ era, you know?) And just as MKS enlist the help of Dev Hynes’ deck mastery, Celine Neon’s sound came from an ongoing hunt for the perfect producer – who it turns out was closer than they thought all along.
“To complicate the matters even further, we demo out the songs and then we’ll actually pass them along to my little brother – he takes what I make and produces the beats for us. He’s in LA as well – we’ll send it over to him and then once Emily and I can get something we both agree on, we’ll record the vocals in Chicago and send them out to him,” Kubley explains. In a very apparent and heartening camaraderie between the pair, Nejad carries on the same thought: “That sort of collaboration between Maggie and Will happens really naturally and, I mean, I know there’s blood between them, but it happens really easily and that collaboration is in our wheelhouse. Maggie and I both come from theatre backgrounds, so that sort of idea of working together to make a really cool product is something that comes very naturally to both of us.”
Having performed together for the past ten years in some form or another, it’s easy to hear the musicians’ shared enthusiasm for a club groove and their trusted party spirit. This is apparent within the pair’s recent video, too, which stars the pair in all sorts of wanton indulgence – a typical Neon night out, then? “I personally wait until I am at home by myself to cry on a night out – I don’t know if we’ve ever cried together,” jokes Kubley. “I think that we probably have, but it was more like ‘I love you, man…’ I know that has happened… but in short, yeah,” agrees Nejad.
This uber-human but hilariously satirical attitude makes chatting to the duo feel as though you are catching up with your besties for mega lolz on a Friday night. The girls go on to jest about their respective teen listenings and how they may (or may not in some cases) have gone onto the band’s digital pop leanings. “In eighth or ninth grade, I was coming out of a weird hippy phase – where I was listening to a lot of Fish and Grateful Dead,” admits Kubley, which is met with (virtual) nods and murmurs on the call. “No, seriously, everybody make fun of that, there’s no need to take that seriously or respect that.”
Thankfully, Nejad steps in with an equally questionable confession: “I’m the oldest in my family so I didn’t have the influence of older siblings. And I know that a lot of people grow up with the trickle-down effect of their oldest sibling’s taste, but I was the trailblazer in my family and, unfortunately, the trails that I was blazing were pretty, pretty uncool. My parents received some promotional CDs from AT&T – this was the thing – a CD of torch songs of divas and to this day, it is so freaking good.”
Jokes aside, such strong female powerhouses – the likes of Stevie Nicks and Natalie Cole – would go on to shape and define the band’s taste, as well as their mutual respect for a chart-topping pop hit. Kubley is passionate on the subject: “I can’t lie, I love pop music! I really want to be someone who has this really nuanced super-sophisticated taste in music, but I really love pop music. [Katy Perry’s] ‘Teenage Dream’ is such a perfect pop song. I know [she] didn’t write that and Dr Luke and Max Martin had a big hand in it all, but those songwriters are great. I love to study them and people that topline for people like Rihanna and Beyoncé. I like to study that process, how that goes down, because I feel like that’s how Celine Neon do our thing too.”
And what about that name? Does the Canadian balladeer feature in the pair’s list of musical genius? “We are both big fans of puns. We love puns. That’s where that name came from. We were both on the train one night after a couple of drinks heading to another party – looking for a good Celine Dion pun – and that’s what we came up with.” Suitably camp and kitsch in all the right ways, Celine Neon won’t be the soundtrack to any Titanic blockbuster anytime soon (well, unless we’re talking about the Broadway musical version…) but they are the perfect playlist to kick-start your party. So with the lighter days creeping into the calendar and the winter frost lifting for another year, do the band have big plans to hit the stage this summer?
“The performer beast inside of me is dying to get out,” confesses Nejad. Kubley agrees: “We are both not used to not performing. For us, we know that we wanted to have a good, solid amount of time where we launched the project, promoted it online and focused on videos and recordings, but we can’t wait to get back on the stage”. “We need to feed that beast,” jokes Nejad.
Fiercely driven and hugely fun, this is the pop band we’ve been waiting for. Our hearts will go on for Celine Neon.