The first photo I saw of Calista was of her perched on the edge of a grand piano, surrounded by hip, young, beautiful things, legs seeming to stretch up beyond her hot pants to her armpits, head thrown back, knee bent up, as if crunched into the split second before unleashing an earth-splitting howl of laughter, or to knee anyone who dared dispute her place as Queen of LA that night in the face.
“What?!” She queries when I tell her this. “I’m practically a dwarf! I’m two inches off legally being a dwarf!” I snort, as she nearly forces me to retract, giggling at her infectious delight at my description.
But she has the personality of a giant. How would you describe yourself, I ask. “Fabulous, a femme fatale, sophisticated, ballsy, a perfectionist,” she says. And I can’t disagree.
She’s also drama. High concept videos and live shows have earned her a reputation as an unrelenting force. Florence and the Machine roaring out a melody hanging off the lighting rig. Diamanda Galas without sounding like she’s swallowed a bag of sand. Tori Amos pounding notes out of a piano like a caress, if a caress was a sweet, true hammer.
She’s the child of classical music royalty (daughter of Chika and Paul Robertson, founder of The Medici Quartet). Royal Academy trained in classical and jazz piano. She’s been writing songs since she was eleven. She has a honed, intelligent sensibility when it comes to music and production. She’s flirted with commercial success, making international floor-fillers under pseudonyms which have caught the ear of everyone from Sir George Martin (who described her as ‘an undoubted talent’), Matt Lucas (who dubbed her ‘incredibly talented’) and Stella McCartney (who has used her tracks as catwalk openers). Nowadays though, she is carving out her own genre with a diamond-edged blade.
“I make pop-noir,” she says. “We call it pop-macabre. I like to make people think, and I like to make people laugh. I want to take them on a rollercoaster of emotions when they come to my gigs. I like to sing about things that people are thinking but are not ballsy enough to say out loud. I’ve been told on numerous occasions that a gig is a cathartic experience, so afterwards, people feel cleansed and uplifted.”
She has a live album under her belt, but has just finished a new EP, ‘Project: Love Me’. “I consider it to be my first proper EP,” she says. “This is the one that really excites me. I’ve worked with labels and managers who have tried to commercialise me, and this is the first thing that I’ve done where I’ve felt I’m really being me.
“I wanted it to feel really cinematic, so I’ve collaborated with Guy Degul, the award-winning film composer [whose credits include ‘The Last of The Mohicans’, ‘Mississippi Burning’ and ‘Cry Freedom’]. I basically harassed him every day until he agreed to work with me!” She says, cackling. “I’ve worked with some amazing people on this EP. Really talented people, including Nuno Fernandes [who has worked with Jeff Lynne, Procul Haram, London Grammar and Bryan Adams] and Dennis Weinreich [who has produced the Jackson 5, Wham!, Supertramp, Queen, The Walker Brothers and Wire]. I wanted a really big cinematic sound, sweeping strings. A sonic soundscape.”
It shows. The first single, ‘Poison’, was all that, and diva carnage to boot, in a video which draws blood, bites, and massacres a piano. It’s beautiful, shot in silhouette and close-up flare. Think early Lady Gaga, but ramp up the class.
So what’s bringing her to Maidstone?
“I’m doing a few dates round the UK this summer,” she says, “and then I’m taking a band to the West Coast of America with Chanel Samson in July, where we’re doing some unusual venues, starting with a Beverly Hills mansion and ending up in a boxing ring in Seattle, before a full UK tour in September. We’ll be back to Kent for sure.”
Article by Anna Morell