INTERVIEW: Kerli (2013)
Kerli isn’t an artist, she is a force of nature. The Estonian pop princess recently released her Utopia EP where she leaves behind the darkness and enters the light with a set of uplifting dancefloor gems. Her songs “Zero Gravity” and “The Lucky Ones” received massive club play for good reason – engaging lyrics sung with emotion over energetic beats. With her moon children following her, she brings love and energy wherever she goes.
DJ Ron Slomowicz: Congratulations on being #1 with “The Lucky Ones.” This is your second time, how does it feel to be so embraced by the club community?
Kerli: Thank you. It feels good but it is not about the charts, it’s about the music and the people.
RS: In your mind how would you define utopia? What is your utopia?
Kerli: For me it is really just about channeling only positive energy. I got a lot of negativity out with my first album Love Is Dead, and I have really been searching for good and light things in my life. I try to create my dream life because I used to have a lot of dysfunctional relationships. While I was writing Utopia I was on a spiritual journey and I have cleared my life of negativity and I am in a good place now and want to channel that.
RS: After listening to the old album and now the new album, there is a marked change from being very dark to very light, this also shows your spiritual growth.
Kerli: I think it shows where I’m at right now. I am already writing material for my 3rd album which is going to be totally different from the first two. I am always going to do something that people are not expecting.
RS: What was the story behind the song “Glow In The Dark” that you did with tyDi?
Kerli: I always had the concept of “Glow In The Dark” and have written like five different versions. I decided that I really wanted to nail the right version and when I met tiDy I knew that I wanted to work with him. He is such a great artist and her soundscapes are just brilliant, the song just came together.
RS: We keep hearing the term “Bubblegoth” – how would you define the meaning of that?
Kerli: “Bubblegoth” is like cute and dark put together. I take a lot of fashion inspiration from subcultures like goth, punk, and cyberpunk and I just invert the colors. When you look at my “Army of Love” video it is totally gothic fashion but in white and pastel colors. I am going to have a video out soon that will absolutely define bubblegoth.
RS: Is it for a song on the EP?
RS: Which one?
Kerli: I can’t tell you.
RS: So if you “Can’t Control The Kids” how are you trying to guide the Moon Children?
Kerli: “You Can’t Control The Kids” is actually about the Moon Children, I love them. Utopia actually leaked two months before it was released. There is nothing you can do today to control the kids, they want it and they want it now. It is an interesting time because you can’t keep anything under wraps. “Can’t Control The Kids” is about the power that the kids have these days, it is kind of like an anti-corporate song in the sense of the feeling that I was trying to channel. You can learn everything on YouTube and Google, anyone can be a producer or an artist. It is an exciting time for people that want to make things happen because it is more possible than it ever was before.
RS: With that in mind and with all of the producers out there how did you choose to work with Switch?
Kerli: The label just hooked it up. We hung out in Switch’s house and really connected and had a great time. He is very cool, real, and really doesn’t give a shit.
RS: Is he the one that you did “Sugar” with?
RS: Okay because when I heard it I was like “Oh my god this is 2-step garage, I haven’t heard this in forever.”
Kerli: Yeah I wanted to mix in different genres of dance because it was very four-on-the-floor for a while. “Can’t Control The Kids” has a little dubstep and there is actually another song that was done for the record that has some drum and bass and two-step. The idea from the beginning was to do a UK-feeling type of record.
RS: How did you collaborate with Seventy Eight?
Kerli: Seventy Eight are my boys, I love them so much. I was writing around Europe for a couple of weeks, and one day I was so over it and went to the studio. They played me a lot of tracks and I didn’t like the songs and I wasn’t feeling it at all so I suggested that we do something from scratch. We listened to Enya and Wolfgang Gartner for inspiration and we decided to take the hard electronic vibe and mix some ethereal elements into it. That was the day that “Zero Gravity” happened. We realized that we had a really special connection with each other. Actually, all of the songs on the new EP were done within one week in LA. I had some hooks like the “Can’t Control The Kids” hook, but when I work with the boys we have such a special energy and we really bring out the best in each other. I can’t write the songs without the boys and they can’t do it without me, so we have an interesting relationship.
