Is there anyone who still recalls who won the preliminary round of Eesti Laul in 2003 and earned the honour to represent Estonia at the Eurovision Song Contest in Latvia? Everyone rather remembers the disappointment they felt when it became clear that „Club Kung-Fu” would not travel to Latvia and the band Ruffus were supposed to pack their suitcases instead.
But the real winners of 2003 were the girls band Vanilla Ninja, because for a long time nobody talked about anything else but the four true rock girls, who later released really great rock-songs, and who does not remember „Cool Vibes” or „Blue Tattoo”?
Possibly the most successful girls band in Estonia disappeared from the picture 10 years ago but now they are back, stronger than ever before. How did it happen, what feeling is accompanying them now that they are making music again and what is their goal – [this is what I talked about] with four ninja girls, Piret Järvis-Milder, Lenna Kuurmaa, Katrin Siska and Triinu Kivilaan, shortly after the release of their new album.
As a band you disappeared for over 10 years, did solo projects and devoted yourselves to your personal lives. Why now was just the right time to come back?
Piret: For a very long time we were planning to come back together and make music again. I think that for the first time we sat down to this idea over ten years ago, a year or a few after we had disappeared from sight.
But earlier there simply was no right moment, as all the things did not go completely to plan, other thing came in the way. That was until February of 2019, when we had a chance to meet face-to-face with out former and present producent, David Brandes, and it felt like that was the right time. And this time we managed, which seems a bit unbelievable – we could start over.
Lenna: It was not planned, that now is time for a break and now to make the band again. It was more that now it was also truly possible for the first time. We needed time to reach this point and feel that we want to do it and we need to do it.
You broke up at the time when you were at the top of your popularity. Was it a difficult decision?
Piret: We have never really broken up, this break was rather natural. We did not make an official pause, just the situation made it impossible for us to go on the way we wanted to.
For me this break happened at exactly the right moment. The time before it was very intense – we released four albums, toured the world a lot, which was fun, but also exhausting. Because of that it came at the right time for me and at that moment it felt logical. In a sense I was even awaiting this pause.
Katrin: Looking back, I also feel that this vacation arrived at just the right time, but also the current affairs came at the right moment. It fitted everyone who wanted it. This vacation gave also a little time to charge Vanilla Ninja’s batteries that are now full of energy. (laughs). Now the will for action is also bigger, as at the end of the band’s active years we were like squeezed lemons. (laughs)
The burn out was so inevitable, that you needed to take a break?
Katrin: We really were burnt-out at that time. It was good that this downturn and the lawsuit between the record companies happened, because had we continued like that, we would have suffered. I believe that everyone was at their last nerves at that moment.
Lenna: I do not remember being so burnt-out, but it is possible that I just do not recall it in a negative way. I remember that this last album gave so much back, because it was something that we created ourselves and got our message through. In my opinion it was very fullfilling, for both soul and heart.
For sure it was not tragic in any way. When it happened so that the two record companies started fighting, stepping aside was simply a natural step for me. I do not suffer from any lasting health injuries from that time (laughs).
Katrin: It was rather a feeling of boredom, the need to do something else, because for that there was no more ideas, will or possibilities, there was nobody to have our back. No record company, manager or producer.
Lenna mentioned that the last album you released before the break gave a lot back. How was the feeling accompanying this album’s creation different to was you remember from the recording of your first albums?
Lenna: Those feelings are very different, because the whole album-making process was just something else this time. We were used to spending days and nights in the studio with the producer, writing songs and thinking everything through and then we got thrown into an absolutely new world. We had to adapt on the fly to the new systems and distancing.
But at the same time this feeling was positive, because recording an album is a lot of work. It takes a lot of your time and devotion and you have to give it your best. In this matter, it gave back just as much as the first four albums. This album is like a baby that you care for and nourish with your ideas. (laughs.) It is a great and unique feeling.
How much have you changed as musicians and as people? How much of this change comes out on the album?
Lenna: As a musician I became more self-confident, braver and more mature – I have the power and courage to say what I really think about everything. When we were making the band at the beginning, I was definitely lacking the confidence, but now I feel that I am an equal partner, whom you can discuss, create and decide with. Now I have the courage to say if I do not like something and this is a pretty big victory.
