Daniel Levi remembers attending a songwriting camp with an idea he thought would sound ridiculous: he was thinking about writing a song that he could use as a lullaby to sing to his two young daughters when he has a hard time getting them to sleep.
But other songwriters and producers at the camp were drawn to it. Over the next couple of days, the idea that Levi had once felt skeptical about turned into the gorgeous track “Over the Moon,” which was selected as one of five automatic qualifiers for Eesti Laul 2024, Estonia’s national selection for the Eurovision Song Contest.
The Estonian-American singer-songwriter will perform the song live on Saturday, Feb. 17, at Eesti Laul’s final, where he’s sixth in the running order of 10 entries.
Regardless of what the next week holds for “Over the Moon,” the song will surely be a hit in Levi’s household long after this edition of Eesti Laul ends: just two days after an interview with ESC United, Levi announced on social media that he and his wife will soon be singing lullabies to their third child.
Check out Levi’s song “Over the Moon” and scroll down to read our interview!
How are you feeling leading up to the final? What was it like to be named an auto-qualifier?
I’m feeling great. The cool thing about this process is that I signed up very late — the night of the deadline, basically — and I hadn’t given it much thought. I had just released an album and gone on tour, and everything was kind of crazy. I was a little overwhelmed. But I had this feeling about “Over the Moon” that I couldn’t shake. On paper, it seemed like the worst idea to send a lullaby to a song contest. It feels like you have to go big in a song contest, but with a lullaby, you’re going to the roots, and you want to make someone feel safe, important, loved for and cared for. It felt right. I followed my instinct through this whole journey by not doing everything the way “it should be done” for a competition. I’m not trying to please a certain format or do something that will bring me victory. This is a story I feel like I need to tell, and a song that is important to me. I’m feeling confident!
Can you tell us the story behind “Over the Moon” and its songwriting process?
It doesn’t typically work this way for me. I have two daughters who are 3 and 5. At night, putting them to sleep is an ordeal. I’m trying to figure out creative ways to help, like talking about cool things that happened that day, or going over the happy and sad emotions of the day. After that, I feel like a song is the best way to ground them. They’re listening and in the moment.
For a couple of nights, I was humming a melody to them and it stuck with me. The lyric, “Last night I dreamt I jumped over the moon,” came with it. A few days later, I was in the studio at a songwriting camp, and the guys asked, “What song we should do?” I said, “This is going to be an awful idea and you can tell me ‘No, we should make a dance anthem.’ But just hear me out: What if we wrote a lullaby?” And they said we should go for it. The other songwriter in the room, Victor Crone (Eurovision 2019) and the producer, Vallo Kikas, were graceful and loved the process. Usually, you put a lot of attention to having amazing production, but this song, we spent a whole day working on melodies, lyrics and little nuances. It felt right because the whole track was empty and the melody did all the work.
The cherry on top for everything was when I had a vision that we needed an orchestra for the song. That’s how we would take this lullaby and make it into a dream sequence. We got what I would say is the best orchestra in Estonia, and a mastermind composer to make the arrangement for us. All the pieces came together, and that was an indicator to me that this was the right thing.
Since your family inspired the song, what did they think about it?
They know it as that song Dad sings to us. So in their mind, it’s their song, not a competition song. They feel ownership over it. Now, when I sing it to them at night, they sing along with me. It doesn’t work that well as a lullaby anymore because they’re cheering it on, so I might have to think of a new lullaby.
What has it been like to be part of Eesti Laul from so many angles — as a contestant, guest performer, selection juror and more?
Being there in so many roles speaks volumes about why I keep coming back. It’s an amazing opportunity to showcase your songs in Estonia, whether it’s your songwriting or a performance, on a level that isn’t regular. It’s a highlight of the year for musicians and songwriters, so that draws me back in. It’s a rush to be a part of it. Since we have such a small country, we rally together around the performer who represents us. We love cheering for our performers in Estonia, and that’s what it comes down to.
What is your relationship to Eurovision?
I remember growing up in the United States, and it was never on my radar. When my family moved to Estonia over 20 years ago, we were introduced to it. Seeing that kind of a show happening, and watching the voting process brings you in and glues you to the TV set. It’s the biggest show you’ve ever seen, and it’s full of hilarious little moments. I’d be “over the moon” if I could represent Estonia at Eurovision.
