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Kerli: success equals inner peace

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PHOTO: Brian Ziff

Born in Elva, currently residing in California, Kerli is slowly but surely trudging up the music mountain of world fame. The fresh Playboy (yes, the US original) kicked her interview off by stating that Kerli was one of the world’s greatest unheard of pop stars. With two Billboard dance chart tops, songs in Tim Burton movies. Well, not the top of the tops, but close enough. Not long ago, Kerli came out with a dancing-like Gothic Pop flavoured EP, Utopia.

PHOTO: Brian Ziff
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PHOTO: Kerli
PHOTO: Scanpix
PHOTO: Scanpix
PHOTO: Arno Saar / Õhtuleht
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PHOTO: Scanpix
PHOTO: Scanpix

Brisk and peaceful, Kerli gives the interview from her home bathroom in Los Angeles, looking out the window. Overlooking the famous Hollywood hills. The huge Hollywood letters, however, hidden by a big tree. Which is ideal for Kerli, as she’d prefer forest view anyhow. Such intro is typical Kerli, it seems. Taking wondrous things for granted; and vice-versa. Interviewing her, an impression is created of talking to a fairy tale girl – yet keeping her head cool and feet firm on the ground. A very dedicated artist, at any rate. With more on the inside than mere seasonal glamour.

So how’s it been lately? Would be a sin to complain, yes?

When asked how I’m doing, I don’t refer that to career at all. It’s rather a matter of inner peace. Lately, I’ve got more of that. And this is how I define success.

Listening to your latest EP, it’s quite contrasting to the previous album. Something seems to have changed, over the five years. Were you really all that different, at recording?

Yes. Really, and the titles say it all. Last one was Love Is Dead. Now – Utopia. So this is what I’ve been striving for these past four-five years. That the relationships around me would be carried by the energy of love.

I come from a place where I never inherited that. However, I have really been working at myself. Utopia is me trying to channel real positive energy. I often took friends to studio recordings. Just wanted them to be partying there, bringing loads of good energy along. Transmitting good energy – that’s the mission of the EP. As you drive to work, for instance, and the record is on, you get a positive kick for the day.

But, why EP and not full LP? You shouldn’t, by now, lack material?

I do indeed have material enough and the LP was ready by last March, so it’s the record company’s bullshit. So now it’s EP, but I hope I don’t have to be waiting for ages for the LP. I’m quietly busy working at my third album. Hope the interval won’t be five years any more. (Resolutely) I won’t let that happen!

Compared to Love Is Dead, Utopia differs in rhythm and sound, as well. Quite a clean, electronic dance album.

Yeah, for sure. But I tried to get everything in there. So it actually also has ballads, recorded self-made-style, in my bedroom. For me, it’s free motion. I’ve indeed been an electronic music fan these past years, as I like the energy created when performing at an electronic music festival. It really raises the roof; it’s cool to perform at places like that!

But then, it’s just a phase in my life. The next one will surely be different – so different no one will be ready for that. Promise. Every album is supposed to be a surprise.

So, on the one hand, you’ve found yourself. On the other – you keep on searching?

Not really searching anymore. Rather, it’s like the joy of creation, like an actor entering a role. With Utopia, I really tried to create a world like that, in my relationships, at home, everywhere. Totally living in that phase…

I have a really-really crazy idea for the third album I wanna do. Just like actors. If I take a role, then I go someplace for five months and lose 15 kg, for the person I play is 15 kg lighter.

I’ll really do something crazy on the next album, but that’s too early to tell.

Your outward image can’t be artificial. It’s too genuine, you must be in it – head over heels.

Yeah, I’m in it altogether. Make costumes for videos myself, by hand. I write all of the music. I work so much, so I try to have fun while at it. So, for me, work and fun go hand in hand, totally entwined. I try to live it out, before we have to leave here.

For some reason, I recalled an earlier interview with you, where you said something to the tune of «I only started to be somebody after realising I was nobody»…

Yes, and now I’d develop that thought further. I’m not trying any more to identify myself even with form, if you know what I mean? Making music is my career. When I go out, I find I don’t want to talk to people about what they might do in life. I want to talk about what they are experiencing, what they are learning from it – personally.

I’ve released everything… Just doing my best, every day. The rest is the big picture. Whether some things in life are meant for me or not.

Sure, in a fantasy world, one might do whatever, in a way. But there’s one thing one mustn’t do – to be a fake, to be insincere. Pretence will be spotted, at once.

Anyway, energy is such a real thing that if you believe in something, others will also. Having these tragic examples in history like Hitler, for instance, who really did believe and got others to believe it, however absurd it was whatever he was saying. The power to convince was so great, sadly, people went along.

You have to believe yourself. And be present, a hundred per cent.

In global pop music, you’ve already come further than any Estonian before. How does it feel at the top?

(Very calmly) I do not identify myself with my career. It isn’t important for me. What matters for me is to have peace on the inside.

Writing music at home, I’m made happy by what I believe. I’m filled with ecstasy and excitement, if something excellent comes out. I try to keep a focus at why I write my music. When I compose something great, it is a mega mega feeling for me. Whatever is being written about you or how the albums sell, that’s not important for me. I have distanced myself from that. So, when you ask, if the height gets my head dizzy – I don’t know. Never think about such things.

Looking at your recording company, the label has Frank Ocean, Jay Z, Jennifer Lopez, The Killers ... Quite a company!

Sure, but that hasn’t got anything to do with me. I can honestly say that the record company has, these last years, rather held me back than helped.

How much freedom do you have to decide? How often can you live out your fantasies?

My hands are quite free, really. When I need a cover for the album, they send me the money and say: deadline in three weeks. By now, I’m lucky to have gained creative liberty. But then again, if a song is unfit for them, as a radio hit, they won’t release it. So, these last years, I’ve had to plan a bit more, at times, how to say what I want to say – in a way they can sell it.

In my beliefs I make no compromise, but I cannot be naïve. It’s a large corporation with goals to achieve. I think it’s made me a better songwriter.

When I get into my third album, I’ll feel real free, creative, and will set absolutely no limits.

Let’s wait and see, then! How many people are there in this world that you can trust? Are there any?

Honestly, I wonder if I have any at all, whose advice I’d always take. There is a handful whose worldview and opinions I respect. Many things I do discuss with my team. We have many spiritual discussions.

I have total trust to nobody. Only myself. Sometimes I do it different than the team thinks necessary. I so long to meet somebody with all the answers. Not my luck, yet!

Well, that might make things too easy, perhaps. But – what’s up, talking about the near future?

I perform a lot, hope to have the LP out someday soon. Compose all the time. Have some fun joint projects going, not released yet. Hope to release a lot of music. This is the very thing I want to do.

Have lots of music sitting in my drawer... (Foxily) It’s not all gold, you know!

And Estonia...?

Had some chats about the summer, nothing definite yet.

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