Interview: Kerli – Singer and Songwriter

Posted: May 8, 2008 in interview, music
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Date of Interview: 05/08/2008

© 2008 Clayton Perry

How Kerli Kõiv—a blonde-haired singer from Estonia—landed an audition with L. A. Reid is beyond comprehension.  Her debut album, Love is Dead, however, will make the world readily welcome similar cases of happenstance.

Few artists leave a lasting impression, especially on their major label debut, but Kerli’s coming is seven years in the making.  Like its artist, Love is Dead is daring, edgy and beautifully creepy, and with an uncanny sense of confidence, Kerli boldly shares the struggles and triumphs of a complicated life.  Even when embracing the dark, Kerli shines bright—giving hope that love, in due course, can resurrect from an unfortunate death.

Upon review of Love is Dead, Kerli managed to squeeze some time out of her busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry — reflecting on her love of tattoos, “Butterfly Cry,” and her native country of Estonia.

Clayton Perry: Your debut album and lead single both bear the name of “Love is Dead.”  How did you select this title, and what special significance does it hold with you?

Kerli: Every song that I write is like a page out of my diary, because my art is where I pour my heart out. “Love is Dead” started off as a love song about somebody who broke my heart, but the more I listen to it and live with it, I understand that it’s more than a love song. It’s about the world and my upbringing and everything around me. I feel like there is very little heart left in this world, so that’s why love is dead. It’s not really, but everybody’s going crazy!  There are wars going on and we live in a materialistic world.  I believe in light, and there is light at the end of the tunnel.  Right now, it only feels like a little slap in the face.

Clayton Perry: Well, the light shines through on Love is Dead, and your album has a delicate balance between the light and the dark. I really liked the raw emotion you share on “Hurt Me,” but then I also enjoyed the joyful vibe on “Walking on Air.”  Is there a particular experience that you were going through that shaped a lot of the songs, or did you just piece them together one by one?

Kerli: I was born in Estonia and I grew up in the forest.  I lived in a very little town of 5,000 people and it was under Soviet occupation until I was four years old.  When I was growing up, the people’s mentality was still very Communist and very restricted.  You were not supposed to laugh or cry or show your emotions or express yourself or have dreams. With Communism everybody was the same and you could not really let your soul shine. So I felt like everybody was always trying to break my spirit. I felt very lonely because I was always very passionate and very over the top. I was not scared to be different. I had to create my own world. I had to work hard and dream hard to get out of that environment. Now, when you look at my album artwork, when you look at my videos, this is my escape, put into music and into visuals. I am sharing that escape and that dream with people now. That is why I am an artist.  I want to help people.

Clayton Perry: Well, Love is Dead is a very liberating listening experience.  Now, you have a platform to share your soul with the world, but how did you get to this point?

Kerli: I believe everything in life is meant to be. Now, I am at a point where I am able to share. It took me seven years. I got into music when I was 14 years old and I got signed for the first time when I was 15. Now, seven years later, I feel like I’m ready to share and things are finally coming to me.

Clayton Perry: You’re very bold for a new artist. At such a young age, many people simply allow an image to be created…

Kerli: Nothing has been created for me, and I had to fight to be me for all of these years.

Clayton Perry: Well, the hard work has definitely paid off.  As an artist, you are definitely one-of-a-kind, because you have been able to channel your spirit and emotions into your lyrics. Is there a particular song on Love is Dead that you hope gets mainstream airplay?

Kerli: Well, “Walking on Air” will get some mainstream airplay, and I am glad that a lot of people will be able to hear that song because it is autobiographical. It is about that little creepy girl who comes from that little creepy place and talks about all these funny things. I talk about spirituality and God and music. I am not scared to be honest in my music, because if I am honest, then you can not hold anything against me. What is the worst someone could say: that I’m honest? All right, I’ll take that. If I am going to be hated by people, then I am going to be hated for what I am, instead of being loved for what I am not.

Clayton Perry: In the “Love is Dead” video, you start out as an older woman, beaten down by the world and then you go backwards to your present. What is the story behind the central concept?

Kerli: In the final cut of the video, you see me getting younger, as the background behind me was getting older.  It’s kind of a joke on people’s concept of time but also story on feeling lonely and always feeling like love is dead. This reverse aging thing wasn’t my idea though. It was the idea of this amazing video director named Josh Mond. We both thought it was strong to start out old because it was shocking. It is all about art and not about this young blonde pretty girl.  It is more than that.

Clayton Perry: It’s a very powerful video and it does catch you from the very beginning.

Kerli: When I sang to that camera, I sang for everybody that hurt me. I cried for real in that video.

Clayton Perry: On “Butterfly Cry,” you get really personal.  Since your childhood was filled with depression and suicidal thoughts, what words of inspiration do you have for people who are going through similar situations?