Any favorite entries over the years?
I loved “Fly on the Wings of Love” (Denmark 2000). That’s the first song that popped into my head, and it’s so much fun. It wasn’t over the top; it was a simple, well-written song, and the song did the work. And of course for Estonia, an important song is the one that brought out only Eurovision victory, “Everybody.” That one goes down in history for Estonia. A very cool entry was “Hard Rock Hallelujah” by Lordi (Finland 2006). The theatricality and the performance set a precedent for a whole new level of performance.
What does the chance to go to Eurovision mean to you as someone who also represents Estonians living abroad?
American and Estonian cultures are very different, but I feel like I’ve gotten the best of both worlds and won the lottery. It’s a blessing to know both cultures and to “switch.” When somebody says something bad about America, I can say, “Hey, wait a second!” But then I’ll turn around and be the biggest critic of the U.S. myself, and only I can do that. It’s cool to be able to turn that on and off. When it’s Thanksgiving or Fourth of July, I switch into full-on U.S. mode and nobody can stop me. It’s a cool opportunity to pull from both cultures.
You’ve been part of the grand final once before as a spokesperson. What was that like?
That was pretty cool. I felt super confident. Growing up, seeing that part of Eurovision, it’s hilarious to see what happens when juries give their points. I was torn. I wanted to do something stupid, but I wanted to represent Estonia well. I love when someone starts to randomly sing when they’re giving points. If anyone’s doing a Eurovision bingo, that should always be on the card! But I kept it simple and to the point, and it felt great! I think we gave our maximum points to Sweden.
What or who has inspired your music over the years?
When I was growing up in the States, we spent summers and Christmas in Canada with my dad’s family. There was a lake house we’d spend time at with an 8-track machine. There was a cassette stuck in there that we couldn’t switch out. It was only that or silence, and it was the Beach Boys album Pet Sounds. That was my summer soundtrack every year. Thinking back, that gave me a love for different harmonies and vocal arrangements. The outro of “Over the Moon” is only the vocal arrangement, and I can see that influence coming through.
When I write lyrics and think of song ideas, my last album 14/02 (a reference to Valentine’s Day) is about the concept that when I was in junior high, there was a girl I wanted to date, but I didn’t know how to tell her, so I made her mixtapes of different love songs to say, “Hey, I hope you get the hint.” Twenty years later, we are married and have two beautiful children together. The idea is that it’s another mixtape I dedicated to my wife. The songs are inspired by our journey together. There’s so much that can get packed into those years, and I love the mystery of relationships. That’s the most exciting thing for me to write about.
One of your most successful singles, “On & On” with Cartoon and Jeja, remains well-known after almost a decade, with more than 500 million YouTube views and countless covers and choreography videos. What is it like to be part of something that continues to make such an impact?
It’s mind-blowing! It started out nonchalant with us saying, “Let’s jam together and make a cool song.” We recorded the vocals in a cupboard with jeans and clothes hanging around my face. The fact that people are still finding the song and connecting with it is a beautiful thing.
The message of togetherness, and pushing further, that’s something that resonates with people across the globe. As a whole, that’s something we should be striving toward. It’s crazy. I love seeing videos people send me, where they’re hearing the song on vacation in the Philippines or Mexico, or that they heard it on the radio or on the bus. It makes me feel humbled.
Do you have any future plans you’d like to mention?
We have lots and lots of songs I felt weren’t a fit for the format of 14/02. After “Over the Moon,” we’ll close that chapter, and another really exciting chapter is coming.
Can you share something fans might be surprised to learn about you?
I went to art school to study graphic design, and I’m a collector of Estonian art and paintings. When you have a small collective, you want to support the artists that you have here. It’s a great way to bring the Estonian art scene into focus and enjoy some amazing pieces.
Any other message you’d like to share with fans?
Right now, more than ever, we need to feel a sense of safety. The whole idea behind a lullaby is to make someone feel like it’s alright. You can go to sleep and feel safe, loved and looked after. If for three minutes, I can make someone feel that, it would be the biggest gift ever.
If #YOU want to support Daniel Levi’s pathway to Eurovision 2024, make sure you tune in to the final of Eesti Laul 2024 on Feb. 17 and vote if you’re able to!