Kerli Kõiv Interview
By: Mark Triana
Kerli Kõiv exploded onto the music scene earlier this year with the release of her first full-length album, Love is Dead. Though the album was released just this year, the Estonian beauty had spent the past seven years working on it, thus tracing the trajectory of her passage into adulthood.
Having lived through Soviet occupation, Kerli was greatly influenced by fairy tales, the proverbial portal to alternative realities. She has brought her distinctive blend of pop, goth, and experimentation to the United States, achieving a great deal of commercial success with “Love is Dead” and “Walking on Air,” the first two singles off of her album.
The Chicago Music Guide had the opportunity to speak with Kerli about her young and upcoming music career.
You had a great deal of success on Eurolaul, Estonia’s version of American Idol, when you were just fifteen-years-old. You were signed to Def Jam Records when you were eighteen-years-old. And now you’ve just released your first album, Love is Dead, at the age of 21.
Considering the amount of time it took from concept to actualization, what can you say about the process of making the album in conjunction with your maturity over those years?
KK: I believe that there is the right time and place for everything. And I am really glad that I hadn’t released an album until now. It was really difficult and frustrating at the time, but now I understand why the universe waited so long and put me through all these obstacles.
I simply wasn’t ready as an artist. But most importantly—I wasn’t ready as a person. I didn’t stand behind my vision the way I do now, and everything was much more about my ego and need for attention. It’s about people now. It’s about delivering something magical.
You’ve mentioned in past interviews that you have benefited as an artist by the fact that you did not listen to a great deal of music as a child. Would you mind explaining this dynamic in conjunction with the success that you’ve experienced in recent months?
KK: I don’t think you have to see or hear other art to create art. Music, for me, has always been born in silence, and the universe is the biggest, [most] endless source of inspiration. It’s like when u don’t have anything magical around you (or you don’t know how to notice it), you kind of start creating and making these things up yourself.
I started writing fairy tales and poems when I was about eight-years-old. It was my way to escape to a more beautiful reality than mine was at the time. And now I feel like I have to share that world with people.
I believe that whenever you stay true to yourself, you are going to get rewarded. We are always looking for beauty outside us—looking for inspiration outside us. But we have it all inside already. No need to look any further. The pot of gold is buried right under our doorstep.
You’ve credited Lauryn Hill, Björk, Bonnie Tyler, Sigur Rós, Anouk, and Nirvana as great influences upon your music. Considering how diverse this list really is, would you mind explaining how you’re able to effectively fuse these styles together in your own music?
KK: You know, music for me is just music. It’s too sacred to put it in a box, or to label it. I don’t even need to like the style of music, but if something is brilliant, you simply can’t deny it.
Like Walt Disney was a genius, like Einstein was a genius, Björk is a genius the same way. You might like it or not, but you can’t deny it. And I think that when we have an open mind, we are just like sponges for influence. I’ve always just followed my intuition when it comes to writing. I have no idea what I’m doing.
Considering the fact that many individuals from your home country, Estonia, associated your name with failure as a result of how long it took for your album to be completed, do you feel at all vindicated by the success you’ve had there and in the world abroad, or have you always felt that it was only a matter of time before your talent was realized?
KK: I’ve always just tried to keep the bigger picture in mind and not take any drama personally. People like to see failure. It makes them feel better about themselves. People who live in their comfort zone and never step out of that don’t realize that it’s hard and time-consuming trying to climb towards the top of the mountain.
You were a featured artist on Yahoo! Music, and you had a special performance of the second single off of your album, “Walking On Air.” What did you take from that experience? And how has it affected your fan base?
KK: Performing at Yahoo was one of my dreams, actually. When I was sixteen-years-old, I used to watch Yahoo’s Who’s Next with my sister and we’d scream, “Kerli! Kerli!” And now I was there—doing this. I normally don’t get that “oh my god” feeling anymore, but I did that time. I realized that I was actually given the opportunity to do what I’ve always wanted to do. I felt very honored.
For those that don’t know this, Kerli’s music video for “Walking on Air” was nominated for an MTV Video Music Award for Best Pop Video. The video features what appears to be a doll-sized version of Kerli alongside the Kerli we all know and love. Would you mind talking a little bit about the evolution, or devolution, of each “character” within the video? How did you originally arrive at the concept for the video?
KK: I had a vision and a book of images put together, and the treatment was written by Aggressive. They kind of had this dark Alice in Wonderland idea of a house where everything works differently than in the real world. It was almost like a representation of how things are in my head—my world.
They really embraced my fascination for creepy dolls, so they wrote the doll part in the script. We exchange souls in the video—so it’s kind of making fun of reality and what we think is real and possible.
In the end of the video, you see that the whole world is actually inside a little box. And who knows? Maybe our universe is just a cell in someone else’s body. However, this video was not trying to be overly deep. We were more interested in creating interesting and beautiful visuals.
Having lived in Estonia and Sweden for most of your life, what was the most interesting feature of the United States when you first visited at the age of 18?
KK: My first trip was to New York. I didn’t like it at all. It just seemed like too much pavement and tall buildings, and I had all kinds of crazy stuff happening before my showcase that was supposed to get me a record deal.
They lost my suitcase in the airport, so I had no clothes or hairbrush or makeup, and I had insane jetlag. So I went and performed to LA Reid, and I was so out of it. I acted kind of rude and couldn’t have cared less if my biggest dream came true or not. I guess he liked that I wasn’t kissing his ass. :)
You’ve mentioned in past interviews that your plans for your second album will involve more experimentation rather than a drawn out process of trying to find yourself? What sorts of experimentation are you interested in doing? Are you planning any collaborations?
KK: I’m actually always writing on my own, and I want to continue doing that. There are a few people that I really want to work with, but rather than working with big names, I just want to find young, insane people who nobody has heard of.
What I want to do the most is to heal people through music. You know, every frequency has a color—its own chakra, its own energy. I want to create a really conscious record where people are going to get blessed while they are listening to a pop song.
Would you mind talking a little bit about the concept of your street team, the Moon Children?
KK: I started Moon Children as a street team because lots of fans were asking about a street team. But then it started growing, and I thought it would be more satisfying to just create a community rather than have something that promotes Kerli.
So right now, it’s just that little page with its own little vibe and commandments, and some numbers for help lines. I just wanted to create a community for people who feel too much and find it hard to exist in this world, so that they wouldn’t think they’re crazy.
Apparently, you have a number of interesting tattoos that have symbolic meaning behind them. Would you mind describing the tattoos that you have and what they represent?
KK: I have five right now. I have these Chinese hieroglyphs that mean music. This was my first tattoo. My super-traditional mom actually got me an appointment as a birthday present for my sixteenth birthday.
I just wouldn’t leave her alone with it, so she told me that I could have a tattoo when I learn everything about China and their culture and religion, and report it to her. She thought she had given me some impossible task, but I did it and got what I wanted. :)
The second one is the initial of someone I loved, but someone who treated me so bad that I had to learn to love myself. The third one is a butterfly on my arm that symbolizes living one day at a time and never leaving people I love without them knowing how much I love them. And the forth and the fifth ones are writings on my arms in Latin.
The right arm says, “A friend of the human race,” because this is what I greet people with. And the left arm says, “Servant of God,” which helps me remember where I should get my inspiration. So it’s all about just being a vessel. It doesn’t have anything to do with me.
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