Kerli: I used to be in a really dark place when I was 16, 17. My upbringing was so restrictive and I was always a free spirit. I just wanted to fly and be over the top, and become everything that I want to become without anyone telling me that I couldn’t. I wrote “Butterfly Cry” when I was 17 with a person who is my spiritual mentor. He was a producer, and he changed my life; he helped me out of my depression. “Butterfly Cry” was me coming out of my depression. I used to believe that there was no light, but life is too short; you’ve got to make every day happen because the world is really beautiful. It is really all about the way you look at it. If you look at it, this is heaven. There’s a lot of beauty around. That song is precious to me.

Clayton Perry: Before coming to the United States, you spent the bulk of your life in Estonia.  What do you miss from home?

Kerli: I miss my family. I miss the simplicity. I could walk five minutes and go to my Grandma’s house, then walk for another five minutes and go to my friend’s house. I would not live there again, but I wish I could visit more because I sometimes feel like I am missing out. I have a little sister and she is 18 years old. I left when she was 13 and I feel like I missed out on seeing her grow up. I went there for Christmas after I had been away for a year. My little sister is a woman now and no longer a little girl.

Clayton Perry: Besides the family issue, what other issues have you been wrestling with since coming to America? Do you ever feel as if you are a foreigner?

Kerli: The hardest part is that I came here alone. I am on the other side of my world and far from my family. These past three years, I have been trying to get the label on board, to make them see my vision and not give up on me. The hardest struggle has been for me not to become the next “pop star.” Labels know what’s easy to sell. For the longest time, they didn’t think it was possible to sell my music but now they’re on board. I have an amazing team here. If you stay true to yourself, then you will always get rewarded.

Clayton Perry: How did you end up auditioning for L.A. Reid?

Kerli: Oh, that’s a really, really long story. I traveled Europe first—singing and songwriting.  Each experience was a little step forward and two steps back, then another step forward and two steps back. People don’t just come from the forest and end up on the 30th floor in New York or Manhattan, but I want to show the world that you can. That is why it is so important for me to be humble. I want people to wake me up if I ever get full of myself. The most important thing about what I am doing is being a storyteller.

Clayton Perry: Is that the impression you want to make on your fans? In this day and age, your debut album is quite rare, because you have written all the songs and you are in complete control of your image. One does not often get to see that kind of drive and determination. Is that something you were born with, or was it a long struggle to get to that point?

Kerli: It has always been a struggle.  I believe that behind every wonderful story is a 10-year struggle, a lot of tears and a lot of failures. You really need to hit the bottom before you can reach out to the sun. I had the hardest time figuring myself out, because I had to travel and follow my dreams and have everybody tell me that I could not make it.  Now, I can travel the world and meet people, and tell them a story that will inspire them and make them feel good about themselves. I want to make them understand what kind of power our mind has. We are powerful, we really are – just think right and work hard. We underestimate ourselves. We only use 5% of our brains. My story is nothing but a story about that way of thinking.

Clayton Perry: When you were younger, you had no access to music.  Since you don’t really categorize yourself, how would you describe your style, if you were asked to explain the essence of your music?

Kerli: Music is a sacred language. All the music in the world is just the language of God. Everybody understands, no matter where they’re from, who they are, or what language they speak.  It is very hard for me to take something as divine as music and put it in a little box and say that it’s pop or rock or Goth. It’s a little electronic, a little rocky, but it’s still pop because I like structure and I like hooks. It’s honest and it’s quirky and it’s light at the end of the tunnel.

Clayton Perry: What artists have you come to enjoy?

Kerli: I appreciate all the geniuses—Michael Jackson, Prince, Joni Mitchell, Led Zeppelin, everybody who has their heart in their art. Lately, I have been listening to a lot of weird existential ambience stuff like Future Sound of London. I really like Lamb, Joni Mitchell. I like classical music.

Clayton Perry: When you are not singing or writing, what do you do to mellow out?

Kerli: My favorite thing is to clean my apartment. I have this artist persona that is very over the top and then there is this person that is very stripped-down and sincere and simple. I like cleaning my apartment and doing my laundry, being a normal person, cooking. I enjoy it. I like to hang out in my pajamas for three days and not do anything.

Clayton Perry: That’s cute! [laughing] I hear that you have a thing for tattoos too.  Inked Magazine says that you have five, so which is your favorite?

Kerli: My favorite is the writing on my right arm. It’s in Latin and it says, “A friend of the human race.”

Clayton Perry: You know, that kind of sums up everything about you, at least as an artist.

Kerli: It says, “A friend of the human race” because this is my hello hand for people; this is the hand that I shake hands with. Then on my left hand, it says, “A servant of God.”  “A friend of the human race” – I do it for people. “A servant of God” – I get my inspiration from humbling myself and looking up. I try to remember that I’m just a channel, I’m just a friend.

For more information on Kerli, visit her official website:


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