Name: Phill Celeste aka Life On Planets
Occupation: Producer, songwriter, singer
Recent release: Life On Planets' "Atlantis" is out via Young Art. It's the latest single to be taken off his forthcoming Dreamcatcher EP, scheduled for May 20th 2022.
If you enjoyed this interview with Life On Planets and would like to find out more, visit him on Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud, and twitter.
Over the course of the project, Life on Planets has collaborated with a string of artists, including Lubelski and Claude von Stroke.
[Read our Claude VonStroke interview]
[Read our Lubelski interview]
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
It changes all the time … I’ve written songs about paintings, trying to rectify the viewpoint of both the observer and the characters within. ("Airwaves")
One day I saw a map of Bermuda and had an idea to take the characters from a Greek mythology book I was reading and put them on an adventure to party out in the Bermuda Triangle with the god Neptune ("Atlantis", my current single)
As an artist, I absorb everything and reinterpret it through my prism.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
It typically starts with a visual concept or a feeling.
I tend to hop into music making if I’m able and just start creating. Planning for me happens if I’m away from the machine and need to make notes so I don’t forget. Sometimes the ideas sit in my notes for months until I finally get back to them and create something from them.
An old voicenote was the basis for my song "Glowstick".
I was sitting in Taylor [Bense]’s studio and hummed a bass line I recorded and we built a track from there. I looked through my notes for words and found a terrible rap I made one night goofing with friends and developed it into a story to reflect on my first raves.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
If I have a concept that I want to dive into or draw more meat from, like a myth or historical event, I’ll definitely research and take notes on what inspires me from there.
For "King of the Block", I wanted to draw a parallel between community leaders and Greek gods.
I researched the mythology of the Trojan War, the Iliad and the love affairs of Zeus to combine with a modern character that references hip hop braggadocio memes, and internet culture.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
I can work pretty much anywhere anytime. Sometimes I do need some time to settle in. I find I work best late at night when the world is quiet. While I work on something specific, I may have some musical references handy. I’ve tried doing the incense thing but it never stuck. Dope lighting can definitely help set the mood but it isn’t necessary.
I do find that although I don’t have much ritual around the actual creation, it's easier to flow when I take good care of my mind and body. I try to work out or do something physical five times a week and eat a healthy diet.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
The first line/notes blurt out easily. It might be a hook, it might be the idea of the flow, the definition of the song, the drums or the bassline. The real challenge is putting the puzzle pieces in around that initial idea.
When I actually sit down to produce, I start with the drums and bass and from there try to get the mood right to lay vocals down.
When do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?
All are true and can happen. I really love it when the lines just pour out in an instant of inspiration …
In this day and age, where we have to release a lot of projects and collaborations, sometimes you don’t have the luxury to wait for inspiration or to come away with nothing from a session. So I improvise and find things from notes, a line here or there. Maybe there's a whole song already written that's just waiting for a home. Maybe it's just a flow to revisit and write to later.
What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
I think good lyrics capture a vibe. Some great lyrics are really straightforward and simple. It's about how the artist says it. There’s also really amazing songs with all these layered metaphors and amazing lines and punchlines; or it's abstract and you can hear a different story depending on when you listen to it.
I desire to craft lyrics that are easy to understand and sing along to yet still tell a deeper story or at least parts of one. Sometimes you can’t get everything out in 3-5 minutes so you have to make sacrifices.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
For me, it's really about letting go. There’s so many ways a song can go and so many different things one can say.
I’ve started trusting the front of my mind more and just letting the associations, images and words that pop up flow in the moment rather than denying them trying to look for perfection.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
Definitely. Sometimes the new ideas or even the first idea end up being ideas for another song down the line. I keep them in a “hidden gems” folder.
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
The creative state is communion with the universe, with the higher self.
In the past, I used music to ponder and attempt to call forth my true calling. I thought that God would show me what I was really supposed to do here while I was in that blissful state of playing with sounds.
Eventually I realized that it was my meditation, my language, my release, a conduit. When I’m in it, it feels like the world is silent and time flies by.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
The end is when I feel I can’t go further. Like does the track actually need more stuff or does it just need a mix? When I start to ask myself what I can do to take things to the next level and I don’t have the answers, I start to show it to my homies and labels.
And when I feel satisfied and can’t hear anything else its time to send it to the next stage to be finalized.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
Some tracks I sit with for a long time. Revisiting and listening with fresh ears after a few days. Showing the idea to homies. If there’s no deadline then it can go on for a long time.
"Altitude" I think I sat on for 3 or 4 years, going in and adding a new effect on the vocal, or retaking the bass line in the studio.
Once Young Art decided to sign it I went in and added some more sounds and samples. Tying in with the last question, I suppose nothing is really done until it's out there for the world to listen. And even then I might go back and redo the mix or make another version to play live …
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
Growing up I wanted to be like Prince. To play every instrument and do everything myself. I’m not as gifted but computers help fill the gaps.
I really like to have my hands in the entire process, even its just being there to direct another producer in the studio. Once we move to the mix/master stage I hand it off, going back and forth with revisions and doing my best to communicate what I need.
It's a balancing act to let go of the things you want and hear in your head and to accept reality.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
There’s something strange about releasing music.
You’ve listened to it countless times and played it out a ton before it got signed; the energy of the song has moved through me by the time it actually comes out. I’ve usually worked through the emotion or the vibe and then I’ve got to try to pass it on to the next person with enthusiasm.
Finding a new feeling can take time, I’m starting to just go for it and create things without always having the spark. Once you’re always making, when the big spark hits you’re already ready to go.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
Music is unique in that it can transport us through time and space in a very accesible way. There are a lot of times that we take for granted. Time just passes sometimes without us realizing the gravity of a moment or a situation.
With music, you can look back on the last conversation you had with your ex and it's like you’re there again. You can go back to a day that you didn’t have to wear a mask and enjoy the sense of ease, or the absence of unease. You can look forward and create a vibe, a scene, a party that doesn’t exist yet and take people there.
I think music amplifies the mundane and gives me a way to recontexualize it and see its beauty.