We are sweet like vanilla, but courageous like ninja fighters!
In the very beginning, Vanilla Ninja was made up of four girls called Lenna Kuurmaa, Maarja Kivi, Piret Järvis and Katrin Siska. It all started in Summer of 2002. The management of TopTen, the most famous and the biggest record company in Estonia planned to make a band completely different than the others. Lenna and Maarja were friends from school. They went to the same school in Tallinn and both planned to start their music careers. Lenna and Maarja performed in a contest in Tallinn in order to be noticed by somebody famous, who would help them with their career. And that’s the way Sven Lohmus met Lenna. When Maarja and Lenna had already found places in a band, Sven brought along two other talented and beautiful girls – Katrin and Piret. Kati and Piret were also friends before making the band. They had been going to the same school and had good grades. They were also popular people at school. All girls sang well. Maarja’s mother is a singing teacher and they have all been going to her music school. That was a big plus for them. Lenna has loved to sing for as long as she remembers. She learned to play the piano, fiddle and of course the guitar. Maarja learned to play the bass and saxophone. Kati plays the keyboard and Piret, the guitar. The band is complete.
Name is missing. “In the beginning we wanted to call ourselves only NINJA but that nickname was already used by a DJ, so Sven and I looked for the first clause. We found out that each of us had blonde hair. Except from Lenna, but when we were making the band, she had light hair. So then we thought – maybe Vanilla? We always explain the name of our band as we are blond, sweet and soft outside like a vanilla flower. Second clause – we explain ninja because of our music and our characters. We are courageous and tough like ninja fighters. We fight for everything we want and also our music is rocky. That’s why Vanilla Ninja” said Piret.
Everything is prepared, so Vanilla Ninja started to work on their first CD. Piret Järvis wrote some lyrics before, because she wanted to make a band with Katrin, before they were in Vanilla Ninja. Anyway, some of them they used for CD. First songs were “Purunematu” and “Nagu Rockstaar”, but they broke through with the song “Club Kung Fu”. Thanks to Sven’s help together with Piret, they wrote the song “Club Kung-Fu”. With this song they participated in the Eurovision Semifinals in Estonia. Unfortunately the jury didn’t like the girls. Out of 10 artists they were 8th, but… they were the peoples favourite band and they got over 37000 points!
“That was great. The life of musician is so hard, that’s why we always appreciate every award. Fans are really important for us, so we care about them a lot. Or who knows, maybe the jury also come for our shows?” said Maarja with a big smile on her face. Because of this contest Vanilla Ninja became famous in all of Estonia and because of that, in 2003 they released their first album called just “Vanilla Ninja”.
First CD was released only in their home country – Estonia. “In the beginning it’s always hard. It’s hard to go out from Estonia. We are the only group, who came from here and we are happy we made it” said Lenna. People still ask for this album today. They sold over 300000 copies and released the single “Club Kung-Fu”, despite only having a video for “Nagu Rockstaar”. The most famous song from the album is “Vanad Teksad Ja Kitarr” (trans.: Old Jeans And Guitar). Soon after this, Vanilla Ninja become the mark sign of Estonia. The market got lots of fan stuff: pendants, pencils, rubbers, wallets and even… ice creams.
In November the record company TopTen introduced Vanilla Ninja to David Brandes, a producer from the record label Bros Music. Firstly, he didn’t want to sign the girls, but eventually he became their producer, and started to work with them. The girls had to move from Estonia to Germany to start their international career. So that’s the way it came.
Vanilla Ninja recored the song “Tough Enough” and shot the video in Berlin. When it was on TV music channels, Vanilla Ninja started to become famous in the whole of Europe, even in countries where they hadn’t released a single, video or CD. “Tough Enough” was the most popular song in clubs, in discos, and on TV channels. After such big huge success, the girls signed a contract with Bros Music and started to work on the album “Traces Of Sadness”. It wasn’t easy though. It was “no perform – no promotion – only work in the studio”! Vanilla Ninja, at the same time, recorded CD, performed, and promoted themselves. “Don’t Go Too Fast” was their second single. This video was also shot in Berlin. It is a really cool video. “We’re prisoners and give energy and party there! In the end we kick the ass’s of the jailers! I love it” said Kati.
When the album was finished, David Brandes thought maybe the next video will promote the CD even more than right now, because the song is really good. So the third international video was “Liar”. “We just love it! We love to sing it and then screaming – liar!!” said Lenna.
