Mustard had the pleasure of speaking with Cestari! Together we discussed learning the piano, being stuck in an elevator, their EP “Phases”, and so much more!
1. Mustard is grateful to have you join them at the Music Shelf. How are you doing?
Thank you for the opportunity, it means a lot! It’s been a busy couple of months but I’ve been doing well!
2. You began writing piano pieces at the age of twelve. What first attracted you to the piano? Can you recall the songs you wrote?
I first didn’t want to take piano lessons, I was around 8 when I was put into classes. It really wasn’t until a few years later in middle school when I started getting into the instrument. It all really started with a piano cover of Hello by Adele that got me into it. I would listen to it nonstop and was so determined to learn that exact arrangement, at the time I didn’t know the instrument could be played in such a meaningful way. For writing, I was initially attracted to the pieces of Ludovico Einaudi, an Italian pianist who writes mainly contemporary classical music. There was just something in that music that really resonated with me at the time. From there I would just write random piano pieces that, at the time, sounded very close to Einaudi’s work stylistically. As I grew up and listened to more music the more my style formed into what it is you hear today.
3. How soon after learning the piano did you begin songwriting?
I didn’t start playing around with lyrics and vocals until I was around 15. It was very inconsistent though, I would only be able to write a few lines that I’d be somewhat satisfied with. My vocal ability was practically nonexistent: I didn’t sing to any degree nor did I have any training or the confidence. I didn’t take vocals seriously until I was 17 when I joined the choir in my high school, which basically got the ball rolling for me. Around that same time I started making a conscious effort to take my lyric writing more seriously too. As my vocal ability and confidence grew, my consistency in lyric writing grew as well. I still believe that my songwriting is my weakest strength in comparison to my vocals and instrumental abilities, however these past couple of months have been the most productive months for my writing. All in all: I’m no writing expert or savant, however it’s something I hold as one of my greatest priorities.
4. What was your relationship with music growing up?
Honestly, my relationship wasn’t very serious until I took piano seriously. There were always different kinds of music playing in the house: Erykah Badu, Hootie and the Blowfish, U2, Eden, they’d all play in my house all on any given day. I guess I was always used to hearing different sounds, however it wasn’t till I was really touched by something where I realized how much it meant to me. I can still remember the first time I listened to a Mingus piece, it absolutely blew my mind that jazz can sound so intense and visceral. Since then my passion has really been to create something that is so emotionally powerful that you get the feeling of that “first listen” every single time. It’s something that has driven me to continue to develop my relationship with music and art as a whole.
5. What is your creative process?
My creative process is all based on improvisation and experience, however it’s not consistent. Any time I practice I always try to allot some of that time to play freely and see what happens, if something comes out that sticks to me then I write it down as best as I can. The time between the initial “discovery” and when a song is complete can vary: the tune and arrangements for Initiation off of Phases probably took an hour or two in total to write, however I have songs that have been working on for years that are in various stages of the writing process. For inspiration I try to take in as much as possible, go to a park, listen to music, read a book, take literally anything I could gain a personal connection with. If there’s something I may be slightly interested in, I’ll go check it out and see if I can form a personal connection. If the personal connection is there, it doesn’t matter where it came from or what it is, it holds the potential to create something transcendent.
6. Kamasi Washington, Tom Misch, and Charles Mingus are some of your influences. What song from each do you recommend humans check out?
For Kamasi, his entire album The Epic is a must. The textures and melodies are absolutely beautiful to say the least, but to cut it down to particular songs, Henrietta Our Hero, Change of the Guard, and Re Run Home are my favorites. Tom Misch’s NPR Tiny Desk concert is phenomenal, honestly one of my favorites out of that series, and It Runs Through Me live is always phenomenal. For Charles Mingus, Jump Monk was the first tune of his I ever heard, however nothing beats the arrangement of Moanin Mambo from the Mingus Big Band’s album Live in Time, the switch from swing to mambo is otherworldly.
7. You were one of 12 humans stuck inside an elevator. Were you able to successfully exit?
Only 6 of us got out…. Nah just kidding, it wasn’t anything like that. Me and my friends were leaving an open mic night and there was only one elevator. We have a habit of stuffing each other in one elevator, to minimize wait time. Turns out twelve people is the maximum, the elevator didn’t break or anything, but it was overwhelming to say the least. It was an experience that wouldn’t be kind to claustrophobes.
8. Last month you released your debut EP “Phases.” Could you share what it was like to put this EP together?
It was at first very calm, just writing arrangements of my own music and scheduling times to rehearse and record. Once it came to tracking, that’s when it hit me that the process was really happening. I had always imagined listening to my own music on Spotify or recording my music in a studio but it was there when I realized that it was actually happening. It was absolutely stressful from there on out, since I started recording in October and planned to release in May. Somehow we managed to get it all done ahead of schedule, which I’m incredibly grateful for. The musicians I worked with were absolutely incredible, and Leah (producer) and Andrew (engineer) are not only VERY talented and smart people but were also very open to working with this kind of music. Once it was all set to release it was such a relief, I had performed a release concert a week before Phases dropped and it was just surreal to actually share it with people.
9. What phases of you can be heard throughout the EP?
The biggest shift is between instrumental and vocal music. On My Mind isn’t vocal heavy by any means, however it is a shift into more vocal centric territory. The more I’ve listened to Phases the more it feels like a summary of the shift I’ve been taking the past year or so. I’ve been so heavy into instrumental music, I’ve only recently been diving into vocals as a means of expression. My next album will have more vocals, however the improvisation and heavy nature of my music will still be present.
10. The EP album art features a human laying on some rocks near the ocean. What role does the ocean play on your EP?
Thematically, I don’t hold nature or the ocean as a main point, this EP feels thematically like just a picture of me starting out: this is not me at my best, however this is me showing something fresh. Later on, this sound will progress into something that serves as a new way of musical expression for this style of music, and hopefully inspire creatives to explore their own capabilities both inside and outside of their native genre.
The ocean does peek in from time to time though: I wrote Greenery while I was in Oregon surrounded by nature, and On My Mind is always talking about the ocean as a meetup spot. Their inherent meaning within the song or Phases as a whole is up to you, I like the thought of providing the listeners the opportunity of creating meaning that fits their circumstance.
11. What is next for Cestari?
New music. I can’t say what my upcoming project will sound like but it’s going to lean into every aspect my music focuses on even more: improvisation, strings, musical freedom, etc. I have been listening to a lot of new music recently: Pharoah Sanders, Afro-Cuban music, Phoebe Bridgers, Samora Pinderhughes, and many others. If you want any hint as to where I’m heading, check out those artists, then imagine them all in one sound.
12. Do you have any upcoming shows?
While I’m writing this, I do not have any shows coming up. However if you want to keep up to date regarding my performance schedule, follow me on Instagram @cestari___ . Any announcements regarding shows, projects, and whatnot will be posted there.
13. Where can readers listen to your music?
You can listen to my debut EP Phases, on all streaming platforms. Look for the picture of me in a red sweater laying on the rocks at a beach.