The glittering pop princess chats working with Kylie, first love and celebrating Christmas the Finnish way…
BY DANIELLE MUSTARDE
Saara Aalto glitters. She does. In fact, it’s the only reason I manage, sans glasses, to spot the 32-year-old in the low-lit bar we meet in, after glimpsing something shimmering in the far corner of the room. Lo and behold, it’s there that I find her, all wide smiles and sequins.
In keeping with the theme, the last time Saara featured in DIVA, she was in the midst of her Dancing On Ice gig and today, she’s gearing herself up for the winter season which, fittingly, is the busiest time of the year for the sparkling Finnish songstress.
DIVA: Saara Aalto, how are you?
SAARA ALTO: I’m good, thank you… That’s the British answer [laughs].
What’s the Finnish answer?
It’s more like you actually reply and tell what’s going on.
Okay, then how are you in the Finnish sense?
Well, I’m releasing a Christmas album – two actually. One for the Finnish market and one for the British market, and they are different because our Christmases are different. The music people listen to in Finland is very different to the Christmas music in the UK, so I was like, I need to make two albums because I want to give everybody something! My whole summer I’ve spent gigging and recording the two albums – it’s so weird to record Christmas songs in July! [Laughs] I’ve been in a Christmas mood already for months now. I can’t wait for Christmas to really start.
That sounds busy – with bells on. In fact, you’ve said life’s been a real “whirlwind” recently, and that you’ve been “trying to figure life out” How so?
This year, there’ve been so many opportunities where it’s just not been the right time or I’ve had to say no, or people have said no to me… I’ve had to really think about what my values and my goals are. This is the hard thing about the music industry: you have to keep doing your thing even though people say no to you, or you have to say no to them. Honestly, it’s quite difficult.
Also for me, I’m at a new moment in my life. I’m with a big label whereas, in the past, I had my own and released my albums that way. I was in charge. Now I’m learning to be under a big label which is challenging because they have their ideas and I have my own opinions. So, that’s been a struggle this year, trying to find that balance.
How’s that whirlwind feeling as we come to the end of 2019?
That’s a big question because, at the moment, I’m really excited about my new album and having people hear it. I’m in a good place. But once you’ve done something it’s like, “Okay. What’s next?” I think I had a bit of a, not a crisis, but… I think it’s normal whenever you grow that you have to decide what to do next. What about my next album? What kind of music will it be? There are many questions in the air and I have no idea what’s coming but, for the moment, the new album’s here, so I’m happy.
And with your new album comes a December spent touring Finland?
Yes, we did have one date in London on 29 November, but then it’s straight off to Finland with my Fairytale tour. Before the X Factor, I always used to tour in Finland over Christmas, but after, I didn’t have the chance. It’s been two years since I toured there with my Christmas music and people have been like, “Saara, you have to come and do a Christmas tour!” This year, I’m finally doing it.
It really will be a Christmassy extravaganza – you even have a song, Every Christmas Day, penned by HRH Kylie Minogue. How did that come to be?
Kylie and I sang together on the X Factor. She liked me, I liked her and, through her, I met her producer, Steve, and we started working together. He was like, “Oh, we have this Christmas song that Kylie wrote. Would you like it?” And I was like, “Mm, yes please” [Laughs]. Now we’ve recorded it, it’s funny, it sounds like a Kylie song but mixed with my vocals.
Well, now that we’re in the spirit of things now – do you like Christmas?
I do and, like I said, I have this history of touring during Christmas every year. Plus, in Finland, Christmas songs are really beautiful ballads with beautiful melodies which suit my voice very well. Really, I’ve been touring every Christmas since I was 15 or something so, for me, Christmas is a big thing. On the other hand, it’s also the busiest time of my year, so after touring and by the time the real Christmas comes along – which is the 24th in Finland – I’m exhausted.
Where do you spend/heal yourself on Christmas Day?
I always go to my parents for Christmas. It’s funny, their friends are always like, “Oh, when Saara comes home, is she just singing Christmas songs to you?” And my parents are like, “No! She’s not.” [Laughs] It’s the only time of the year when I actually go home and relax, and I mean home, home; up north in Finland where I’m from. All of my grandparents are still alive so we always spend Christmas together though, actually, this is the first Christmas where one of my grandfathers is in hospital and can’t spend Christmas with us. It’s the first time ever that we’re missing one.
That’s tough… How would you usually spend the day?
We spend it with our families inside because it’s so cold outside, people don’t really go out. Instead we’re indoors. Quiet would be the word. It’s not like party, party – it’s family together and good food. In my family, when I was younger, we had a tradition where we would get a present in the morning – a morning present! – and then, in the evening, Santa Claus would come to your house. The actual Santa Claus.
The actual Santa Claus?
Well… in my family, my dad would always say, “Oh, I need to go and look for the Santa Claus, he must be somewhere out there…” and then, and only ever when dad went away, Santa Claus would come. In Finland he actually comes to your door!
Wait, the actual Santa Claus comes to your door in Finland? I mean, I know the population’s small but…
No! [Laughs] But there is an actual person dressed as Santa Claus coming to your house. You can book them!
While we’re on the topic of wintry, Finnish nights, also on your new EP is the single Starry Skies, an ode to “first love”. Tell us the story behind it?
I actually wrote it with David Sneddon [from Fame Academy – remember Alex Parks?] I spent the day with him and, we knew we wanted to make a song about winter, and so he was like, “Okay, tell me about your life in the north of Finland. How was growing up? When you fall in love, where do you hang out?” And that brought back memories.
It’s funny… it’s so cold in Finland that, when you’re a teenager and you want to be away from home and your parents, there’s no where to go! I remember one New Year’s Eve, I had a crush on this person and everyone was outside watching the fireworks. It was minus 30 – yep – and I remember we were out there and I was freezing but I didn’t want to go home because I wanted to be with this person. So, the song is about that. I got my first kiss in those temperatures, I have all of these memories about first love at -30 degrees! [Laughs].
At least those memories will be well preserved. Plus, it all fits with your “wintry pop princess” image. Did you mean to create that persona?
I think it came because, around 2013, I had some gigs in China and, in China, you have to have a Chinese name and mine means “Snowflower”. I chose it because I wanted a name that reflected me as Finnish and, when people think about Finland, they usually think about winter or snow. Then, when I came to X Factor, I thought okay, that’s my brand in a way. I also wanted to represent my country and the cold and the snow and it just kind of stuck.
Well, it suits you!
The funny thing is, all of my music videos have been filmed in very cold countries like Norway or Iceland too. Always. We joke now that the next video has to be filmed in like, Florida or Los Angeles. You see… I actually hate the cold. I don’t like it at all.
Saara Aalto, wintry pop princess, hates the cold?
I know… but it’s so awful. I should be living in Florida or somewhere, absolutely, but… what can I do. It’s my brand now.
You’re going to have to pull a Madonna, aren’t you?
I think you might be right…
Saara’s EP Fairytale is out now. Catch her on tour in Finland throughout December 2019. For tickets visit saaraaalto.com. This article was originally published in full in the December 2019 issue of DIVA magazine. Get yours here.
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