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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
About Me: Music journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie artists. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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Kerli Finds Love at Raves, & in Estonian Saunas
Tuesday, May 28, 2013

In a world of sameness, Estonian pop singer Kerli loves to stand out. From her music, to her outfits, to her personality, she is a brightly shining beacon of individuality.

With her latest album, Utopia, hitting stores in March, I caught up with the unique pop singer and learned about her struggles with happiness, the spirituality of her new music, and her unique relationship with her fans. Kerli also discussed Estonian sauna culture, and, spoiler alert, it involves towels, and light swatting!

Adam Bernard: Your sound has been evolving from having a pop vibe, to being more dance oriented. What kind of experiences have you had in your life that have led to these changes in your music?

Kerli: When I was little in Europe dance music was really popular. It’s more of a new thing here in the States. My EP is called Utopia and it’s about me trying to find Heaven on earth, and making the commitment to myself to be happy, or at least try to be as much as possible. There’s actually a lot of ballads and other pop stuff that I’ve created, too, but somehow (dance music) just felt natural. I like writing really spiritual, personal, lyrics, so dance music, to me, it’s really spiritual when you go out and perform raves, it’s all about the love and the energy. It just feels natural.

Adam Bernard: You mentioned spirituality and happiness. What does happiness mean to you?

Kerli: Happiness to me is a constant struggle because I think it’s something that you choose. I think happiness is a choice. It’s also a full time job to check on your feelings, and emotions, and thoughts, constantly to make sure that they’re coming from the love space, not from the fear space. Whatever you do, if you want to do it well there are a lot of real world problems, and pressures involved, and me as a person always comes first, then me as a musician, that comes second.

Adam Bernard: A lot of people would look at you and say you have this blessed life, you’re on stage, you’re performing, you’re doing what you love, how could this person possibly struggle with happiness?

Kerli: Yeah. I am very lucky that I get to do what I really like doing for a living, but I just think that what somebody does, or who somebody is, their sex, their age, where they’re from, all these factors, I think, are kind of irrelevant to who we actually are inside, which is this nugget of God trying to be a good human being in the world. I feel a lot of people go through their lives and never even think about if they left a legacy of love, or not, so I take every moment seriously.

Adam Bernard: With all that in mind, what do you think this album will tell people about you that previous efforts didn’t reveal?

Kerli: This album isn’t even so much about me wanting to say something about myself. When I was in the studio creating this music I would have people over to party. Me and the producers would be working, but we’d have friends over to bring good energy, and the songs are messages, like I have one song, “Here and Now,” it’s about appreciating the moment, and I have a song called “Lucky Ones,” which is also about appreciating the moment. I have a song called “Can’t Control The Kids,” which is more of a badass twist on how the internet has taken over the world, and how these big corporations are freaking out that anybody can become whoever they want to become just by having a laptop and their bedroom. That song is about the power that the kids have right now. I’m kinda watching the world and saying things that I feel people need to hear.

Adam Bernard: Did anything surprise you when you were writing and recording this album, either about yourself, or what you were saying?

Kerli: I wrote my first album, Love is Dead, and it was very fragile, so every time I sat down to write a more submissive song, or a song that didn’t have a really positive message, I wrote like four bars and I gave up on it. It physically felt wrong to me to not put a good message out in the world.

Adam Bernard: You went from the fragility of Love is Dead to being kick ass on Utopia. Was there a switch that was flipped in you, or is this just a natural evolution for you?

Kerli: I wrote it over a couple of years, so I personally, as a human being, have definitely gone through a really huge transformation, so therefore the message and the sound also has. I’m not in a place anymore where I want to be miserable, because I don’t have time for that. It’s nice to sometimes feel defeat, but then you pick yourself up and you go again. I don’t dwell on negative thoughts, or negative emotions.

Adam Bernard: Was there an instance, or event, that you think made you have that new attitude?

Kerli: I just think that when I made the first album I was completely beaten down by my upbringing and by circumstances. After a while you’re laying there and you’re just like “am I gonna stay like this, or am I gonna start seriously working on myself to change myself and therefore change my reality,” so it wasn’t like one thing that inspired me, it was just like wow, I could be living the life of my dreams and it doesn’t even have anything to do with how many people like my single, or what I do. It doesn’t have anything to do with these things, it’s inside me. I can choose to look at the world and find Heaven, or I can choose to look at the world and find hell, so I made a promise to myself to always look at the world and see heaven.

Adam Bernard: That’s a great outlook on life. Seeing hell is not fun.

Kerli: That’s the thing, all I care about is just living life. Making music, that’s incredible that I get to do it, and I’m the happiest when I create music, but just the human development, for me, is the most important thing.


Adam Bernard: You mentioned with your first album you felt beaten down by your upbringing. What was the toughest hurdle you had to overcome?

Kerli: Everything I was taught. When I started traveling as a teenager I realized wow, people don’t really live like I live, and I don’t want to live like I have lived, and I don’t want my kids to live like I lived. It’s super personal, so I’ve actually not even talked to fans about everything that happened, and I don’t really want to identify with that person, but I think that a lot of times when people go through hardcore stuff it’s when it actually inspires them to seriously pursue becoming better.