RS: Very cool, I feel like you are interviewing me now. Going back to “Zero Gravity,” the video is absolutely stunning, is that a mythical story that you are telling? What is the story behind that?
Kerli: When I started writing Utopia I was listening to a lot of church, prayer, and spiritual music for inspiration. I love reading metaphysical books, and “Zero Gravity” is actually a modern day worship song for the air spirits called sylphs. The lyrics are written about merging with God and air spirits, it is like a musical offering. When you deal with the spirit world it is very important to be gracious and give offerings. I always have fresh flowers, incense, and candles in the house because scents are an offering to spirits. I wanted to create a piece of music that was an offering to the air spirits. The whole video is very airy and I had a vision that everything had to be light blue and cloudy with gold. All the crazy geisha outfits are handmade. I destroyed my last apartment making this video and I never got my security deposit back because we had to dip-dye the big skirts in the bath tub, it was a total mess. “Zero Gravity” is basically an ode to air spirits.
RS: You go from one extreme where it is a very high concept and your next video “The Lucky Ones” is more of a club video. I don’t want to say low budget, but it seems more accessible, did you do that on purpose because of the subject matter?
Kerli: Yeah, I did that on purpose. I had never done a real world video before this and it wasn’t very exciting to me. When I tried to come up with a super fantastical concept for “Lucky Ones” nothing felt right. I decided to just do one video that was more of the real world with simple fashion, I didn’t want to overshadow the simplicity of it all.
RS: Every time I see you, you are well put-together in a unique and creative way, where do your fashion ideas come from?
Kerli: I don’t know where the fashion ideas come from; they are just in the air. If I had to talk about my fashion icons they would be cartoon character and anime girls. I get a lot of inspiration from subcultures, candy kids, and cyberpunks. I could even get fashion inspiration from the couch we are sitting on. It is really everywhere, sometimes I go to Chinatown or Ross and look for interesting shapes. I recently ordered visors from eBay to make a top.
RS: Talking about the Candy Kids, when you played in Nashville last year for Pride you had a two-hour line of people waiting for you; it was like nothing that we had seen in the city. You had a lot of people coming from Kentucky and Alabama to come see you, is it like that everywhere that you play?
Kerli: People often tell me that they have driven in from somewhere so I try to hang out after the shows and spend quality time with people that have put in a lot of effort to come and see me.
RS: I absolutely adore “Chemical,” is there a specific story or person in your life that inspired it?
Kerli: I get a lot of inspiration from my friends. My one friend was madly in love with this girl and one day he said “Kerli, you don’t understand this love is more than chemical” I immediately said “okay bye, I have to go write.” It is not even my story and a lot of the stories that I write are not mine. I am just one human being and I don’t experience everything. It is like in acting, it is interesting to take on different roles and channel different emotions. “Love Me or Leave Me” is someone else’s story but every time I sing it, it makes me cry. I put myself in a lot of different bodies when I write.
RS: On that same idea of multiple bodies I have read more than once that you have been described as Bjork for the new millennium, how does that make you feel or how do you respond to that?
Kerli: That is amazing; I think that I am getting freer creatively. Bjork did her first solo album when she was 28 years old so to be compared to her is very big shoes to fill. I think that there may be a time when the comparison will make even more sense than it does now though. I have been feeling very free while I have been working on my new stuff.
RS: What would you like to say to all of your fans out there?
Kerli: All of my little Moon Children know that I love them and my message is generally to just get in and love as hard as you can and then get out, otherwise what’s the point.
RS: Does Red Bull sponsor you?
Kerli: No but they sponsor every place that I go. They actually helped pay for us to make the “Zero Gravity” video and also gave us wings.
Interview conducted during Winter Music Conference 2013.