After this, the youngest ninja – Maaja Kivi left the band. Firstly everyone was thinking that it is just a quarrel and Maarja would soon be going back to Vanilla Ninja. The truth was that Maarja fell in love with a manager of a band – Renee Meriste. The media wrote “Love is the reason for leaving?” Maarja didn’t plan the romance, but she soon got news she was pregnant. That message meant that Maarja left the band in 2004. She got married and gave birth to a healthy daughter named Doora-Liisa.
Anyway, for about a month, the girls were a trio. Lenna, Piret and Katrin played alone. Then Piret reminded herself that in Estonia there is a girl called Triinu, who plays saxophone and bass guitar. Triinu was really similar to Maarja – they even had quite similar surnames: Maarja KIVI – Triinu KIVILAAN. Triinu joined Vanilla Ninja. A few days after, one newspaper wrote that Triinu was Maarja’s sister. Triinu commented it was false, “This is just a coincidence. It doesn’t matter that we are similar. I joined the band because of my voice and music – not because of my outside look.” Next step was the new single. Everybody thought that Vanilla Ninja would record a new song but to finish the promotion of “Traces Of Sadness”, they chose “When The Indians Cry” for the next single. It was the very first Vanilla Ninja video with a new member. Lenna sang Maarja’s lyrics. Of course fans liked Triinu, although we can always find fans who still prefer Kivi in band. The video was shot in Mallorca where before shooting day, the girls learned how to ride a horse. “It’s just a beautiful song and video. I was really happy when we shot it. The lyrics always make me cry” said Triinu.
After such huge success with their first international CD, (it spent almost 45 weeks in the album chart in Germany!), Vanilla Ninja started to work on the new album. The first fruits we saw and heard since November 2004 was called “Blue Tattoo”. It was the very first single promoting the album of the same name. New style, new look, new kind of music? The beginning of the video shows the girl band in a black, dark style. “It’s just a thing I can not explain through words. That song is a dark kind of music so our style had to show it. You know – monks, ice, and darkness. There was no way to present it better” said Triinu about video. They released this song and meanwhile recorded the new album.
A long time after the release of “Blue Tattoo”, David Brandes decided “I Know” was to be the second single. The idea of promotion was really good. They shot the video for the normal version of this song and the video for “I Know (Unplugged)” in a studio. Two weeks after the original version was released, we saw the second version. “Ninjas finally in ninja style action! Girls finally shot a great video showing their true fighting style as ninjas! “I Know” is a song typical to the music of their other songs, but the video is completely different to the others. Now they are real ninja fighters” wrote Bravo magazine. Then came the time for the whole album! “Blue Tattoo” came out in shops on 14th of March 2005 and became a best-selling CD in Germany and Estonia. It was selling good also in Switzerland and Poland. Unfortunately soon came a scandal with David Brandes. The media said that producer David Brandes was buying his self recorded CDs in Germany because he wanted Vanilla Ninja to get famous and got rich himself. The law proved that this was the truth. Girls were banned from charts on 11th of April firstly for 3 weeks and then for 3 months. But Swiss media gave them a proposition to represent Switzerland in Eurovision Song Contest 2005 – of course they accepted it, because two years ago they tried to represent Estonia with the song “Club Kung-Fu”.
All management decided to go there with the song “Cool Vibes”. In the semifinal, Switzerland got enough points from the audience to got into final. In the final, Vanilla Ninja were winning at the beginning but after all they got 8th place, which had been the first Swiss Top-10-placing since 1993. “Yes, there were many emotions in semifinal. 5 or 6 envelopes were opened and I started to lose hope till we heard SWITZERLAND! And then we were very very happy. In the final, there weren’t so much emotions, because we all saw how many points we got from each country, but anyway we were very glad to got 8th place.” said Lenna.
It was time to shoot a new video – “Cool Vibes”. We got information that the video would be shot with a white tiger because in the media, the girls said “Cool Vibes” was about a tiger hidden deep inside in them. “Maybe you won’t believe it but it’s about a tiger which we have got inside of us.” said Piret. Unfortunately – as we heard – they missed the airplane to Africa, where they should have shot the video. But the video for “Cool Vibes” was on TV. “We’ve never shot video to “Cool Vibes”. Our ex-management made it. We saw it when it was already on TV” wrote Katrin. Moments after the TV premiere, came info that video was aplagiarism.
