Meet Anja Kotar, a young indie-pop breakout artist ready to change the music scene as we know it. After being involved in music and the arts from a young age, Anja moved from her native country of Slovenia to California to pursue a career in music while she was still a teenager. After launching a successful Kickstarter campaign, she raised enough money to fund her largest project to date- her debut album titled NOMAD. A concept album structured as a road trip mixtape, the album is based on both Anja’s experiences moving across the globe and trying to find her place in the world as an artist. The collection is multi-layered, insightful, and tells a story relatable to most young people in our modern society.
Aside from her work ethic and genuine personality, her dedication to the visual details of her music really sets her apart from other artists. This is shown in the launch of her online store “Too Cool”, which combines the best of both fashion and music with the intent of creating a new multi-faceted way to experience art. With a fresh perspective on youth culture, strong vocals, and unique instrumentation, NOMAD is a bold debut that will make Anja Kotar one to watch in the near future.
We caught up with Anja for a chat about NOMAD, growing up in Slovenia, and her new online store. Read the full interview below!
CM: At only 20 years old, you’ve already released an album and been crowned as Slovenia’s best new artist in 2016, among many other achievements! What is it like being involved in the music industry at a young age?
AK: It’s definitely very tricky to navigate. The earlier you enter, the less developed you are as both an artist and as a person, so it makes it a lot easier for other people to influence you and mold you into something they need at the time. Luckily for me, my parents helped me navigate every step of the way, so everything I’ve done felt like a natural progression. Although I definitely would’ve argued with this statement a few years ago, the fact that I wasn’t able to work in the U.S. for our first 4 years here definitely helped. I was able to take time to focus on studying and developing my music. That way, I wasn’t pushed into doing something that didn’t feel authentic, but I was able to retain creative control of my work and put out material that I truly believe in.
You’ve also been involved in the arts through dancing and acting. What made you sure that music was the main path you wanted to take?
Music is something that I’ve wanted to do ever since I can recall (as cliche as that sounds). From my first day at music school for classical piano at age 5 to performing at the X-Factor in Slovenia and jazz festivals across the U.S., to recording ‘NOMAD’ in the studio, every single move I get to create in music brings me enormous joy and continues to remind and assure me that it is my one true love and what I’m supposed to be doing.
You moved from your homeland of Slovenia to California in 2012. How has living in both places influenced your music?
When I lived back in Slovenia, my life was dedicated to classical music. I was a solo pianist and also played in a piano trio (with cello and violin), attended many competitions, and performed in places like the Slovenian Opera House and Philharmonic. I practiced for hours every day and consequently, listened to a lot of Chopin, Tschaikovsky, and their likes. However, during this same time, my greatest passion was singing. But because, at the time, there weren’t many opportunities for pop singers, I would get home after dance or piano practice, run to my room, search YouTube lyric videos for popular songs and learned to sing them by stopping and playing over and over again. This way, I taught myself to riff (in songs like ‘Fighter’ by Christina Aguilera or ‘Listen’ by Beyoncé) and that’s where some of my R&B vocal influences come from. After we moved to the U.S., I started studying at the VC Conservatory where I sang in vocal jazz groups and as a soloist with a jazz ensemble, as well as started performing in and directing musicals. When writing my music, I subconsciously add influences from all the genres I’ve studied or been exposed to throughout the years and that’s also sonically reflected on ‘NOMAD’.
Your debut full-length album NOMAD was just released in May! What can you tell us about the title of the album and why you chose it?
The longer we live in the U.S., the more complex the question of “home” becomes. One of the most interesting things I’ve experienced during this transition was the feeling like I belong everywhere and nowhere at the same time, a part of everything and nothing – very much like a nomad. The more I delved into these feelings, the more I started noticing I wasn’t alone in this experience, but that, rather, many young adults transitioning from their teenage years feel the exact same way. As we’re growing up, we are searching for ourselves and our place in this world, and ‘NOMAD’ tracks that journey.
Can you describe the sound we can expect on NOMAD and some of the musical influences for this album?
The album is very heavily influenced by the music of the 80s combined with today’s electronic pop. I’ve listened to a lot of Prince, Phil Collins, Michael Jackson and their contemporary counterparts. My producer Pascal Guyon and I used a lot of TR 808 drum beat sounds, combined with powerful synths that serve as a foundation for the album.
The first single, ‘How To Be Cool’ is an edgy and rebellious pop tune. Tell us a bit about the inspiration behind the song and how it came to be.
