Girls Just Wanna Have Fun: Daphne & Celeste interview
They may have had short-lived chart success, but American duo Daphne & Celeste certainly left a mark on the world of pop. Exactly what kind of mark. With hits like Ooh Stick You and U.G.L.Y., is for the listener to decide. but now they’re ‘back, back, back!’ with a surprise contender for one of the best electro-pop albums of the year… Written by Darren Scott.
Daphne and Celeste are back to save the world, but how can that be achieved? Fun, it seems is the answer. Fun and a lot of laughter… And we mean a lot!
The pair – Celeste Cruz and Karen DiConcetto, aka Daphne – met at an audition in 1998 for Universal, who were looking to create a pop act. Three singles and an album followed before the duo disbanded a few years later. They’ve been friends ever since, and it shows. Their joyous giggling, self-deprecating humour and deadpan jokes are infectious.
As we chat, the pair are in New York, signing copies of their new album, Daphne & Celeste Save The World. “I’m signing three with my real name,” Daphne reveals. “So, you if get one that says Karen, it will probably be worth more on Antiques Roadshow in 2035… or maybe 2045.”
Celeste deadpans: “I think it’ll be a long time.”
“We stayed very close,” Daphne says, as the conversation turns to their latest comeback. “Celeste is like a little sister to me. We’ve been in each other’s lives ever since we met. But I don’t think we necessarily ever thought we were going to do this again.”
Before we get to ‘this’, we need to go back to the beginning…
“We were kid actors,” Daphne explains. “So that’s how we got the audition. We got a deal with Universal who already had two songs written – Ooh Stick You and U.G.L.Y. – I’m convinced that the only reason we got it is because we looked like Anime characters.”
Celeste elaborates: “They were just going to use cartoons. That was very popular at the time – to not have an artist and just have a cartoon do it. Do you remember Gorillaz? So, something like that.”
What they thought was just going to be a free trip to London soon turned into a job that they discovered people took quite seriously.
“Once we got to the UK, we realised pop was very serious. Which was hilarious to us,” Celeste says. There’s a very long pause when asking if they took it seriously. “Ummm, no,” Daphne eventually responds before bursting out laughing. “We definitely didn’t take it seriously. How could we? It was all so hilarious.”
“They pitched our voices up, we sounded like chipmunks!” Celeste chimes in. “We were basically actors. Even the audition itself was a weird audition to get. My agent was like: ‘OK, so they need two girls for a pop group’. You don’t really process what that means when you’re a young performer… you think you work really hard, find a producer, record an album. You don’t think you meet these two guys and they’re like: ‘here are your songs’,” she howls with laughter.
Joining in with the hysterics, Daphne adds: “Also, we didn’t realise it at the time, but at that audition we danced to what would become Ooh Stick You. So, we were bopping around and afterwards we were like ‘what is that song?’ We were super judgemental about it!”
Celeste agrees: “We were such bitches, it’s so funny. Then we met the woman who wrote our songs and she was amazing. She intended for the songs to be hardcore drum and bass.” The pair scream laughing. “So when she heard them, that made everything even more hilarious for us.”
Celeste explains that the name change came about from the recording session for Ooh Stick You, where they played about with different names. “I think at the time, somebody wanted to do a Scooby-Doo thing, like ‘Daphne and Velma’. We thought it was just for the song and didn’t think it was going to stick to this degree.”
Celeste starts laughing and the pair are off again…
No interview with Daphne & Celeste would be complete without discussing Reading Festival 2000. It’s written in pop history – the duo lied their way into getting a slot, all because Celeste wanted to meet Eminem (who later dropped out of performing). They were on a line-up with Rage Against The Machine and Slipknot and the stage was bombarded with, well, anything the crowd could lay their hands on.
“I have a notebook of everything that was thrown at us,” Daphne says. “I wrote it right after we got off stage.”
Items included a mirror (pocket version – thankfully – which they kept), ‘lots of food’ (“food made it far”), packs of raw meat and a wheelchair. “It really makes sense to throw tomatoes,” Celeste considers. “It’s very easy to throw them really far… Wheelchairs don’t really go that far.”
Daphne gasps: “Here is something that I hadn’t thought about until now, the tomatoes… they didn’t splatter. Thanks for getting us to look back at this!