After all these scandals, Vanilla Ninja decided to leave David Brandes and they found a new manager and said that he must find a new record company. But it wasn’t the end of their problems. David took the girls to court for not meeting their contract terms. Vanilla Ninja, of course, won and signed a new contract with Stage Division and EMI Music. They had not performed for some time until December.
In December, they organized a big concert in their hometown (except for Triinu who’s from Viljandi). Almost 10 000 people came to the concert and it was recorded by Estonian television channel, TV3. In the concert, Vanilla Ninja performed two songs for the very first time from their new album. These songs were “Rockstarz” and “Silence”. Everything was really good – girls were happy, fans were happy but after the concert, in the beginning of January, the youngest ninja – Triinu Kivilaan left the band.
That was something incredible, in the middle of making a great career Triinu and Vanilla Ninja decided that it would be better if Triinu leaves the band. A short time after leaving, an explanation was released. Firstly, the ex-ninja explained leaving as she needed to finish school and musical school in a normal way as a normal teenager. But the strange thing is that Triinu was at home in Estonia for almost a month before returning to Germany – to make her own music! “She wants to make her own solo music career like Maarja but completely other style of it. (…) She’ll play r’n’b, soul and other things like this” says Piret. “She was also the youngest of us and that was a problem to us when she had to go back and take some exams, learning and studying.” Piret adds. Everyone thought that someone new would join the band like it was with Maarja’s exit, but the ninja girls decided to stay as a trio:
– How it will look like?
– Normally. We’ll play our music as a trio, have a music band and perform with our girl power like always. Sugababes also had three leavings and they’re still Sugababes. So why it shouldn’t work in Vanilla Ninja? – answered Lenna Kuurmaa.
Everything was fine and they started to cut Triinu’s voice from the CD like she wanted. Unfortunately that wasn’t the end of the problems and scandals. A little time later, previous official site www.vanilla-ninja.de started to write bad things about ninjas. One of them was the news that Triinu had prosecuted the band and management. Why? Supposedly, the reason was that the band didn’t fulfill the conditions of their contract. There is not a true reason because Triinu left the band herself.
Vanilla Ninja finally finished their album and promoted it with the single “Dangerzone” which came out on the 21st of April 2006. The video showed a new side of the ninja girls! Short skirts, womanly looking – new image!
– In the new video you look like more women. We didn’t see you in skirts before.
– We’re still girls! We always have been :)) – says Katrin.
Lenna said in Estonian magazine “Stiil” that before they couldn’t wear skirts and other women stuff because ex-producer David Brandes didn’t allow them: “Now we’re wearing what we want! Nobody says what we have to dress up in! Before, jeans were a part of our image”. Anyway, the same website – http://www.vanilla-ninja.de wrote that the ninjas management tried to manipulate the charts like he did himself! Supposedly the management put the song “Dangerzone” up for download for free on some sites and added that downloading is important to charts also. Brandes was just trying to destroy the band but still, why? We could also see “news” that David Brandes wanted to re-sign the girls again! It’s easy to imagine the reason – the girls from Vanilla Ninja were the most famous music group he ever promoted so he got the most money from them. But these girls are not stupid!
Almost a month after on the 19th of May, they released their rockiest album named “Love Is War”. “We were fighting to exist all of last year! We fought for the love of Vanilla Ninja and wanted the band to survive. “Love Is War” explains it like we were at war to fight for the love to our band” explains Katrin about the album title. At the moment of release, “Love Is War” became an instant hit! Every kind of magazine wrote good and interesting reviews of the album. “That’s the most rocky album in the whole of Vanilla Ninja’s career. The three girls from Estonia play personal songs, not like before with Brandes. For example the most heartfelt song “Spirit Of The Dawn”, the lyrics are really sad and we can feel it. Lyrics, melody and three beautiful talented girls – it had to be recipe for success!” wrote one of the polish magazines.
Finally, the ninjas came back to the stage. Came back to thing they loved the most. “Yes, it was such a damn great feeling to be back on the stage! We didn’t forget how to do it” says smiling Lenna.
