QSC Aspiring Interview: Bloom Twins on Ukraine and speaking up

Ukrainian-born, London-based sisters Anna and Sonia Kuprienko, aka Bloom Twins, open up about moving to the UK aged 16 (not knowing a word of English), their debut EP, Transformer, and the influence of their Ukrainian identity in their music.

Since emigrating from Ukraine to London at age 16, the Bloom Twins have made waves in both the music and fashion scenes. As classically trained multi-instrumentalists, the twins have used their platform to draw attention to important issues such as mental health and freedom of expression.

Their music has garnered millions of plays already, and they have toured with renowned artists such as Eels, LP, Duran Duran, and Nile Rodgers. Bloom Twins have also performed at high-profile Fashion Week events including Dior, Louboutin, FCUK and the Tommy Hilfiger x Zendayalaunch, and headlined their own shows and festival dates. In June 2019 Bloom Twins made their US debut, performing at the prestigious TED conference in NYC and were the headliners of Aspen Art Museum's annual summer benefit, ArtCrush.

Their live DJ performance on Karl Lagerfeld’s IG became the most viewed video on the company’s profile with the highest engagement, passing 200,000 views in under 24 hours. With their recent singles, Bloom Twins continue to establish themselves as influential voices in the music and fashion industries. By using their talents to address pressing social issues and incorporating hidden messages in their work, they aim to inspire fans around the world to unite and make a difference through resilience and the power of music.

We started singing before we could talk.

What are your early memories of music as children?

AK: This is actually so funny. I was speaking about it this morning with this Ukrainian designer and she asked me – since we are from Ukraine – ‘Do you know a lot of Ukrainian artists?’ The thing is, we were never really exposed to Ukrainian music, oddly enough. During our childhood we were going to classical music school and our mother was teaching us how to sing – it was all classical music. Our dad would listen to Rolling Stones and The Beatles – every freakin’ weekend [laughs]. So we never really listened to Ukrainian music, unless it was folk or something – we were exposed to classical music and English music. I guess the whole destiny brought us to London!

SK: Yeah, we were exposed to classical music and hours of working every day. Anna trained in piano for seven hours a day, and then we would have classical singing. Basically, we were not allowed to listen to any other music, and that actually opened up the door to this mystery of listening to anything we could. So I guess what our parents played ultimately started as our fresh start into unknown music. And for us, it was The Beatles.

Did you both sing together as children?

SK: We started singing before we could talk!

AK: It was not even a choice. Our mum taught us how to sing. Anytime she had friends over, she would say, ‘Hey, how about you sing this new song that we've worked on?’ And we would get on the chair and start singing. It's hilarious. To be honest, I actually never thought I would have a music career. 

Our mum taught us to sing. I was incredible at piano. But at some point, I had this nervous breakdown with my teacher, because it was very intense for a child to be training so much. My dad told me, ‘You're not coming back. You're not going to play piano anymore,’ because I was losing it. I decided I was going to be a mathematician. 

Then by luck, we met our music managers – who are also Ukrainian – but one of them's been living in London for years, and because they saw something in us, they suggested we move to London to try it out. They had connections with labels, and I thought, ‘If it's gonna work out, great. If not, we’ll come back to Ukraine and then go to universities’. By luck, it just happened that we stayed here.

I could sense that if this song was not going to work out, we were going to be sent back to Ukraine.

You emigrated from Ukraine to London at age 16. How did you find it navigating living in a new country at such young ages?

AK: Not a lot of Ukrainians go through this, where someone comes and says, ‘Would you like to move to London?’ It doesn't happen. It's a really hard path because we need visas to be able to stay here and all that stuff, and London is very expensive, so you need to figure out how you're going to pay for stuff. So when we got this chance to go to London, we didn’t think twice about it. 

We thought, ‘We’re gonna fly to London and then overnight it'll be a success’. Because you're 16 years old – you don't know anything [laughs]. We were sold instantly. Our parents didn't know whether we should go or not, but they knew it was a big chance for us. 

So our mum decided to go with us and she went to all the labels we were working with, she visited the flat we’d be staying in and tried it out. She was like, ‘London is very busy; I don't like it at all. But I think you're gonna be happy here’. So she just let us do what we wanted to do.

SK: The journey was long and quite fascinating. We learned very fast that dreams come with a lot of work and a lot of luck, and with some occasional screw-ups. To me, that was the greatest gift of this journey – to understand that screw-ups are not only incredible stories, but also learning curves, and are something that you take within yourself when you write songs. 

