We recently chatted with Chris Selman of Celestial Skies.
OSM: Hi Chris, how long have you been performing as Celestial Skies?
This is all pretty new for me! I’d released music a few years ago under the stage name Words & Noises, but took a bit of a break from that. I dreamed Celestial Skies up during one of the lockdowns and starting recording some music last autumn. The debut single came out in May - so it’s really very new!
OSM: Has any particular artist or genre influenced your music the most?
It’s a bit of a melting pot really, I like all kinds of music. Big influences for me are ‘80s synth pop and ‘90s Britpop but I think you’ll be able to hear some more contemporary influences on some of the songs too.
OSM: Your new single, ‘The Lost Art Of Conversation’’ is out now. What was the songwriting and recording process of the track?
In terms of the writing process - this is actually a song I originally wrote a while ago, during the time that smartphones were really starting to take over our lives for the first time - I found it fascinating watching people out ‘socialising’ while simultaneously completely ignoring each other, lost in their own little worlds.
I revisited and updated this song during one of the lockdowns, when I was bored at home - as a writer it’s great to be able to revisit something you’ve done before and make some changes! I tidied up a few corners, added a strings section and also added some more backing vocals.
The recording process was really social, which was great given the nature of the lyrics - I used the studio in Manchester I’d worked at previously, and invited lots of people I’d known for years to be involved. On backing vocals are one of my university housemates and one of my former singing students, and in the band are two musicians I’ve performed with for more than a decade now.
OSM: What is the theme of the song, what is its message?
I wrote it at that time when smartphones were first starting to become ubiquitous - when they were no longer new and novel, and we were living in a world where everyone had them. It was a real shift - a moment where I could see that our lives were changing in real-time and we were never going back to what we had before.
It was so odd to see people going to the pub, but not talking to each other, just staring at their screens; or going for dinner, but taking photos of their meals and posting them to Instagram as opposed to actually just enjoying their food and company.
Now don’t get me wrong, I think phones are great. But - especially with the rise of photo and video sharing, and creating reels and so on - I found it a bit of a shame that so many people were becoming obsessed with capturing the moment, and less interested in actually living in the moment. So that’s what the song is about.
OSM: What challenges have you faced since launching your career?
As an independent artist pretty much everything is a challenge! The logistics of getting people together to record the music, building the right team of people around the project… because I can write and sing songs, but I can’t play the drums, I can’t do the artwork, I can’t create music videos, none of these play to my strengths.
So getting the right people to work with takes time and networking and organisation and perseverance. And then also getting the music out there, getting it heard, getting it featured online and in magazines and on the radio… this is all really hard if you don’t have the marketing spend of a major label behind you.
OSM: What are the plans for the year ahead for yourself?
So the new single has just come out and we’ve been working on the music video for that. The album will launch in September and I’ll be doing a show in London to coincide with that. There will likely be another single before the end of the year, too.
Outside of Celestial Skies, I also do some singing with the London Gay Men’s Chorus and we have some Halloween-themed concerts at Alexandra Palace in October which I’m very much looking forward to!
OSM: If you could change anything about the industry what would it be?
That’s tricky because I do like how democratic it all is now - I’m old enough to remember when releasing music used to be the reserve of the record labels, and getting your music out there was at the discretion of their gatekeepers. Now anyone can release anything, so the playing field has levelled - which is a good thing of course, but now there’s just so much more music out there - it’s difficult to make yourself heard amongst all the noise!
I suppose - and I know the point has been made by others - the streaming model probably needs some refinement. It’s very difficult, especially as an independent musician, to make any sort of meaningful income from this revenue stream. A fairer deal for artists and writers would be good to see.
OSM: If you could share the stage with another band or performer who would it be?
I’ve always been intrigued by Sufjan Stevens - I’m fascinated by the way he’s able to dream up these songs of such an epic scale, these arrangements, these over-the-top concept albums - and yet the songs are often still so intimate and beautiful. I’d like to work with him, it would be really interesting to see his process.
OSM: What songs are on your playlist right now, which songs are you into at the moment?
I heard the new Beyoncé song at a club night at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern recently and that was a great experience - given all that’s happened over the last couple of years, I’m quite out of the loop of hearing a new bop absolutely pop off at a club night! So that’s been on my playlist. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Jessie Ware and Dua Lipa recently.