They started to perform and in one interview they said “Germany isn’t our destination anymore! We want to take care of other countries also where we’ve never performed before.”. That’s how it happened! On the 2nd of July, they had been to Poland for a really short performance but polish fans were really happy to finally see their idols! Only Poland? No, they had in plans to visit even Turkey but because of terrorist attacks they couldn’t visit there. Anyway, Vanilla Ninja came back to Poland on the 29th of August. Their first days were for promotion but after on the 1st of September, they took part in the Sopot Festival. They enjoyed this and spent a lot of time with fans. On the 8th of September, after many delays the “Rockstarz” single was released. Then there was the problem with single promotion, it wasn’t very popular.
Half way through October, it was announced that Lenna had started to write a song for Eurolaul 2007 (Estonian pre-selection for Eurovision). However, Stage Division (the management) decided to leave Vanilla Ninja, because of their other projects, although in the end they were really positive about cooperation with Ninjas. The next day, more shocking news was published. EMI Music decided to finish their cooperation with the group. No one knows exactly what happened as a statement was never published. But whose fault was it? Was it because Brandes kept disturbing the record label with court issues? Was it because “Rockstarz” was unsuccessful? Vanilla Ninja said that they left company due to weak promotion from EMI. And this is probably true – the single wasn’t promoted at all. EMI didn’t want to release a new single, so they had to finish the collaboration. Ninjas wanted to release a new single under the wings of another label. But who would want to have a group that has legal problems? Things started to get difficult. Will the group still exist? Will they record any new songs? Vanilla Ninja was in trouble and the fans started to panic. The girls then chose different paths; it was the bitter end of an international career.
Since then, the girls have only appeared in Estonia. Lenna received an offer to play a role in a serious movie. She also performed in musical and sang in gospel choir! Katrin appeared on some model shows. Piret appeared in many Estonian TV programs. Despite all this, they continued to perform together. In November 2006 they supported Pink at her concert in Riga! It was a very successful event. Also, the group was nominated for MTV EMA Baltic Act 2006, but they did not win, the Latvian group Brainstorm won.
In December, there was a big concert in Club Hollywood, Tallinn. Many fans came to the concert, even fans from outside Estonia. In the middle December, it was announced that the Ninjas would go to Brazil and promote “Love is War” But it never happened. In the meantime Lenna got an offer to be a host on an Estonian radio station, SkyPlus, where she has a program called Soovikas.
In the beginning of 2007, Lenna performed in the Dream Band – she won the category of best singer and sang a cover of Justin Timberlake’s SexyBack with other Estonian artists.
In the second half of January the TV performance of their Eurovision song “Birds of Peace” was recorded. Unfortunately the Estonian public didn’t appreciate the Ninjas’ performance a lot and they got 4th place in the pre-selections, which means they didn’t get in the final three and failed. If they had 700 more votes they would have been in the final. Soon after, Lenna won a competition “The sexiest of 2006”. But it wasn’t the end of VN’s problems; it was just the beginning…
Soon afterwards, in February 2007 more news about VN was published. Brandes kept destroying the band. He won the case against EMI Music Germany and as all rights to the band. At the start of the month it was announced that Ninjas may lose their band name! He wanted to stop the girls from performing under their name, because it was the only thing they could do at that time. So Ninjas’ Estonian record label –TopTen started another court case against Brandes’s company Bros Music.
In the next few months, the girls kept performing wherever they could. They gave many concerts in different Estonian cities and they appeared in various magazines from time to time. Lenna was still on an Estonian radio show and Piret with Katrin were hosts of different parties.
In May Piret was offered to be a VJ on Estonian MTV. She was happy to get the job and she visited interesting places like Lithuania or Latvia. In the end of June a radio-only single was released. It was “Insane in Vain” and it was played on Estonian radio. The holiday months were quite active for the Ninjas. They kept performing in Estonia at different concerts, e.g. Ollesummer 2007. Ex-Vanilla Maarja told us that her solo album would be more metal and she also created her official MySpace page. And another ex-Vanilla Triinu announced the finish of her solo career, which hasn’t happened.
September brought bad news again. Everybody was shocked to see the headlines such as “the rights of Vanilla Ninja were handed over to justice company “Oulson Outsoursing” and the company wants to finish the band’s activity”. Is it the end of Vanilla Ninja? – Fans asked once again. “This band was important to us in 2003. After that they haven’t earned anything for us, more like spent” – confessed TopTen’s boss Toomas Viilo. “That’s one of the main reasons why we handed over the contract. We had that plan already for a half a year.” Then the rumors told that they want to kick Katrin out of the band. Fans were in panic again, but Ninjas told them not to worry. Eventually in the same month the first solo song of Lenna was released in Estonia. “Saatus Naerdes Homse Toob” was a promotional song from her movie, which came out the next month. Then there finally appeared good news! Vanilla Ninja were called to participate in Vina del Mar Festival in Chile – the biggest summer festival in Latin America. The festival starts in February, so they had a lot of time to prepare. In the meantime Lenna started to act in an Estonian soap opera.