We thought we were ready to perform in front of everyone, given we had been doing it for over 10 years doing classical music. So our idea was to sing blues songs at a blues bar and do it with musicians we'd never met before. We thought, ‘It's like karaoke with musicians, so we're just gonna have fun’. We sang and we were not perceived in this blues era – very quickly we were booed off the stage.

AK: It was not a warm welcome!

SK: It was a very welcome goodbye! [laughs] That was very welcoming. We were meant to sing another song, which we never did. Very quickly, us and our team left the bar because we knew it was not good.

AK: It wasn't good. I agree with it. But still, we were kids back then, so the idea of singing blues as kids…we didn't understand what blues was, you know? The whole first couple of months was definitely very challenging because you think you're on top of the world. You have all the songs that labels gave you to sing – and the thing is, me and my sister are not very good at doing things we've been told to do. 

Our managers organised a showcase with a music label, because there were a couple that were interested. In their office there was this showcase area with a proper stage where you perform. So we were training for this big stage every day, leading up to this showcase. Then we go into the office and we realise that the stage is closed, because there's some issue, so they asked us to sing it in their office, which is a very intimate, small place. 

As an experienced performer, you understand you need to change it up a little bit, because if it's an intimate area, you need to be doing smaller moves and make it more intimate. We were just kids, and we didn't know how to do it. We were doing all these big moves, but in a small office, and it just looked very comical. I could see the smiles on our managers' faces start to disappear. Our managers didn't know what to do with us, because the whole thing was those songs with this label – we had nothing else.

I'm standing for something that is important. I don't need to step foot in Russia, ever.

What happened next?

AK: They asked us to redo the song, and bear in mind I hadn’t touched a piano for years, because I was traumatised by it. They put a piano in front of me and said, ‘You play piano. Why don't you use it?’ I'm like, ‘Okay, I guess it's gonna be the first time I'm gonna touch one in years’. No pressure at all! I could sense that if this song was not going to work out, we were going to be sent back to Ukraine, and by this time, I’d fallen in love with London. 

By the way, we did not speak a word of English. So all these meetings with labels were prepared in advance by us memorising all the sentences as a way to communicate. So I was like, ‘Okay, what are the issues?’ I created a to-do list. I always had it in me as a mathematician, right? What do we need to fix? We need to learn English; we need to write songs that are bangers. I somehow was able to write something on piano, even though I've never written anything on piano – I was classically trained reading music from a music sheet. We showed it to our managers and they saw something in it and said, ‘Okay, I guess we're not going to send them back to Ukraine’. 

So every day, we would be watching American and English TV shows and would write down all the words that we didn’t know, and at the end of the day, we would go through all of those words. We had this rule in the house where Russian and Ukrainian languages were not allowed. This is how, from almost zero knowledge of English, we went into this basic English in a month. But we were stressed out! This is the best way to learn anything: if you're stressed and there is no other way, you will learn things fast.

this EP might be the best songs we've ever written, or maybe some of them, will ever write.

Tell us about the influence of your Ukrainian identity in your music and how your work has changed since the war?

SK: Our parents formed a folk band, which is quite traditional Ukrainian music, with their own twist. That's something we took with us when we moved to London, and we didn't realise how much of it was embedded in our careers. Our politics and our stance started when the first invasion of Ukraine started, which was in 2014. 

When we released a cover of Get Up, Stand Up by Bob Marley, we were showing that it's not okay to just come into somebody else's country and take part of that. We were standing by that from the very beginning. Then when the war started, it really struck a chord in us. 

I personally looked at everything that I've been doing – music included – and I asked myself, ‘Is that enough? Am I doing enough? Is my music enough?’ I realised that I am a musician, and everything that I do is artistic. You try to change people's hearts, or to make them not be indifferent, or to make people hear your point. Potentially, that can result in a change in the hearts of others, and we can stand together and be stronger. That's something we took with us.

You’ve performed at high-profile Fashion Week events and a few years ago you launched your clothing line, GUSSI at London Fashion Week, with profits going to help Ukraine. Where did the idea of GUSSI come from?

SK: We were always into fashion, even from the very beginning of our musical career, so we thought, ‘Why not create our own clothing line?’ It's also a statement – not a protest. Our music is something that you can hear, fashion is something that you can see. We thought, why not do something for Ukraine? 

