Zooey Celeste

Restless Thoughts (ATO Records)

Contact Patrick Tilley about Zooey Celeste

Today, Southern California-bred musician Zooey Celeste signs to ATO Records, announces his debut album, Restless Thoughts, out November 3rd, and presents the lead single/title track. Produced and recorded by acclaimed artist Nick Hakim at his Brooklyn studio, Restless Thoughts centers on Zooey’s hypnotic baritone vocals, often set against a strangely potent backdrop of sparse drum-machine beats and droney guitar tones. The result is a fully-realized soundscape, a darkly ethereal palette which Zooey classifies as astral-pop.


Restless Thoughts takes its title from a song inspired by a particularly dramatic scene in Zooey’s novel, a metaphysical thriller narrated by the character of Zooey Celeste. “It’s a scene where the father of the protagonist has destroyed his marriage and left his daughter behind, and he’s going to meet his mistress and driving in a very suicidal headspace,” he explains. “He gets into a car accident, and two-thirds of the way into the song he’s floating above his body and watching as they’re trying to resuscitate him.”


Like many of the album’s songs, the gorgeously chilling track took shape in the throes of the novel-writing process. “I’d write a chapter and pick up my guitar and start writing songs based off the scenes I’d just finished,” says Zooey. “It’s funny because it’s the first time I’ve ever allowed myself to write from the perspective of a character, but it’s also the most authentic thing I’ve ever made in my life.”


Restless Thoughts is the real-life manifestation of its creator’s alter ego — an astral shaman responsible for leading the newly departed into the great beyond. After dreaming up the character of Zooey Celeste in a feverishly written novel he refers to as “somewhere between Quentin Tarantino and the Bhagavad Gita,” Zooey began working with longtime friend Nick Hakim (whose production credits also include Lil Yachty and Lianne La Havas) to create this ideal soundtrack for nocturnal driving, an immediate conduit for lasting transcendence. Alongside Hakim, Zooey enlisted a wide array of guest musicians to flesh out the sound of Restless Thoughts, including Unknown Mortal Orchestra bassist Jake Portrait, drummer Abe Rounds (Andrew Bird, Blake Mills, Devandra Banhart), and Columbian-Canadian singer/songwriter Tei Shi. Mastered by Heba Kadry (Ryuichi Sakamoto, Björk, Julianna Barwick), Restless Thoughts endlessly drifts between avant-punk and chamber-pop and lo-fi psychedelia, quickly drawing the listener into a sustained dream state.


Naming J.D. Salinger, Iggy Pop, and Tyler, the Creator among his inspirations, Zooey started writing songs at the age of eight after hearing The Beatles for the first time. Along with studying poetry and creative writing, he later took up guitar, piano, and harmonium and played in a series of indie-rock-leaning musical projects that ultimately proved unfulfilling. “We’d finish a show and it would be the best show we’d ever played, and I’d feel physically sick afterward,” he says. “People liking it made me feel bad, which is probably because I knew I wasn’t being my most authentic self.” After a seven-year stint in New York (where he first connected with Hakim), Zooey spent several years in Hawaii and devoted much of his time to surfing—an essential part of his life since early childhood. “I got addicted to surfing bigger waves at Sunset Beach on the North Shore and had a near-death experience where I went through a coral reef, and it changed my life in a lot of ways,” he says. “It took the air out of the wanderlust I’d felt for a long time, and brought me closer to the things I’d been running away from. Because of that, music went from being an escape to a base of reflection where I’m able to really sit with my emotions and process them and be totally honest with myself about what I want from life.”


With the release of Restless Thoughts, Zooey hopes to instill the audience with a similarly expanded sense of possibility. “Making this record showed me that if I’m not going beyond what the world has handed me as options, then I’m not being creative,” he says. “I went as far as I could with the process of self-exploration, and I felt fully supported in that—almost like everything was a little bit fated, or we were tapping into something in the ether. I’d love it if that inspired other people to go off and do whatever they feel compelled to do, and let themselves be completely entranced by it.”