Tue, 19 Feb 2008 10:39:44
With how jaded, bored and disillusioned today’s kids have become, someone desperately needed to craft a fairytale for the MySpace generation. Thankfully, it was Kerli. Telling stories through vivid and poignant lyrics, her music transports the listener, combining entrancing electronics and dark, infectious hooks. She channels dreamy trip hop along with raw alternative rock for a personal style that can only be described as unforgettable. The songs are inviting, yet honest, with a sound somewhere between Portishead and Fiona Apple. The music crescendos from haunting whispers to huge melodies, often in the same song. Hailing from Estonia, she brings a fresh perspective and builds a world for listeners to explore. Examining emotions from love to loss, Kerli traverses a fine line that few artists can. She sat down with ARTISTdirect to discuss her forthcoming Island/Def Jam debut Love Is Dead (4/22/08), building new fairy tales and how to make art that will last.
On Love is Dead, it seems like you blend a lot of different styles, from Electronic music to alternative rock and pop, creating your own sound.
This is really weird, and I always feel like an asshole when I say it, but when I grew up, because I'm from an Eastern European country that used to be Soviet, when I was little, we didn't have any music. So it's really weird for me to say, but people are always like, "Who are your influences?" I don't know. It's like I have no idea [laughs]. A lot of music touches me, but I haven't listened to a lot of music in my life. I believe that music begins from silence really, and you just feel it. Something just feels right.
That's a good way to describe it. You channel emotions rather than musical influences. You also cover a whole spectrum of feeling rather than one vibe.
This record took me a really long time to make. First of all, I grew a lot, and second, I’m a human being. I'm not just dark or light, and I'm not just sad or happy. I'm all. I have all of these emotions, why wouldn't I put them all in my music? Why would I pigeonhole myself?
Exactly, you can explore everything, and make your music a cohesive journey. The songs are connected with a thread.
Some people, at first, were like, "We don't really understand? What are you doing, exactly?" They thought it didn't really make sense together, because it was really dark, and then it was really light. I was just like, "I can't take being one or the other. It's like I can't take half of me away, you know?” So it can be a little confusing, but I hope that, at the end of the day, it makes sense.
Listeners can develop a personal relationship with your music and delve into it, because it is so emotional. It’s more rewarding for fans that way.
Yeah, that's what I've always really wanted to do. I never wanted to be the coffee shop music that just sits in the background. I really want to connect to each person that listens to it. I'm telling a story, and to really hear the story, you have to sit down and listen. Then, you will get something out of it. If it just passes by, it doesn't work.
Songs like "Bulletproof" and "Walking on Air,” are very visual. Were you a visual artist too at all? Do you paint or do anything like that?
Well, I don't really paint, but I love doing little video things. I really want the visual part of what I do to be really strong. When I perform, I want people to come to my show, and be like, "Oh my God, I'm in another world." I have all these visuals in my head, I always have. I want to create a world.
The fairy tale comparisons you draw are especially powerful, because classic fairy tales always were dark in some way.
Yeah, they actually were. When I was little, I was really addicted to books, and I had all these old Estonian and Hungarian fairy tale books. In those stories, people died all the time or got punished. And when they were sad, they would cry a sea of tears.
Well, the tales were often meant to teach children lessons.
Yeah, exactly. It's so dramatic, maybe that's were my drama comes from, because I read so much when I was little. I actually started to read, when I was two-years-old. It's kind of a crazy story. Whenever my mom tells that to anybody, nobody believes it.
So you were able to actually read when you were two?
Yeah, and I was really tiny, so people always freaked out around me, because they thought that I was like six months old [laughs]. And I would go around reading all of the signs from buildings and be like, "Auto repair!”
That's amazing. It seems like you’ve had that urge to create a world forever: something that reflects our world, but is still an escape.
Yeah, well you know what, this world really is heaven, you know? It is beautiful here, but it takes time to push yourself to grow to that place where you actually are able to see that beauty. It's a long and hard journey, but when you get to that place, it's amazing. Every person really is beautiful. There is something in everyone. Not that I'm trying to say that murderers are right to do what they do, it's all a choice. People are given an amazing amount of creativity and an amazing amount of talent. It's just a matter of which way they go: light or dark. It's just where you put that potential, which way you go. It's really easy to go the dark way, that's like the easy way out.
It definitely is. It's totally a choice like you said. I think that that's something that you explore really well on the album. On a song like "Love is Dead," there’s obviously a dark theme, but at the same time the song is really beautiful and catchy.
I love hooks. You know what, I just read this review yesterday, and somebody was like, "At first, it looks like Kerli's music is cool, but then you start to listen to it, and it's not real. You can hear all these hooks and the big, major label budget." I like hooks. I do that on purpose. It's not like somebody told me to write hooky songs. I want people to remember my music, you know? It's not that it takes away from the credibility.
Your music is honest, and that comes through. What’s your approach to songwriting like?
Writing songs is crazy for me. I always carry a notebook with me, my computer and a little recording device. I get at least 10 ideas everyday, and I'm always writing them down. So I'm always writing songs, you know what I mean? By sitting at the subway, if I look at a little kid and I'm like, "Oh my God, I see eternity in his eyes," and then I write it down. It's just everywhere to me. I write a lot of my thoughts down.
So it's more like you are writing free form?
Yeah. I have a notebook I write everything in. But sometimes I also start with a melody. It's just whatever comes to me. I can just sit somewhere, and suddenly this melody starts playing in my head. Lately, it's like I close my eyes and imagine a picture. Then I start following the picture with my voice, so I’m actually painting that picture with my voice. I just don't limit myself, and I can go to all of these places. It’s really exciting.
That fairy tale vibe that has inspired you, it definitely comes through with the album. It allows people, when they listen it, to go somewhere for a little while.
Well, I try. I think I'm going to be able to do that even more with the second album. I actually can't wait to write a new album already.
You said that a lot of these songs have been around for a while. You've worked on this record for a long time; when did you really start working on it?
When I was 16, I somehow ended up in Sweden writing music. I got my first publishing deal, and then I just wrote for two years without knowing what was going to happen. I wasn't signed, and I didn't have any money. I just moved there and wrote. I just kept going. And then when I was 18, I got signed, but it's been five years since I started writing these songs. Some of the songs, like "Bulletproof," I wrote when I was 17.
So you've just been really just immersed in music, especially writing, for the past five years?
Yeah, and it's just been a journey. It's really funny when people look at it. Of course, I'm just taking the first step right now, and I'm nowhere yet. Whenever you really want to be respected and really stay true to your vision, it takes like 10 years before you get somewhere, and it's hard work everyday.
You can really accomplish anything you want as long as you're willing to work hard.
Absolutely. The sky is the fucking limit, or even further.
On the record, you capture something tangible and real.
I try. That's what it's about. It's not about me standing up on the stage looking all hot. It's about serving people. I do it for the people. It's not about me. It's not like I'm some selfish piece of shit.
Not many artists do take that much pride and care into their work anymore, but you definitely do.
Well that's because they're performers. They're not artists. I want to be an artist. That's what I want to be known by. I want to be 65 and still able to make music. It's all about music to me.
You've got to look at it this way: real art always lasts.
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