Every now and then, a rising artist shows immense potential and proves to have something really special to offer. And whether it be a five octave range with impeccable tone, amazing lyrics, or the ability to produce their own music, it always makes me want to share what I feel about them. And, Island Def Jam’s, Kerli is one of those artists. She’s got the voice of a girl who wants to be heard, the writing chops of a girl who deserves to be heard, and a personality that will make people want to listen.
Born in Elva, Estonia, a tiny, then-Soviet occupied town of 5,000 people in the forest, Kerli grew up with a dream to escape from her surroundings. “Little creepy girl/Oh she loves to sing/She has a little gift-an amazing thing,” she declares on the autobiographical, world music beat of “Walking on Air” (Listen). “She will go and set the world on fire/Nobody ever thought she could do that.”
Ignoring material comforts and new clothes for lessons in singing, ballet, acting and classical piano, at fourteen Kerli entered and won Euroalaul, an annual televised competition to select a song to represent Estonia in the Eurovision Song Contest. After the win, she decided to concentrate on singing. Island Def Jam Chairman Antonio “L.A.” Reid signed her on the spot after she auditioned for him.
Working with noted producer/mixer/songwriter David Maurice, whose credits include Garbage and JC Chasez, Kerli wrote the personal lyrics to all the songs, reflecting her amazing odyssey from a small town in Estonia across the sea from Scandinavia to major label recording artist. “Being here has enabled me to grow as a person,” she says. “What I like here, which I never had in Estonia, is that people really do believe they can become whatever they want to become. My background has made me what I am, but it must be so much better to grow up in an environment where nobody tells you that you can’t do something. My dream of leaving and making music was my escape. I had no other options.”
That resolve comes across in songs like the rocking “I Want Nothing” and the vulnerability mixed with bravado of “Bulletproof,” while the hope of a better future comes across in the soulful R&B of “Beautiful Day” and the emotional moving “Butterfly Cry,” in which she reveals, “I used to believe there was no lights/But I found out/Life is far too short to fight/Lose yourself/Let go your pain/Taste the air you breathe/And kiss the sky.”
“I used to be suicidal and depressed when I was younger,” she says. “‘Butterfly Cry’ is about getting out of that. It was like my eyes were suddenly opened. It was a rebirth.”
She claims no musical influences, except for being a fan of Bjork. Kerli insists: “I’m just such a sponge that whenever I hear something beautiful, it touches me. When I was little, we didn’t have much access to western culture. I remember my cousin getting cable when she was five and it was the first time we’d ever seen MTV.”
And while Kerli has certainly made up for that lost time, she is adamant that pop stardom, fame and material success are not her goals, which she declares in the reggae rhythms of “Up Up Up” or the confessional “I Want Nothing.”
“I used to fantasize about being a pop star, but now my passion is for music,” she says. “I don’t care about attention. I just want people to hear this record. It’s not about me. Everything I do at this point is for the people and the hope somebody can relate to what I went through.”
“World’s turning round for you/There is no need to be afraid…Everything is on its way.”
“This is the way I feel all the time,” she says. “I open my eyes in the morning and I’m excited about my life. But I want to keep that darker part alive, too, because I find it very beautiful. I just want to show people that it is possible to come out of that dark hole. I was as deep as you can get, but I came out. Everybody can. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. That’s my message. I’m a storyteller, a messenger, a friend, a helper on a very basic, simple, human level. I’m a voice for the outsiders, because I’m one, too.”
On Love Is Dead, Kerli is ready to share her amazing journey with the rest of the world.
What do you think of Kerli? Are you a fan now? Were you already one?