If you struggle to name a Finnish pop star, Peppina wants to change that. The Helsinki-New York transfer has one of the most unique career trajectories in recent memory, moving to forge her career before she was even 20. Gaining attention thanks to Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s HitRecord website and show, she’s taken her 15 minutes of fame and ran with it. With her latest record Spark already turning the next page in her life, she talks with us about immigrating for work, her strange success story and why being Finnish has forced her to be a positive person.
Northern Transmissions: How did your whole discovery by Joseph Gordon-Levitt come about?
I found the site when I was 16-years-old, and I hadn’t really performed anywhere yet. I found the site, and it was all about collaborating and remixing other people’s work, and you didn’t have to put any information in to join. It became a sort of safe-space for me to try things out and try different aspects of writing. I joined at the right time, after I started using the site it grew fast and my stuff became really popular pretty quickly. Then they launched the TV show, a few of my songs were featured, which was amazing for a high school student to have them. Joseph Gordon-Levitt asked me to come record with them in the U.S. at the Orpheum Theatre for the show, which was a really crazy call because I hadn’t performed anywhere before. I said yes and did it, and it made me want to perform more. I had really only thought about making music before but this pushed me to entertain people, it was really important for me. When the show premiered months later at Sundance, they asked me to come perform at the premiere party, that was my first introduction to the real music world. Actually Steven Beer, my now consultant and lawyer was in the audience and came up to me, gave me his card. He’s based in New York so that’s how everything started. I spent a summer in New York meeting writers and producers, and put out my EP.
NT: How did you keep the momentum going after appearing on the show?
P: Being on the show started the momentum big time. Me and Steven have been trying to move slow while taking the right steps. We are moving forward these past three years steadily but not rushing into anything. We had to make sure we’re doing this right because I was 18 when I started here. I think we’ve been able to keep a steady momentum so there wasn’t a rush up and then crash down. The first EP was a lot of hope because not a lot of Finnish artists make it big outside of there and here’s me with this record out.
NT: Have you ever gone back to Hit Record to test songs since?
P: I definitely go on the site every so often. I’ve participated in a couple projects, the thing with HitRecord, and what I love about it is that it’s so community based, that it’s not the best place to be if you want to prop yourself up as an individual. I’m still figuring myself out as an artist so it’s not the best place to figure that out. I still go back on to see what projects are on, share a couple of songs that I thought were good for the platform. They’ve grown so much since I was active there.
NT: Has it felt weird or jarring to leave your home country at such an early age?
P: I’m very lucky because I’d never been to New York before but I knew some HitRecorders that lived here. I contacted them and suddenly I had a community in a strange city. I’ve been travelling back-and-forth a lot the past few years and I moved here officially this past January. No matter how fortunate I am, it’s a big thing to move here rather than visit for work. Coming from a place like Helsinki and Finland, there’s five million people, and they would all fit in New York and there would still be room to spare. I’ve dreamed of it for so long, I’ve always known I’d live abroad at some point. I get a lot of energy from the city, and you need that energy for the music.
NT: I know you’ve worked with Charles Newman(Magnetic Fields) quite a bit, what drew you two to work together and what does he bring to your recordings?
P: Sundance has always played a big role in my story. I met Charles at Sundance the year after I met Steven. Charles and Steven had been working together, and I was performing with some of his artists there. I recorded a duet at Charles’ studio and that’s how we started working together. I enjoy his method of working and how much I was able to be involved in it. When it came down to who should produce my record, he was the first person in mind. Charles was really pulling it all together from the different writers I worked with, giving a common core.
NT: What did you want to do differently with your latest release that you hadn’t been able to do on your previous releases?
P: My first EP, I didn’t know what I was getting into, and how to produce it. Getting into this one I was more prepared and had a vision. Charles made me a part of the process from day 1, layering all the instruments and melodies. It was such a great experience to be so artistically involved. I also feel this time I was braver with the lyrics, less soft around the edges. The messages are more straightforward and stronger.
NT: Why did you want to focus so much on using your lyrics as a tool for inspiration on this record?
P: In general at my core I’m a storyteller. Whether I’m by myself or writing with someone, the core of it is the lyrics. I feel like especially now, coming from where I come from, Finland is an amazing country in so many ways, but what it lacks is confidence. There are some rock bands that are national successes but there are no pop artists that make it internationally. When I was starting out, I wasn’t sure if I should fly out, I had to turn down record labels who said “If you sing in Finnish we can sign you right away but we don’t know what to do since you’re singing in English.” There are so many young people there who are afraid to dream big. My family is so supportive, my mom just kept saying to dream big, but our society keeps saying to be realistic. So a big part of my message is anything you put your mind into you can do. I want to achieve that and go back home to say, “I did it, you can do it too.” The mindset is very important.
NT: What’s next for you this year?
P: We’re going to do some pop-up shows in New York. We’re going to make more material to go along with the record, a video for “Fire” and some cover songs as well.
Words by Owen Maxwell