Triinu: In my opinion, Vanilla Ninja right now is heading to the same place on the top we left.
What do you feel now, making music with Vanilla Ninja?
Triinu: The feeling is better now. Earlier the dynamics of this co-operation were different, also with the producer, because we were younger and we allowed to be pushed around. But with age came also the courage to speak your mind and say „no” when necessary. Now, Vanilla Ninja are braver and more confident in their actions and because of that it is much easier to look at the outcomes, because you know that there is your input there as well, not only wishes for having it the other way.
Piret: Because the break was so long, there appeared… hunger. Right now there is such a [feeling of] gamble [going on inside] and [thanks to that] it just feels good to do anything. We also have been having more discussions and creative arguments, in a good way. It is no longer the case that we obey whatever the producer says. We have rather been standing up [to him], so that we can be satisfied with what we are doing.
David is quite a visionary, who knows what he wants and you can recognize that in what comes from his hand. You cannot really deny him that, because he does his job very well. It is just that we would like to do certain things differently now, which is also normal, because this is what causes making music to be creatively interesting.
Lenna: I really agree with that!
15 years ago you travelled the world, visited Europe, Japan and even America. Is the ambition to conquer the world still in there?
Katrin: Yes! The ambition is now greater than ever before because this race ended just half-way last time.
We also went to Russia for a performance, only it happened so that we flew there but the local patriarch had just died. Then we were told that „Sorry, we will not let you rock on the stage tonight, but everyone else can do their thing”. (laughs.) But such touring gave us a taste of what could have been and how far we could have got. Unfortunately, it is not as easy as „we make it, you take it”, but we definitely want to warm the connections up and get to places we already know and those we are yet to discover.
Piret: As we have already put everything into motion, we can absolutely do it. If there are opportunities, I would like for us to tour together and see the world and play concerts. I also hope we will be warmly welcomed and given the opportunity to walk [around] and see [everything].
You have been warmly welcomed, judging by the Spotify and iTunes statistics. Was that what you were expecting?
Lenna: Actually, I could not expect anything, the pause was so long and the new material is certainly a bit surprising. Especially for the older audience. We experimented so much with this record that it was hard to expect or await anything. Even when looking at today’s music business, it is very difficult to guess what will get through and what will sell. It is hard to become successful.
At the same time, it is really heartwarming that we have been so positively received, that there are listeners. So for me everything is already far beyond any expectations, but I do not want to count our chickens before they hatch.
Piret: I have the exact same feeling, that it was hard to expect or hope for anything. I did not want to set expectations or hopes too high, so I was really sincerely surprised when the results of the first day of sales came in. We did not run a big promo campaign, and yet people still found us and support us. This shows that we actually have the space and the potential to do even better in the future.
The title of the album, „Encore”, means a call back to the stage. Why such a title?
Lenna: This should be a question for David, of course. (laughs.). He saw it in a dream or [it appeared] in his mind. But it really is that – we are calling them back to the stage and we are doing it all again. Since he also wrote a song where the title and the main part of the chorus are both „Encore”, perhaps it all started there. There is probably no deeper explanation for that.
Piret: I think it is a good title. And the album’s title track is possibly the most… different and distinctive song in our career.
Lenna: It is the most different but it is also the most popular of our new tracks.
Piret: Reading the feedback from the fans, I am actually quite surprised that so many of them like it. It is a dance song, so we were rather sceptical whether it fitted our repertoire. But that risk seems to have fully paid off. I would also say that this melody and the message is something we made our own and it really gets to you.
I understand that for some fans it may be confusing as in which direction we are going now, but it seems to me that we should experiment and expand our comfort zone.
Katrin: We cannot do the same synthesizer, the same bass and the same drum forever, that would be boring. However, when I first listened to the album, I was confused about how I would be flipping my hair behind the synthetizer when there are so many dance songs and calm melodies (laughs), but the more I listened to these songs, the more I realized it was good for each track to have its own message and mood.
I wholeheartedly agree that the artist must develop and offer something new. It is boring to have the same beat, the same sound and the same idea all the time. Music needs the element of surprise and the fans need the element of surprise, so that they can experience something new and exciting once again.