“I think the bigger thing is that wheelchair… did someone give up their mobility because they hated us so much? That’s interesting to think about. That’s real hate… It’s like: ‘I’ll sacrifice. I won’t see any of the bands I came here to see because I hate them so much’.”
Celeste thinks for a second and says: “Unless they have a spare or they’re on crutches now.”
“I’m thinking that they had another getaway wheelchair waiting,” Daphne suggests.
Now they’ve saved themselves from identified flying objects, they’re back to save the world with a brand new record. It’s been a fairly organic process, as you might expect from a duo that haven’t released an album in 18 years.
Producer, Max Tundra, originally got in touch with Celeste via Twitter in 2011. The recording of You And I Alone followed – either that year or the following, they can’t quite recall – and then it sat on the shelf until eventually being released in 2015. “We were kind of just experimenting,” Daphne explains.
“I think that at some point, we weren’t even going to release it,” Celeste ventures.
“I thought it would be really funny to just release that one song,” Daphne explains. “Again, I think there’s something about our origin as a manufactured pop band – the more ridiculous the better. So we were just into releasing it and seeing what happened. We had such a good time working with Max that we just felt like we should record an album.”
“It just feels so right for us that our follow-up album took nearly 20 years,” Celeste smiles. “I think there’s something deeply satisfying in that for me.”
The positive response to You And I Alone took the girls by surprise. “It was the first time that we had not been on a worst list,” Daphne laughs. “Not being one of the most annoying tracks of the week was huge!”
Celeste tries to put her finger on why album Daphne & Celeste Save The World works. “What I really like about the album is it’s an updated mash-up of who we were when we first came out. It’s a very eclectic album. I like all the shout-outs to who we were then, they’re peppered throughout. Max’s music mixed with Daphne & Celeste doesn’t really go together, but somehow it does.”
Daphne agrees: “You can’t really predict where a song is going to go next, and that for me is what is really awesome about Max and his work. The longer we kept working together, the more we realised how absurd and weird we could push it.”
Daphne & Celeste Save The World feels nostalgic, but also very ‘now’. Out of place, yet ahead of its time. In many ways, a grown-up version of their debut offering…
“I think the thing that’s funny about We Didn’t Say That!, our debut album – it took me a long time to realise – it’s got a little bit of everything too,” says Celeste.
“It definitely isn’t like anything else that was on the pop scene at that point,” Daphne agrees. “And I would venture to say that this new album is kind of the same… it’s hard to compare it to something else that’s out right now and we don’t have to worry about anyone else sounding like us.”
What’s next then, if this new process has been so enjoyable? “I think it’s about 18 years until we have to think about it again,” Celeste replies, and Daphne screams with laughter. “Even popstars are taking themselves too seriously now,” Daphne considers. “It’s like, where do we go? I’m going to Max Tundra’s world for a while. That suits me.”
Celeste is, as ever, in agreement: “The magical world of Max Tundra!”
The Romy & Michele of Pop Music
Daphne and Celeste weren’t exactly embraced by the rock community, as seen by their Reading Festival performance. It seems they managed to ruffle a few other feathers along the way – Daphne famously mocked Placebo’s Brian Molko in an NME interview. “I wrote him an apology.” Celeste shrugs. “We reached out, so I feel like that’s OK.” Daphne nods: “We tried to make amends.”
Celeste bursts out laughing. “He didn’t answer the door!” Daphne considers. “But I feel like we were kinda outsiders in all communities. We didn’t really find our group. It’s like when you’re in high school and you just don’t know what table to sit at.” Celeste agrees: “We were just never invited to anyone’s table, ever.”
Does this make them the Romy and Michele of pop music? Daphne beams: “That’s actually a brilliant way to put it, I think we were the Romy and Michele of pop.
“We made some cool friends, but we also were like kinda desperate for friends I think at that point, too… I think we said a lot of things that people didn’t take kindly to – I said that a guy, he was in Five, looked like a muppet. I thought I was being sweet! But he was really mad and he actually confronted us one day…”
Celeste laughs. “Because apparently muppet means something else in the UK. It means idiot.”
Daphne & Celeste Save The World is out now on all formats.