November was also good for girls – they went to Iraq! They met Estonian soldiers there and performed for them. The soldiers were very happy about the performance, what we could see in a video and it was an exciting experience for the girls. “We were listened to by thousands of soldiers and they really enjoyed the concert” – said Katrin. “We were a little bit scared but not that much, because there were a lot of soldiers everywhere” – she told also. During the 2 days they could do a lot of new things. “We could act like the soldiers and try shooting or ride in a tank” they said. Lenna told: “It was the most interesting trip ever!”
Later in 2007, Oulson put the rights of Vanilla Ninja in the Baltics on eBay. First, nobody bought it, but soon after one radio dj and Ninjas’ attorney bought it for them! A short time after that, they officially gave it to the girls on their last big concert in Tallinn this year.
“Birds of Peace” was chosen as the song for “Vina del Mar” festival. Even a special half Estonian and half English version was prepared. Ninjas had enormous success in Chile, and they also won the prize of the Festival’s best artist!! The joyful girls came back to Estonia and set to work again. They immediately recorded a new song called “Crashing Through The Doors”, which is the result of their collaboration with Per Gessle, who is the masculine half of the famous duo Roxette! The song was well-received, especially in the Estonian Sky Plus radio hitlist. In June, Ninjas did a “Restart Tour” with other Estonian musicians in the biggest cities of Estonia. In February 2009 they were expected to visit the biggest cities in Latin America with „Rock Diva” tour. Unfortunately, it was canceled. Soon after, the band became inactive, but they actually never broke up.
Throughout the years, the members suggested that comeback was possible in the future. The band reunited exactly 10 years later, in December of 2019, for a benefit concert in Tallinn. It was a big surprise for fans and everyone was enthusiastic about the event and the idea of a relaunch was quickly born. Lenna commented: “It just felt right to be back on stage again”. A year later it was made clear that former member Triinu Kivilaan decided to rejoin Vanilla Ninja. With the help of their former manager, David Brandes, they came back properly in 2021 with the new album.
The album called “Encore” brought 7 singles in total! Moreover, the group also presented the brand new logo. The first comeback single was “Gotta Get It Right” and was released in June 2021. In the next month, another folk-style single and music video called “No Regrets” appeared. Then, the third single was chosen to be “The Reason Is You” and was released in August. Later, in the next month, they released “Incredible”. Also in September, the band made their appearance on EFTA gala in Estonia. They performed a medley of old songs as well with the new one, which was later broadcast on TV. But the 8th of October was the most important day for all the fans, because the album “Encore” was finally revealed after 16 years. The album is available in different forms like digital download, CD, vinyl and deluxe version with extra book. The album became a pre-order bestseller on German store Amazon and it placed within the top 50 of album charts in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Estonian shops. Soon after that, it was also released in Brazil. The end of the year brought 2 more singles with accompanying music videos called “Driving Through The Night” and “Waterfalls”.
The beginning of 2022 was a big change for the band’s lineup. Triinu and Katrin decided to leave the group due to different personal reasons. Triinu commented: “I look back on our time together with a good feeling, because it was fun to see the girls after such a long time and make music together again. There was exactly the same feeling as before… Maybe even better than before, as everyone got older and it was interesting to share moments from our lives with each other. I decided to leave Vanilla Ninja, because I do not have enough time for the band-related activities alongside my day job, unfortunately. I wish my ninja-sisters a lot of success and wind in their sails for the future!”. Katrin explained her decision to leave the band: “I am glad we got to reach the top with the band – we shared stage with Lenny Kravitz, Enrique Iglesias and many other outstanding stars. Now I am already working on new projects”.
In March 2022, it was made clear that Lenna and Piret would be joined by the talented sister of Triinu – Kerli Kivilaan. The fresh line-up released the last single of the album called “Encore ’22”, which was the re-recorded version of the song. Along with the single, came the futuristic music video showing the new chapter of Vanilla Ninja history and the story goes on.
We keep our fingers crossed for Vanilla Ninja!