I’ve always been bothered by the fact that there were so many songs on the radio that glorified and worshiped reckless partying in the most platonic of ways. I could see the effect such promotion by influential brands had on my friends and the people around me. I never was a party animal, so such rhetoric was really off-putting for me and I was never afraid to voice my opinions. So it only made sense to write a song about how I feel – “how to be cool without being cruel with yourself”? It’s definitely a rebellious song, showing a different, darker side of the picture-perfect party scene as depicted by the media; a side where “popping pills” comes from “taking pressure off the wound you can’t heal.” I chose it as the title track because it really sets the tone for what ‘NOMAD’ is going to be: a raw and honest look at growing up in the U.S.
You also wrote the songs on NOMAD. Tell us about your songwriting process for this album.
I actually (unknowingly at the time) started writing some of the music for this album almost three years ago. I kept notebooks of all of my drafts and ideas and it wasn’t until early last year after coming back from performing in Europe that I actually sat down and went through everything. I started noticing common themes – I was writing about my life in the US, peeking into the so foreign yet so familiar world I was slowly becoming a part of. Once I saw where the music was taking me, I decided to continue the narrative and wrote intentionally in that direction, filling in the missing pieces. At the same time, I also decided to bring in my musical theater roots and create a concept album out of it: because so much of our lives here in the States are spent in cars, I structured ‘NOMAD’ as an in-car mixtape of growing up. I then added little hints and details to bring everything together, from starting and ending the album by walking to (or from) a car and starting the engine (or turning it off) and adding a static radio sound midway through the album (‘Put the Gun Down’ – serves as the lowest point on ‘NOMAD’, and delineates a change in tone), to sprinkling in cars or driving themes throughout the song lyrics, and starting with a Prologue (which ends with a run-down of what’s about to come) and ending with a Finale (which is structured as a mashup of all of the songs on the album in chronological order).
How would you describe the album as a whole in five words or less?
21st-century American youth.
You also just launched your online store “Too Cool”, which encompasses the worlds of both music and fashion. Tell us a bit about your vision behind the store and the process of bringing it to life.
I’ve always been very visual – when I write music, I envision moments and settings, so ideas for videos and looks to go with them immediately start popping up. I firmly believe that the future of music lies in interdisciplinary art where different artists connect to create their own perspectives on music, thus creating an experience. The online store is the first step towards that – every song on the album is connected with a specific item in a car, and each of these have a correlating product in the online store. I wanted to bring the ‘NOMAD’ music alive and take the listener deeper into our story, our experience, so all of the online store products are also worn in the correlating music videos. Once you make a purchase, you also unlock exclusive and behind-the-scenes content. To create these products, I partnered with different artists who helped me bring my vision to life – one of my current favorites are the “Happy Pill” acrylic earrings, a pill bottle and a pill.
What have been some of the highlights or most rewarding moments of your career to date?
I’ve had some pretty exciting things that I am honored to have been a part of, like winning Best New Artist in Slovenia, raising $20,000 on Kickstarter, or being nominated for Best Pop Song at the American Songwriting Awards, but what each of these achievements don’t show are the long hours of hard work that were required to get there. I don’t like to point out specific moments as “career-defining” because where and who I am today encompasses so much more than a few awards. I have big plans and I am determined to continue to learn and create, not for small career snapshots, but a lifelong journey in the music industry.
What is your best advice for young people wanting to pursue music?
A career in music is one of the most unpredictable paths you can set yourself on and if you’re not comfortable with constant change, this is probably not the way to go for you. However, if you have an inexplicable fire to create and share music with others, then be prepared to fail. Of course, I could talk for hours about talent, uniqueness, and the paramount factor that will put you a step ahead – knowledge. However, at the end of the day, it all comes down to persisting and working hard. Do not be demoralized by rejection as you’ll have to pick yourself up from thousands of “no’s” before you’ll get that glorified “yes”. Believe in yourself and your abilities and firmly stand behind them, be prepared to work harder than anyone you know, and persist.
So, what’s next for Anja Kotar? Any plans for the rest of 2017?
Over the summer, we’re releasing a short film for the first half of ‘NOMAD’. It’ll be released incrementally, with a new video each month that continues the narrative, and all of them together in the end showcasing the full story. We will also be adding new products to the online store, and in the fall, we are planning the first leg of the ‘NOMAD’ tour.
Anything else you’d like to say about NOMAD or to supporters of your music?
Yes! I’m always taken aback when you say you listen to the music from the album and it reminds you of or takes you back to a certain moment in your life. I think it’ll always be mind-boggling to see that something that was so personal for me to write is able to speak to you even though we’ve never met or even lived in the same place. It’s incredible to see how music can connect people and I will be forever grateful to you for giving me the support and encouragement to continue to connect with you. THANK YOU!
We would like to thank Anja for taking the time to answer our questions and congratulate her on the release of ‘NOMAD’. We can’t wait to see what she does next!
Anja Kotar’s debut album, NOMAD, is available to purchase on iTunes. Be sure to check out her online store, Too Cool, and her official website. You can also stay up to date with Anja via her Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
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