I caught up with Estonian pop singer Kerli, a current signing to Def Jam records, to talk about her inspirations and what it is like relocating to America.
Bill: Who are your most important inspirations for your music?
Kerli: I wouldn't personalize my inspirations. It's not even about musicians who have inspired me. What has inspired the most I think is my upbringing and how the surroundings were so very hellish and so beautiful, how people were so restricted. So that I guess has molded me the most. You know people will say that a painter doesn't need to see another painting to paint. So me as a songwriter...I don't think songwriters need to hear music to write music.
I mean I was exposed to a lot of classical music as I studied classical piano. My parents were never music lovers, and I wasn't really exposed to art or movies or any music really. It was more about...I had to create my own fantasy.
Bill: What really started you writing songs? How did that begin?
Kerli: Let me think about it. The first song I wrote when I was like 13 years old, and it really sucked..I don't know. It just came naturally I guess.
Bill: And you played the piano?
Kerli: Yes, yes I did. When I really started...I first got signed when I was 15 years old, and back then I had no idea that I could really write music. I wasn't even thinking about it, because I wanted to be more of a pop star than like a storyteller or a messenger. But over the years I've grown much as a person, and now I feel like I do have a mission rather than it being about me. So music is just my way to communicate, and it's easy to communicate in music, because the whole world understands music. It's kind of like a language of God. It's kind of like a sacred, universal language. Everybody understands.
Also, you can be bold writing music. You can say things that you wouldn't say. So it's kind of like a freeing experience writing music.
Bill: How did your first trip to America happen?
Kerli: This all goes back to when I was 15 years old I won kind of like an Estonian Idol, and I got signed to Universal Sweden. The guy who signed me got fired, so I got dropped, and then he created his own company that went bankrupt. By that time 2 years had passed and I began seriously writing music. Somebody in Stockholm, a publisher, heard my music and they were like, "Let her come by and write with our writers." Then from 16 to 18 I spent time just going back and forth Estonia to Sweden and just writing writing writing music. When I was 18 somebody from here, somebody from Def Jam, heard my demos and they were like, "Can I come check her out?" My A&R came to Stockholm, and he heard me, and he invited me to New York. So that's how it happened.
It's been 7 years since I first started. It's been a crazy trip. That's what I really want people to know, too. It's not that you have a dream and it just happens. It's hard work, and it's a lot of time. The bigger you dream the harder it is to really achieve. The road uphill is so tough, but you know the view is worth it.
Bill: Do you plan to stay here in America?
Kerli: I don't know. I kind of like the freedom. Living here I feel like I'm making up for my childhood now, because I was always a very passionate, very over the top person, and my surroundings were still like the Communist mentality. Everybody was supposed to be equal and the same. You really couldn't shine. It was like a break your spirit mentality. So here I feel like I'm really making up. A few months ago I bought this Barbie tent, and I put it up in my living room because I could. We didn't have like bright colors, and I feel like I can finally be a freak, and I can be myself. You know nobody tells me that I'm wrong, and it's really really empowering. I feel like I've grown, because the society here is so free of restrictions that I feel like I've grown more in a year than I did in Estonia in 5 years.
The soil is rich here. You're like a free plant, free to grow. There's a difference. When you take a seed of a rose, the flower, and you plant it in a little dark room like that kind of environment in Estonia, the rose is gonna grow crooked. But when you let it grow in the field in the sunshine then the rose is gonna be blossoming, and it's gonna be beautiful. It's still a rose, but the environment really really matters.