So we created a line called GUSSI, which basically means geese in Ukrainian. We created it because of the viral content that happened at the beginning of the War when geese were attacking the Russian military, flying into their tanks and marching with Ukrainian people. 

All of them pretty much went viral on Tiktok. We thought, why not create a line dedicated to geese – our heroes – with our own twist? And that's what we did, and people liked it a lot.

it felt so weird for us to be releasing this happy music when there's stuff going on in Ukraine.

Your debut EP, Transformer, is out now; it’s made up of powerful anthems about resilience and self-reclamation. Tell us about how the EP came together and how these powerful themes developed?

AK: We went to L.A. right after the war in Ukraine started and we were supposed to release more music during that period, but it felt so weird for us to be releasing this happy music when there's stuff going on in Ukraine. So we scrapped the whole idea and went to L.A. We met this guy, Sam Nelson – he's an incredible writer, and we bounced some different ideas off him. 

The first time we actually worked with him was Beats Not Bombs, which is the second song from the EP. As we were singing the song Sonia said, ‘We need to sing those BVs in the choruses like we're drunk and loud’. He just stopped right there and, ‘Wait a second. This is a great title for your next song’. I think we had an hour left, so we said, ‘Let's quickly write the song,’ and legit in an hour, the whole song was done. It's probably one of my favourite songs from the EP - and Transformers.

Many artists and people in the public eye stay silent when it comes to voicing political issues. Have you ever been advised to keep your views quiet?

AK: In general, even in 2014, people from labels or whatever would say, ‘Just be careful with what you say,’ and I'm like, fair enough. If they are trying to protect their asses, and they still want to play in Russia, I guess it makes sense. But for me, it makes no sense because I'm standing for something that is important. 

I don't need to step foot in Russia, ever. I've never been to Russia. I'm not intending to go to Russia. So for me, there is no fear. I'd much rather create a very good strong sense of what I believe and what needs to be changed. 

Of course, it's a risky place to be if you have a very strong political view. But how else can I be? My dad is in Ukraine. I might as well use all the resources that I have to deliver the information that is important.

Transformer is about Ukraine transforming into a better, stronger, kinder place.

Your song, Transformer captures the journey of bouncing back from life's toughest moments; tell me about what you were thinking about when you wrote this?

SK: I've been reading a lot of things that people say on the web, and they're like, ‘It's a tough relationship; it's the need to transform’ – everything like that. I was quite confused with that – I don't think that's what it is. I believe that every song that I ever liked was always something that you find within yourself, and that's something that you feel. This song means the world to me. I love so many songs that we've written and I'm very proud to say that this EP might be the best songs we've ever written, or maybe some of them, will ever write.

AK: The beauty of songs is that people can relate to a song differently and take something else from it. For me the song Transformer is about Ukraine as a country transforming into a better, stronger, kinder place. When you put yourself into a challenge, there are two outcomes: either you're going to be destroyed, or you're gonna come out stronger and better. That's how I look at Ukraine. 

When you go through so much crap, you need to look at your situation from the comedy perspective, in a way. It's like what Mr. Bean said: ‘If you look at your life closely, this is a tragedy, but if you step back and you look at it, it's a comedy.’ That's how Ukrainians deal with a lot of stuff. 

They're very kind. They're very welcoming, but they are also super strong and resilient because so many things happen to them, and now they're super strong. But imagine what will happen after the war finally ends. They're going to be even stronger; they will transform into this beautiful country that people will know about forever.

me and my sister are not very good at doing things we've been told to do.

You have used your platform to draw attention to important issues like mental health and freedom of expression, so in terms of performing live and expressing yourself through music what does the phrase Play Out Loud mean to you both?

AK: It means a lot because one of my favourite things in the world is writing music and getting high on writing something really good. Another thing that I really love is playing live with people. It's connecting with people getting their energy from the audience. Honestly, it feels like you're God! I know you're not God, but it feels like you are so elevated. 

You see all these people look at you and you know every single one of them knows your songs, and they possibly relate them to a really important time in their life – their first kiss, their first dance, their first breakup. When you look at that, you see a lot of people connect with you in this specific moment. This is the strongest feeling you can ever get. It's about speaking up. When you’re playing live, it's about speaking up about important messages and connecting with the audience. It's togetherness.

What can you tell us about your London show at the Lower Third on September 14?

AK: We’re super excited about the show. We cannot wait to play because we're gonna play all of the songs that we released on our EP. I just love connecting with people and we really cannot wait to play in London.