Local Malibu performer ‘goes big’

Celeste, left, performs with her late sister, Sabrina Csato, at the Chili Cook-Off in Malibu. Sabrina was killed in a car accident by a drunk driver in 1998. Since then, Celeste has pursued her musical career with her sister's words, "go big," echoing in her mind. She will play at the Malibu Inn this Thursday, and at the Viper Room Saturday.

Grieving the loss of her little sister and enduring struggles of keeping a band together, Celeste Csato finds partnership with her latest band and a little something extra.

By Candice Arciaga / Special to The Malibu Times

After the loss of her sister, 16-year-old Sabrina Csato, in a 1998 car accident caused by a drunk driver on Pacific Coast Highway, Celeste Csato made a promise to her little sister to “go big.” Since then, the elder Csato has been on the move, from recording, to starting a new band and planning her late summer wedding.

Malibu resident Celeste Csato, who goes by the stage name Celeste, will be playing at the Viper Room this Saturday, with a show beforehand taking place Thursday at the Malibu Inn. This will be Celeste’s first live show in more than two years. Her band, also called “Celeste,” has also been booked for the second annual Malipalooza event, taking place in June.

The long, blond-haired, blue-eyed vocalist described the four-member band’s music as “pop-rock, rock-pop,” with Paul Grundman on drums, Robert Richards on bass and James McCrone on guitar.

Celeste, who had previously played at the Viper Room with her old band, also called “Celeste,” and as a backup singer for various performances last summer, is happy to be playing one of her first gigs with her new band at the legendary rock nightclub on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. The place is known for big-time performers, from Tom Petty to Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, Lenny Kravitz to Pearl Jam and Iggy Pop, as well as cult underground favorites.

“The Viper Room is one of my favorite places to play. It has that Hollywood rock n’ roll feel, and the place has got a reputation,” Celeste said. “It’s definitely a place that has a lot of energy. You feel like a lot of big people have played there, because many have.”

Performing since she was a child, auditioning for the TV show “Star Search” at the age of nine, and working professionally thereafter, the singer and songwriter has released a new song on iTunes entitled “Angel,” from her Angel EP, which was a runner-up in the Unisong International Songwriting Contest, and is about her late sister Sabrina.

Sabrina was part of the original incarnation of the band “Celeste” as a backup singer. The two sisters had performed together many times locally at such venues as The Malibu Inn and at the Chili Cook-Off, as well as on television and film.

Celeste recounted the days after Sabrina’s death: “I couldn’t even breathe, for six months I was constantly taking in air. When I sang for Sabrina’s funeral “The Wind Beneath My Wings,” my singing went to a whole new level. I was trying to be strong, because you’re numb at first after losing someone, and then it’s painful and so on. The music occupied me, kept me going. One of the last things Sabrina said to me [before the accident] was ‘You need to get going, you need to go big.'”

Celeste has had records produced in the past, only to be shelved. She has worked her way through several band members, too. Finally, she feels that she has a band that will work well together.

“There’s an ageless connection between band members,” drummer Grundman said about the band’s camaraderie. “We’re always listening to each other no matter how much we’ll practice a song. Each song and every performance is dependent on our ability to have a commitment to support each other. No mutinies. We are like one entity. I guess this is likely the case for any great band. It’s just taken so long to find one.”

Aside from producing and playing with “Celeste,” Grundman is also the mastering engineer and technician’s assistant at his father’s studio, Bernie Grundman Mastering, the managing director at Straight Ahead Records, the Los Angeles and Orange County representative for 9:fish Surfboards, and a freelance producer, engineer and writer, all while being Celeste’s love interest.

“I knew right away when I started dating [Paul] that he was definitely the guy,” Celeste said. “A lot of artists keep their romances a secret … to keep the mystery, I guess. We were enjoying where we were at, and I guess he decided this is it, it’s time.”

Grundman proposed to Celeste on Valentine’s Day. They plan to marry in August.

Although there were family connections between Celeste and Grundman’s family-his father, Bernie Grundman, has been going to Celeste’s parent’s hair salon, Le Studio, in the Pacific Palisades for many years, and he has mastered Celeste’s previous records. And Celeste and Paul Grundman attended the same grade school, just a few years apart. It wasn’t until Celeste’s mother and manager, Alexia Csato, heard Paul playing drums that he was introduced into the picture eight years ago.

“We had a business meeting, and we became band mates, strictly professional,” Celeste said.

It wasn’t until the two were doing a recording that Grundman came out from behind the drum set.

“It was divine intervention; Sabrina must have come down from the heavens and smacked me in the face,” Celeste said. “[Paul and I] were doing a recording and all of a sudden I hear him playing the piano, so I said, ‘You play piano. You’re the drummer, who are you?’ Then my eyes just started opening. I started thinking, ‘you’re kind of cool.’ We would joke and talk, and I was also doing my vocal tapes at the time and we didn’t have a producer, so he could see I was struggling and getting frustrated, and he would take the mike and make jokes, and helped me produce my vocal tapes.

“There is always one person that needs to be behind you,” Celeste continued, “obviously we have a good understanding, and he understands I have to be the front person, he’s great like that … He’s really cool, always encouraging me to go out and do my thing, so supportive, and because we worked together for so long before, we even had a relationship we know how to work. Now that we’re together, the music has intensified ten times.”

The “non-diva diva,” Grundman said describing his soon-to-be wife. “[She] is the easiest person to work with. I always believed in her from the beginning, from the very first note. I knew I was going to be playing for her.”

Talking about Celeste’s work, Grundman said, “We’re seeing a maturity occur, someone turn into an incredible artist. What you see in a lifetime career artist. You’re putty in her hands.”

“Celeste” will perform Thursday, May 29, 10 p.m., at The Malibu Inn, 22969 Pacific Coast Hwy. Tickets are $13.50; and Saturday, May 31, 9:30 p.m. at The Viper Room, 8852 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, California. Tickets are $10. More information about the band Celeste can be obtained online at www.celeste.us.