Just over a month ago, an email arrived at Popjustice HQ. It came from celebrated undergroundish electronic artiste Max Tundra. "I have some news regarding the comeback of a pop group," he wrote, "who are about to release their first single in 15 years."
Over a number of subsequent emails Max explained what was happening: he'd approached the members of legendary turn-of-the-century pop catastrophe Daphne & Celeste via Twitter, and they'd agreed to work with him on a new song, so he'd written a tune called 'You & I Alone', which the duo — who'd returned to the US after Daphne & Celeste ended, and were now living in LA and New York — recorded remotely, thanks to the magic of the internet.
On the understanding that the news couldn't come out until March 29 — when the song would be released — Max sent over a SoundCloud link.
The tune was bonkers and it quickly became obvious that we needed to speak with Daphne & Celeste immediately. So we got them on Skype…
HELLO! Where are you?
Karen: Celeste is in Brooklyn, and I am in Los Angeles.
When you’re not mounting the pop comeback of the century, what are you doing with your time?
Karen: I’m working on a TV show that I co-created with Bert V Royal, and we’re in the writers’ room right now. We’re starting to shoot on April 22 — it’s called Recovery Road. It’s about a teen girl who goes to rehab when she’s in high school. And it’s funny. It’s a drama with a lot of humour.
Celeste: Oh my God I was on mute! (Sound of dog barking)
It’s good to know that your professional approach to interviews hasn't changed.
Karen: It’s been so long since you interviewed us! We should be talking about LIFE and shit!
Celeste: We were the inspiration behind Popjustice weren’t we? Go on, admit it.
I’ve been waiting all this time for a band like Daphne & Celeste to come along. I just didn’t realise that when they did come along they’d be Daphne & Celeste again.
Karen: Neither did we! It’s so funny. I mean interviews were always our favourite thing to do.
Celeste: Almost all the situations people put us in were strange.
Karen: The stranger the better, really. That’s what made it interesting. The question we always had so much fun with was: ‘How did you guys meet?’ By the end of it all we had about 25 different stories about how we’d met.
Celeste: Our real origin story just wasn’t flavourful enough. It was so boring.
Karen: My favourite one was that I’d been an orphaned Russian child, adopted by Celeste’s family at a young age.
Celeste: And nobody would say, 'you’re lying. You’re not a Russian orphan' — because there was no internet!
And the actual way you met was…
Celeste: At the audition. (Laughs)
Karen: Now you understand why we made up stories.
What did the ad for the audition say? ‘We’re putting together the world’s most deranged pop band’?
Karen: Well there wasn’t an advert that we read in the morning paper. But the breakdown, and this is what my agent told me anyway, is that they were looking for fun, energetic girls with personality, to sing and be in this manufactured pop band.
With all due respect, even if I was auditioning for people with energy and personality, I’m still not sure I would have expected you two to turn up.
Karen: WHAT ARE YOU GETTING AT? Are you getting at the fact that we were unlikely popstars? Is that what you mean?
To be in a room with you attempting to conduct an interview was always a total shambles, and not just in an ‘oh here come the Spice Girls they’re a bit of a handful’ sense. In an ‘am I going to get out of this alive’ kind of way.
Karen: I get that. The people working on Daphne & Celeste had this deal with Universal, but they weren’t really from the pop world — they mostly worked on Massive Attacky kind of songs before we came along.
Celeste: The songs, originall,y were going to be hardcore drum ’n’ bass. Then it became… Different.
Karen: At one point they were planning to do a Gorillaz-style thing with the songs — where to anime characters were singing ‘Ooh Stick You’ and ‘UGLY’. And I’m pretty sure the reason we got the job was that we kind of looked like anime characters.
Celeste: And we both talked for a long time in the audition.
Karen: In fact, we never even sang at the audition. That’s my favourite part.
Celeste: We just talked. I don’t even know what I talked about.
Karen: I talked about shoes.
What did you think of the music?
Karen: Well at the audition, we’d prepared songs but we didn’t have to sing them. Then at the callback, and this is where Celeste and I first met, we did start dancing. Now we’re hardly what one might call a pair of Janet Jacksons. We’re not exactly dancers. And we were bopping around to this song they’d put on, and I do remember Celeste and I looking at each other and we were, like, ‘what is this?’. Months later it turned out that the song we’d been making weird faces about was actually our first single. (Laughs)
And then came ‘UGLY’. A song which may not have gone down so well in 2015.
Celeste: Imagine the comment sections!
Karen: The internet has changed everything. We would have been EVISCERATED.
Celeste, we didn’t chat about what you were doing these days.
Celeste: We’ll I’m raising a puppy called Bowie who’s 15 weeks old and he’s awesome. I have a music group and I’ve been acting in New York, plus I'm part of art communities and we throw guerilla-style parties in the streets. They’re called Choose Your Own Adventure parties. We have two old school buses, we’ve painted one pink and one blue. The New York scene is changing a lot, and because it’s hard to find warehouses we just do it in the street and move throughout the night.
Most former pop acts have quite a bad time of things when it all ends but it's good to know that you’re both doing the sort of things Daphne & Celeste should be doing in 2015.
Celeste: And now we’ve added Max to the mix!
Which now leads into some chat about the new single.
Karen: Well we did think, over the years, about whether we should do something again, just because we love working together. But this is the first time we’ve been offered something that we really liked.
