When summer rolls around, usually, we’re looking for our fun summer anthems. These can come in any form and any genre of music of course. They can also be unlimited. The only real rule is that they have to fit the feel of summer, whatever that means to you. 21-year-old Anja Kotar’s latest single, “Poster Child of California” very well may be a summer anthem and she has the music video to prove it as well.
Aside from being a singer-songwriter, Anja has a passion for dance, fashion, acting, and technology while also taking jazz and ballet for 10 years. A girl of many talents, she’s won many awards for her work in these different concentrations.
Anja’s music incorporates visuals, art, and fashion to tell a story. This is a technique she says was inspired by Silicon Valley. “I started noticing all these tech moguls branching out of their main areas of work to connect with people outside their realm and create something new and unique,” she explains. “You see Bell Technologies working with musicians to create an AR experience of their albums, Stanford’s bioscience students are partnering up with Warner Music to look for creative solutions to global warming, and I was actually the first artist who premiered her music in a VR environment!”
“For the NOMAD album itself, I wanted to connect my love of fashion with my songs, so I connected with independent designers to create my own online store, Too Cool, where every item correlates with a specific song and creates a deeper experience for the listener,” she talks about the direction of her work.
“I think in general the world is moving towards more inter-connected fields of study–we’ve started to realize that looking at a problem, or in this case, music, from a different angle and through someone else’s lens actually enriches the work and doesn’t dimish it,” Anja refers to this current wave of multimodal art/innovation. “It also helps bring to life ideas and solutions that would’ve otherwise never seen the light of day.”
…We’ve started to realize that looking at a problem, or in this case, music, from a different angle and through someone else’s lens actually enriches the work and doesn’t dimish it.
Anja grew up in Slovenia where she was classically trained music-wise learning mainly on the piano. She thanks her classical piano teacher for introducing her to the “mysterious, magical world of music” during that time in her life. “She taught me one of the most important musical lessons that I try to follow in whatever I create: to look beyond the black and white notes and find a story that the music is telling. ”
Her classical training taught her discipline and the persistence to practice and work for “hours on end.” But, having that training also helps her when recording her demos. She smiles explaining that.
“I have found time to be the best judge of whether a melodic idea is working. When I’m writing new music, a lot of the time I’ll be locked away in my home studio for 6-8 hours and once you work on something for that long, you start to lose objectivity.” As a songwriter, she begins her songs building the verse, pre, and the chorus or, the first half, before she drafts the production. She then gives herself some space away from the song for a couple weeks before going back to it. “Throughout that time, I’ll go back and listen to it in different environments and mediums (on my laptop speakers, headphones, driving in the car, at a coffee shop, etc.), and if something gets me excited about that song every time I listen to it, I know I’m on the right path and it’s time to start writing the rest.”
Going further into her creative process, she admits one of the surprising things that has inspired her is silence. With that, she explains how her creative process is essentially divided into two steps: absorption and dilution. “The absorption is travel, daily life occurrences, discovering new countries, and having a picnic on the beach with your best friends. But dilution is where the magic truly happens: it takes moments of silence to be able to sort through all of these impressions and streamline them into a message, a song. In that way,” she says, “being quiet and alone, having time to think about what you’ve experienced, is the most inspirational thing of all.”
Anja has also found inspiration looking at youth finding their power in this day and age through the use of utilizing tools and resources to fight against injustice. “I absolutely love the initiative that the youth everywhere is taking to create change. After all, we are the generation that will live in the future so we should play a significant part in building it,” she says. “Today more than ever before, we have the opportunities, technology, and growing credibility to develop and share our ideas, pursue our passions, and add our small piece into the puzzle of making a better world.”
Exploring community and self-discovery has always been a part of her music. Her 2017 debut album, NOMAD, became somewhat of a journal for Anja as she looked at her life and trying to find her home and where she belongs. “I think that’s something I will continue to explore. As I grow and learn, my relationship with the different places I’ve lived at changed,” Anja answers when asked if she’s discovered that sense of place yet. “Slovenia will always be the country that raised me, but America shaped me. I like to keep an open mind for every place I visit, try to assimilate with it and take it in as much as possible so each one of them leaves a little imprint of itself on me.”
She says with a smile, “I guess you could say I’m a Nomad.”
I would strongly suggest to every young musician out there to pay attention to education and disregard the ‘if I make it, no one will care anyway’ mentality.
