"I've never been into the idea of being in the spotlight, but when Joseph Gordon-Levitt calls you and asks if you want to come to America and perform on television, of course you're going to do it," says Peppina with a laugh. "When I got to The Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles for rehearsal, they were asking if I'd been playing at the clubs in Helsinki and I had to tell them I wasn't even old enough to get in yet."
The story of Peppina's first American performance might sound like something of a fairy tale, but the young Finnish songwriter and multi-instrumentalist is as real as they come, and her debut album, 'Fire,' is proof that she's a musical force to be reckoned with. Recorded in New York City with producer Charles Newman (The Magnetic Fields), 'Fire' showcases Peppina's endearing mix of infectious hooks, intimate vocals, and inspirational lyrics. Equally as indebted to classic artists like The Beatles and Stevie Wonder as modern favorites like Regina Spektor and Modest Mouse, Peppina's songwriting blends pop sensibilities and indie rock orchestration with a sonic sophistication that belies her young age.
Just a few years ago, though, a career onstage was something Peppina never would have imagined. Trained as a classical flutist before picking up piano, guitar, and ukulele, she grew up shy and innately humble. Though she loved to sing and write, she rarely felt comfortable sharing her talents outside of the occasional school recital. That all changed when she turned 16 and discovered hitRECord, the collaborative multimedia website and production company founded by actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
"What really fascinated me about the site was that it was all about collaboration," Peppina explains. "It felt like the focus was more on the art and the possibilities of the art than on the person making it. You didn't have to share any personal information, so I felt safe to try all these different things and just enjoy writing music."
Fascination soon turned to obsession, and before long Peppina was writing, recording, and uploading music to hitRECord nearly every single day after school. As her songs began to pick up more and more positive feedback, they were featured in a variety of projects across the site and caught the attention of Gordon-Levitt, who invited Peppina to fly to Los Angeles and perform as part of a hitRECord television special.
"I was so scared," she reflects of her first trip to the United States. "It was the first time I was playing a real show, and it was in front of 2,000 people and broadcast on television. I realized, though, that if I could play my songs really well when I was alone in my room with just my own energy, then I should be able to play them even better in a room full of people sending me their positive energy. That night when I went onstage, I felt all of that amazing energy from the crowd and put it into my performance, and it was a breakthrough moment for me. I already knew I wanted to write songs for the rest of my life, but this showed me that I wanted to perform and feel that exchange of energy you share with an audience for the rest of my life, too."
Peppina capitalized on the momentum of her high profile debut by releasing her first studio recording, 'Follow Your Gravity.' Popdose hailed the EP as "lush," "embracing," and "memorable," while Renowned For Sound praised her "cloud-like vocals and incredibly honest lyrics," and PopDust dubbed her an "eclectic siren" who "reconstructs the modern perspective with a penchant for realism and authenticity." Peppina was just getting started, though, and when the time came to begin work on her first full-length, she summoned everything she'd learned about working in the studio to craft her most ambitious, exciting songs yet.
"With this new album, I felt like I really understood how things worked going into it," says Peppina. "I was ready to put my own artistic stamp on the recordings, to be a part of every step from the beginning to end."
On the anthemic "Moments," Peppina sings about the strength we can draw from the positive relationships in our life, romantic or otherwise, while the empowering "Against The Grain" was inspired by a documentary about boundary-breaking female comic book writers.
"When I write songs, I think about writing to myself when I was 13," Peppina explains. "I think about writing to my cousin who is 10. I want to inspire everyone, most especially young girls, to feel like they can be and do anything they want."
Elsewhere on the album, Peppina celebrates the innocence and boundless possibilities of youth. "Young Hearts," a duet with her former tourmate Kris Gruen, is a reminder to stay open and hopeful, and "Raise Your Hand" is a promise to avoid getting jaded and cynical as she grows up.
"We always tell people, 'Don't act childish' or 'Don't be such a child,'" Peppina reflects. "When I was 6, I would go to the park and say to random kids, 'Hi, my name is Peppina do you want to be my friend today?' I think that's such a beautiful thing. If people could actually act more like children in certain situations, I think the world would be a happier place."
It's not all sunshine and smiling faces in Peppina's songwriting, though. She opens up about her battles with anxiety and depression on "Help Me Breathe," offers herself up as a compassionate shoulder to cry on in "Still Alone Together," and faces the fears that come from leaving your loved ones behind to pursue your dreams halfway around the world on "Just A Memory." Perhaps the most emotional moment on the record comes from the title track, which finds Peppina searching for the reasons we get up and press forward every morning.
"When you're lying in bed, your heart is beating and pumping blood to your veins and your lungs are bringing in air," she muses. "Every single second there are these synchronized mechanisms, these crazy miracles keeping you alive, and it has to be for some reason, no matter how primitive. When I get down, I try to just appreciate and enjoy the fact that I'm alive and find that inner fuel, that fire inside and enjoy it."
That fire is what keeps Peppina's metaphorical glass half full. The record's ultimate message is that, though this world might try to age you, to wear you down and steal your joy, you can find meaning in even the darkest of days if you've got an open heart and a hand to hold. Peppina may not care for the spotlight all that much, but with an album this great, it's about to shine on her more brightly than ever before.