What did you like about it?
Celeste: The thing is, a band like Daphne & Celeste — how do you make a comeback? I mean really. A band like us. How many people come back and you’re like, ‘ugh, I wish you hadn’t done that’. But Max’s was the first thing we'd been offered where I was like, if we were gonna do it, it's just weird enough. And it’s ended up being really fun.
Karen: It did feel like Daphne & Celeste, the early years. Or the only years. (Laughs)
And is this a one-time offer? If someone comes to you tomorrow and goes, ‘actually I’ve got a great song for you’, would you be up for that too?
Karen: We definitely have some stuff in the works but we’re just really excited to see what happens.
Celeste: We’re not closed off to anything but we’re not married to anything either. I mean Karen’s writing a show right now!
And Karen you just mentioned that you had some 'stuff in the works'?
Karen: Well we’re not usually great at keeping secrets. But Max has taught us, because we had to keep the release of this song a secret. But as soon as we can tell you more, we will. I promise. It would be funny if we came back every 15 years with one new song.
You made up lots of stories about how you met, but when Daphne & Celeste ended, how did you say goodbye to each other?
Karen: We wrote each other heartfelt letters. (Laughs) No, we didn’t.
Celeste: It was a lazy breakup. We didn’t know if we were in the group or not, it was very loose.
Karen: After we played Reading [Festival, where the audience weren't entirely sold on the idea of Daphne & Celeste] we definitely felt that was our crowning achievement. We weren’t going to beat that. We did have another song that we were going to release but after that we didn’t really have any more music. So there wasn’t new material, we weren’t writing it, and quite frankly I don’t know how I’d have written one of those songs. I mean our album, looking back on it now, was more of a comedy album than anything.
Celeste: You can’t say that Karen! The guy who interviewed us yesterday got very upset with me. He was like, ‘but it was serious! The music was great!’ And I was like, ‘er, but that’s WRONG’. He was very upset when I said that. ‘The songs!’ he said. ‘They hold up!’
I think if we’re honest here, yours was not a good album.
Karen: No!!! (Snorts)
Celeste: And our skits in between the songs were like five minute long! They weren’t even separated from the songs, you’d have to sit through the entire thing every time you listened to the CD! (Howls with laughter) Karen and I had a stroll down memory lane when I was in LA and we relistened to the CD, and we realised that our vocals were in different pitches on every song. My voice is all over the place!
Karen: I think it’s important, whatever you do in life, to be self-aware.
Singles aside, the album didn’t really suffer from too much attention to detail, did it?
Celeste: Well it was CLEARLY a concept album.
What was the concept?
Karen: We were actually commenting on current events.
Celeste: And future events. It’s almost Nostradamus-like in that respect.
Karen: You’ll have to go back and listen to it.
Celeste: ‘Hey Boy’, for example, was really a small statement on feminism, if we’re completely honest.
Karen: Someone asked us recently, ‘how long did it take you to record the album?’ And at the time it felt like we were in the studio the whole time. In actuality, it was probably about a week and a half. (Laughs) And I think you can… Er…
Yes you can tell.
Karen: I was holding myself back in light of Celeste’s faux pas.
So are there ANY unreleased Daphne & Celeste song in the vaults?
Celeste: There are a handful, actually, but we don’t even have access to those.
Karen: One of them was very much in the vein of ‘Ooh Stick You’ and ‘UGLY’. It would have been the next single.
Celeste: It was called ‘Party’ — sorry, ‘P.A.R.T.Y.’ — but it was never to be.
What did you do when you knew the band was over?
Karen: Well we both went home. Celeste was in New Jersey at the time and I was in New York. What was interesting was that Daphne & Celeste were never released in the US, so we had these two lives. At home we just had regular lives. When we first got back we both got back into acting and doing what we were doing before we were in the pop band.
Celeste: It was weird. It was like we’d auditioned for this gig, and we’d booked it. And it was kind of like we just, for better or worse, just went on to the next gig. We just continued.
Karen: We did go back a couple of times — like we did a show at G‑A-Y once. And what I loved was that whenever that would happen we’d just perform the same three songs.
What music do you both listen to now?
Karen: Celeste just got me into Warpaint. Celeste is my person who turns me on to new music.
Celeste: I’m going to see a band called Baked tonight, and I saw a band called Charly Bliss recently, it was like brat punk with a chick singer.
If you were asked to manage Britney now, what would you get her to do?
Celeste: I think she should mature gracefully into Sheryl Crow-type music.
Karen: I think she should be in a movie. A big comeback role in a movie.
Celeste: Did you really respond to her role in Crossroads?
Karen: Well no. But I don’t think you should base anything on Crossroads. I don’t think that movie is a good gauge for anyone’s abilities. She needs a kickass movie role.
Maybe there’s a role for her in your show?
Karen: THAT WOULD BE AWESOME.
And finally, what reaction are you hoping for when 'You & I Alone' appears?
Karen: Well it’s coming out of nowhere and we love that. Back in the day, the way you promoted singles was so different — the rollout was very specific. What’s cool about the age of the internet is that you can throw something out there and just see what happens. There’s no formula. It’s very exciting. We have no idea what’s going to happen. We’re just excited and curious — I’ll be interested to see what people think of this experiment.