Going from Slovenia to California, Anja has also planted her roots in Boston. A recent graduate of Berklee College of Music, she thanks the experience for giving her the opportunity to see the industry from a different perspective after teaching herself how to write, pitch, and produce her own music. “It wasn’t until I started studying music professionally that I got a much more clear, delineated view of this industry. It has given me a plethora of motivation and knowledge that I definitely wouldn’t have been able to receive had I just moved to LA and started gigging without any real understanding of this business,” she reflects.
“I would strongly suggest to every young musician out there to pay attention to education and disregard the ‘if I make it, no one will care anyway’ mentality. Having firm knowledge of your area of work automatically gives you a natural advantage among other artists and equips you with the tools to create a lasting career in this often unstable industry,” Anja explains about what Berklee has taught her thus far.
She plans to continue her journey with Berklee as she pursues her Master’s. Her excitement is through the roof announcing her acceptance into the Master’s program as she tells me she got the news on her 21st birthday. With a concentration in music production, Anja will be using her studies to make a new album with more of “core material” already written. With the intention of her next set of music to be released song-by-song, she shares that there’s a slight pressure to make sure every track is “single-worthy” but she feels more than ready to take on that challenge.
As for the music and projects that she has coming soon, Anja shares that she has a lot up her sleeve and she’s hard at work cooking up more. “I have a couple of really exciting collabs coming up. The first one is a Latin/Hip-Hop track with one of my frequent collaborators, a writer, and producer from Slovenia, Hyu. It’s so funny–we’ve never actually met in real life! He reached out to me after hearing some of my stuff and we ended up writing a song together for his second album.” Anja adds, “That just shows you the power of technology and its significant influence on music–we’re 4,000 miles apart but here we are releasing tracks together.”
And along with her collabs coming up, Anja also has singles and music videos coming up that she says are some of her favorite visuals she’s created thus far.
Her latest single is “Poster Child of California,” a pop-synth anthem just in time for summer and meant to be a song about women empowerment. “I absolutely love California! I love the openness of the people and the drive for change and innovation–it truly is the ultimate place for a young person to pursue a dream. Because of its full acceptance of all cultures, religions, races, and beliefs, it opens the door for thinkers to really build on their ideas and missions,” Anja responds when I ask her why she chose California to frame this song around.
“There are so many highly influential companies from California, from big names like Apple and Google to smaller independently-run ventures that help build and empower communities. Among these, of course, there are many, strong incredible women,” she finishes.
I love the openness of the people and the drive for change and innovation–it truly is the ultimate place for a young person to pursue a dream.
The song also gives Anja her most autobiographical line which can be found in the second verse. The line reads, “Nomad of the Old World, she sets the road ablaze / deep down still gets scared but she’s determined to amaze.”
“The Old World refers to Europe where I was born and raised, and ‘setting the road ablaze’ alludes to my life and work here in the US,” she explains. “I’ve had the opportunity to do things that I never even dreamt possible. The second half of the lyric is an insight into my thinking about pursuing a career in music; it’s something that I’ve been firmly determined to try to do ever since I can recall, but despite how confident I might seem,” she says, “I still face my doubts and insecurities about it.”
Although she’s still new into her career in music and establishing herself, Anja wishes that when she was first starting out, she received the advice to enjoy every minute of her path. “My head is always in the future–I plan everything out for weeks, months ahead and am often mentally years down the line in my life,” Anja smiles. “When I was younger, I always thought that the way to success is just something you have to push through, but now I can see the beauty of it.”
Anja gives her own little words of wisdom that she’s discovered through this realization, “You have time to craft your sound, the message you want to share with the world, and one day you will look back at it with the nostalgia of those very first steps.”
Within her music and her image, you can see art that is entirely her own while also having clear influences from the sounds and style of the 80s and 90s. Anja is very much an example–or Poster Child, if you will–of what it means to be an outspoken young adult in this generation. “The trends of vintage influence in both fashion and music constantly rotate–a few years back everyone was all about the 60s and 70s, now we’ve moved on to the 80s and 90s. However, the 80s especially hold a very special place in my heart because that was the time my parents were the age I am now,” she says about how 80s have contributed to defining her. “I love hearing their stories of growing up in that era, the music and fashion that shaped them as young adults, and the beautiful memories they created at the time.”
Anja Kotar’s Mini-Playlist for Readers [Listen Here]:
“American” – Lana Del Rey
“Screwed” – Janelle Monáe ft. Zoë Kravitz
“She’s American” – The 1975
“Lost” – Frank Ocean
“The Love You’re Given” – Jack Garratt
“After Dark” – Sam Lachow ft. Watsky & Ariana Deboo
“80’s Films” – Jon Bellion
“Poster Child of California” is available on all streaming platforms.
(photo cred: Jani Ugrin)