Stuart Garlick interviews pianist, singer and songwriter Reet Lantson in Tallinn, following a shoot exclusive to Charm Offensive by Marin Sild.
Sometimes musicians need to be away from home to challenge their beliefs and values, and produce better music. But there are other times when returning home proves the catalyst. Reet Lantson paused for a moment, trying to hear her thoughts over the big-band music in Pärnu Maantee’s Reval Café. “I went through a phase in my life when I wasn't happy any more; I realized that I wasn't satisfied and needed to change something. I put that into music.”
That’s why we had convened in the corner of the very beige and very packed Tallinn eatery, with a glass of Chardonnay each, debating all things musical. Reet, a classically-trained pianist and singer originally from Võru, south Estonia, was about to release a new album of instrumental piano music, short tunes which are in turns hopeful, bewitching and heartbreaking. I wanted to understand the origin of these songs, finding out what had changed for her since she returned to her homeland from Sydney, Australia, where she had spent two years in her early twenties. She’d written many songs and pieces about the twists and turns of her recent life, some of which had made it onto the album, which covered a year in her life.
“I just went through what I'd done, and I realised that, for a 26 year-old, my life has been pretty crazy! Especially with Australia and everything. When I realised that, I wrote the song Memories. There was also this song called Farewell, when [after having spent some time back in Estonia] I'd made the decision I was going to be leaving; I'd made a decision to move to London. But I decided to stay instead, and that's what the second part of the album is about.”
As she explained, the proposed move to London perhaps seemed like a move too far, considering she had not long returned from the other side of the world. “I realised I didn't want to leave my family, and I'd fallen in love with Estonia again.”
“When I went to Australia I knew I'd be coming back,” Reet continued. “I was confused at one point, because I was scared to come back and start everything all over again [in Estonia]. But when I came back I knew for sure this was where I wanted to be. I completely lost myself in Australia, I lost the person I was. Even my friends tell me that. When you lose your roots, your culture... When I came back to Estonia I found myself. I used to be this very independent, self-confident woman, before I went to Australia, and I changed there. When I came back here I was confident again, and I was happy.”
But as for the music – did Reet feel that the Australian experience had inspired her writing? “I didn't write much there. I was there for almost two years, but only wrote one song. I found the inspiration from within myself, and it was because I'd lost myself.”
There were many redeeming qualities to Australia, though. “I used to care a lot about what people think, but when I was there I didn't, because I was a foreigner there, and whatever I did, I had the knowledge I was still a foreigner. I earned five times as much as I do now, I loved my job, loved my students, I was a really good teacher there, I taught in a different way to Australians. Australians only really teach piano, but I did everything: music history, composition, I had a bit of singing in there... anyway, I was a good teacher, and every day I came home from the music school I was so happy.”
The Irish singer-songwriter Damien Rice once said, when asked about his music, that his songs were the truth, but were also full of lies. Reet cited this as showing how her songs are a reflection on her life, and where she had come from, but also how certain details may be changed, or may be opaque. With such a wide range of inspiration, and with Reet having been so prolific with piano and pen in the past year, there are plans for the piano album, but also a forthcoming vocal album. “The piano album is so much easier – the vocal album is going to be hard work, and I know a lot of people are waiting for that.”
“I decided from this year I’m going to take music more seriously,” Reet continued. “ I said to myself, ‘If I’m not moving to London and I’m going to stay in Estonia, I’m going to take music more seriously.’ I’m going to start producing too.”
The beautiful photos accompanying this interview were taken in the summer by the Estonian photographer and fashion designer Marin Sild, a long-time member of the Charm Offensive team. Reet was impressed with her work. “I think I’m strong on the outside, but sensitive and vulnerable on the inside. I think she got that.” Reet didn’t wish she were more resilient. “If I were really tough and strong, I don’t think I could write any music.”
It was always thus, she recalled, reflecting on how her emotions had always been channelled into the piano keys. “When I got upset, as a kid, I’d go to my room and play music. It was Beethoven kind of stuff, and everybody was scared to come into my room, because they knew I was upset! I put everything into my music. When I feel bad, I put it into my music, and at least half of it is gone! Sometimes I think it’s good to have all those emotions in me.”
Reet’s brother Rain is often alongside her at concerts. A singer and guitarist of great ability, he contributed a track to Reet’s instrumental album. “He understands me, I can trust him, I think he’s extremely talented, he’s not afraid to criticise me, which is a good thing; he somehow ‘gets me’.” The understanding is completely intuitive. “I just have to look at him for a second, and he knows I want to do the chorus one more time. And when I tell Rain there’s a concert in Tallinn, and we’re going to get paid however much, he’ll drive from Võru to be here, and back. Sometimes he doesn’t make anything due to the travel cost, but he doesn’t care, because he loves doing it.”
We talked further, about Reet’s frustration that talented young Estonian songwriters are often not given the chance to prove their worth in the domestic music business, and her thoughts about working with more artists in the future, on writing and production. Here in Estonia, supported by family and friends, Reet is moving forward with her professional ambitions, but, more importantly, she is making beautiful music which the world deserves to hear. If that moment has arrived in Reet Lantson’s career when the creativity just flows, then she is taking full advantage of this.