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INTERVIEW: Pop Music’s 20-year-old Slovenian Transplant, Anja Kotar

Twenty-year-old singer-songwriter Anja Kotar explores what it’s like to be a pop music transplant, having herself moved from Slovenia to Silicon Valley, and the struggles of being young and fitting in, with her debut album, NOMAD.

Kotar teams up with three-time GRAMMY nominated producer, Pascal Guyon, to create this multifaceted “coming of age” experience, which connects listeners with her music, through her own unique brand of fashion. Salute Magazine recently caught up with the 20-year-old singer-songwriter to discuss her concept album, the future of the music industry, and what’s next for the up-and-coming, young pop musician. 

SALUTE: How has life in the U.S. influenced your sound?

Anja: When I was back in Europe. I was a practical pianist. I was very involved in that world. I attended competitions. I played in a piano trio, so I listened to a lot of Chopin, a lot of Beethoven. That was kind of my main thing.

I always loved singing. It was always a passion, but at that time I didn’t have an opportunity showcase that back in Slovenia. Once we moved here, and I started at the conservatory that I graduated from, I started to be exposed to a lot of different genres that I hadn’t known. That I hadn’t had an opportunity to learn of back in Europe.

I started to get involved in musical theater and started playing with a jazz ensemble and started to sing in a jazz group. So, these were all completely new styles, and genres and composers that I was introduced to for the first time and as I started to write my own music that started to seep into the compositions.

What was the inspiration behind the title, “NOMAD”?

The longer that I lived here., the more complex the question of “where truly home is,” becomes. And as I was going through this transition, from moving away from home and starting a new home here, I started to feel this very unique sensation of everything and nothing at the same time. Kind of everywhere and nowhere. And that to me went to “NOMAD.”

I very much felt like a nomad, going between different places and different people and finding my own place. I definitely wanted to write about that from my personal experience, but the more I  started really to explore that theme, the more started to notice it’s not something that necessarily pertains to me, individually.

But a lot of young people going through this complex, beautiful transition from your teens into your twenties, when you’re trying to find your place in this world and find your path.

So it went from something I was experiencing myself to something much broader that I think a lot of youth feel at this time of our lives.

What do you feel it means to be a “trendsetter” and how is that important to your music?

As soon as you start thinking about being different and trying to purposefully alter yourself for the sake of being unique, you’re immediately on the wrong track. At least from my perspective.

A “trendsetter” is someone who really has their own perspective, their own knowledge, from different places in their life, to create something unique and different to themselves. And not something that society, per se, instilled upon them.

I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a “trendsetter.” At least not at this point in my career, but I will say that I find it very important that I stay true to what I believe in and put out music and visuals that I can stand behind 100 percent and that speak for me.

You have been performing since you were five, what got you started in music? What was it that made you want to be a musician?

From a very young age, I’ve felt this innate need or passion to express myself through music. I just felt something so natural, and it was the best way to deal with “how I feel” and “what I think.” Even when I was a little girl, I loved performing and singing in front of everyone.

I always wanted to be the center of attention. And I have to thank my parents for that and for putting me in music school at a very young age for classical piano.

Because I think at that point [in one’s life] you don’t realize how much a career in music will demand from you. How much knowledge and skill it requires. That was kind of the first step. And that was when I started to delve into this wonderful world of music.

The older I grew more I realized this is what I want to do. I wanted to perform. I wanted to share my music with other people. And every consecutive step I’ve taken, it was always towards that, whether it was performing or studying, it was always on that path because I firmly believe it’s what I want to do in my life.

Tell me more about Too Cool? What made you want to design your own fashion line, where each piece of clothing correlates to a song on the album?

I believe the future of music lies in art. Connecting different artists that will take the music beyond your style but create their own perspective on the music and kind of create this cohesive 360 experience for the listener. We’re starting to see that with Beyoncé and [her visual album] Lemonade, and Halsey and her new album.

For me, the question became how do I do that with the fairly limited resources I had at the time. Fashion has always been a big love of mine. I think it’s a great way of expressing myself. So, I wanted to use that as a vehicle to turn my music into something else.

It is structured as a concept album, so every song was a specific item in the car [filmed in the music video for “How to be Cool”]. I wanted to take that a step further and have each item also have a product in the online store. It takes you deeper into this whole NOMAD experience.

Each of the items are also worn in the music video and the short films and you become part of the story in that sense. I also collaborated with several indie artists and I am excited to see it evolve, and to add new products to it as we go.

Any plans for your next single?

Right now we are structuring the first half of the album as the first NOMAD short film. “How to be Cool” is the introduction to that. Throughout the next three videos, we are going to develop the characters and story-line. It will kind of showcase the story that goes through the album already and accentuates that.

The music videos are going to be in chronological order, so the next single, will be “Eighteen,” and we’ll see where we go from there.

So, you raised $20,000 on Kickstarter to fund your debut EP. Do you recommend crowdfunding as a way for independent artists to fund their music?

I think, for me, it was a really great experience. In today’s age, technology is becoming more and more integrated with music. I think it’s almost a crucial part of an artist’s career. It allows you to have this direct to fan connection, where you can instantly get feedback on what you’re working on and really connect on a more personal level with your listeners.

It is a lot of work. But I think that even if you don’t end up succeeding at your project, there is so much along the way, you’ll learn by having to put everything together. And you really have to treat your music as a business, which is something you use years down the line. To have that knowledge of the inner workings of the industry, I think is something that is invaluable.

For that reason, I would definitely recommend any young artists who are looking for unique ways to make their music, to do something like Kickstarter or GoFundMe, and see what happens.

Who are some artists (of today) that inspire you most?

I love more complex, darker music. The Weeknd, I absolutely love him, because I think he brought these interesting harmonies into mainstream pop. And lyrically, I absolutely adore Lana Del Rey, because she has this great ability of painting images with her lyricism.

But I think a very influential musician, especially for this album, has been John Bellion. His new album [The Human Condition] really opened up my perception of how modern productions should be treated and kind of showed me that there is a way to include theatricality and still make it pop and still make it relatable, but keep it interesting and alive through music.

What was it like to win RTV Slovenia’s award for “Best New Artist”? And what’s next?

That was an extreme honor. Truly, that was the first time I really introduced myself with my own original material, as the artist who I wanted to be. So to receive that kind of response from people who have never heard my music before, I think it was absolutely fantastic. I’m extremely honored and humbled that I got that recognition.

But in the grand scheme of things, I have big plans for my career. This is just another stepping stone to getting there. I am ready to work hard and believe in the material I have now, so I’m excited to see what happens next.

I am graduating [from Berklee College of Music] in December with a Bachelor’s degree, three years early and plan to go on and get my Master’s. Something I am interested in is the application of AI in today’s music. Especially because I’m situated in Silicon Valley, I think it’s a fascinating new concept and it is still a big enigma to the whole music industry, so I would be very excited to dive into that.

Any plans to tour?

We’re currently putting together the first leg of the tour in the Fall. But it’s all still very secret. Anyone who follows on social media will be kept posted. We’re still in the stages of planning, so I don’t want to give any details away yet.

Stream: Anja Kotar Nomad 

NOMAD, the debut album from pop singer-songwriter Anja Kotar, is available now on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and music streaming services. For a more in-depth experience, also be sure to check out her online store, Too Cool.

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