Adam Bernard: And from pain oftentimes comes great art, and on the subject of art, you are creative musically, and fashion-wise. What kind of influences did you have that encouraged you to embrace your creativity?

Kerli: I was brought up in Estonia in a really really small town where the mindset was nothing was possible, so to me, being brought up surrounded by people who never strived for anything bigger, and didn’t do anything creative, I started writing books and poems and songs when I was really little. I guess it was my way of trying to create my whole world. Every time I went outside to play other kids would come with two Barbies, and I would come with like everything that I had in my house to build an epic set for playing. I had friends helping me carry things to the playground. It’s funny because I tell my mom I’m still exactly the same, I just have cooler stuff now.

Adam Bernard: At any point in your life has your creativity gotten you into trouble?

Kerli: I was constantly in trouble when I was little because I was questioning. I looked around and things just felt wrong, but I hadn't seen any different so I didn’t know, or I couldn’t express why it was. As a teenager I was like the first person in my town to start wearing piercings and crazy colored hair and weird DIY clothes. I was basically the same person (I am now), just in surroundings that were not supportive of who I am.

Adam Bernard: Speaking of support, you connect with your fans on a personal level, doing Livestream and Google+ chats on a regular basis. What do you enjoy most about the relationship you have with your fans?

Kerli: When somebody comes to you and says “you saved my life,” that is just really epic to hear that you just made something in your house and somebody didn’t kill themselves because of the song you wrote. Oftentimes when I get discouraged about my career, or whatever, I talk to the moon children, they make me feel like what I’m doing is worthwhile. When you make music, or art, for a living, in an ideal world I would make it and just put it out there for them. Oftentimes you make music and there are all these other people involved, corporations, and it takes like a year to come out, so it’s discouraging that you can’t just make it and give it to the people, so sometimes when the politics and all the bullshit really gets in the way I get discouraged like wow this is really difficult, but then I talk to the fans and they make me feel like it’s all worth it.

Adam Bernard: Switching gears, I read you’re a big fan of anime. What are you watching right now?

Kerli: It’s not like I’m sitting at home watching anime, it’s just visually it’s one of my biggest inspirations when it comes to fashion. Cartoons and anime. I think Sailor Moon is my favorite character. She’s one of my biggest fashion icons. Oftentimes, this is actually really funny, when I do video treatments, I see it all in my head, but I need to submit the treatments to my label for them to get a grasp of it, and it’s super hard for me to find reference pictures because usually when I reference fashion it’s just a bunch of pictures of cartoons and then I have to go and sketch it and make it because I can’t buy it anywhere.

Adam Bernard: When you make a video how much extra work do you put into it because your imagination is running wild?

Kerli: Before I shoot I probably work for a couple of weeks every day on it just making outfits. Say there are 40 extras, I know which shoe every extra is wearing. If the shoes are wrong on an extra I’m stressed out.

Adam Bernard: You must be really fun to be around in the weeks leading up to a video shoot.

Kerli: {laughs} Not at all. I started making videos with two of my best friends because everything else is just too complicated. We did “Lucky Ones,” and we’re about to do two more. I was up all night finalizing one treatment, which is going to be a lot of DIY stuff again. Usually I shoot the video and my director gets an email every morning with 60 notes until they’re like “we’re turning it in today, we can’t change anything anymore,” and I’m like “that one flare in 256...”

Adam Bernard: You said you work with friends. How on earth do you have friends left after all this!?

Kerli: They love me. I'm good to my friends. I cook foreign food.

Adam Bernard: Do you have a specialty?

Kerli: I cook a lot of Russian food.

Adam Bernard: Wow, I haven’t had a lot of Russian food.

Kerli: Really? You’re from New York. You guys have it. Do you ever go to Russian spa? They have saunas and stuff in New York.

Adam Bernard: Isn’t that just a bunch of dudes in towels?

Kerli: See, you’re American, you don’t understand it. {laughs} Here in Estonia the whole sauna culture is really big.

Adam Bernard: I’ve just never said, “Hey, let’s all hang out in towels!”

Kerli: {laughs} See, to me that’s like Heaven. That’s like the funnest thing I can think of doing.

Adam Bernard: So basically your idea of a good time is making music while hanging out in a towel.

Kerli: Yes, in a towel, and we also do this thing in Estonia where we’ll collect fresh birch branches and bundle them all up, then you soak them in hot water and when we’re in the sauna we beat each other with them.

Adam Bernard: What!?! This sounds like a punishment.

Kerli: One lays down and then the other one will beat the person with it. It’s just great. {laughs} It has leaves and it’s soaked, so it’s really soft. It's supposed to bring the toxins out of your body.

Adam Bernard: That is the coolest story I will hear all day, possibly all week, so thank you for that. Finally, you are talented, you are creative, you are cool, you hang out in a towel, do you have a famous crush that one day might get to be your Mr. Right and do all of this with you?

Kerli: You know I never had celebrity crushes because to me it’s more involved than someone looking cute on a picture, but if I was lesbian I would probably like to go on a date with Lena Dunham. I think she’s so talented.


Interview originally ran on SubstreamMusicPress.com.

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