Anja Kotar

Māgoa presents Anja Kotar: talented singer, songwriter and pianist, originally from Slovenia, but now living in between San Jose, LA and Seattle. Our newest obsession is Anja’s newest single Kids, which “serves as an exposition to the millennial generation and our relationship with technology, the numerous benefits and potential obstacles that the digital age has created.” Find out more about her work and life in the interview down below.

First of all, hi and welcome to Māgoa, Anja. Could you quickly introduce yourself in a few words to our readers?

Thank you so much for having me!! I’m a singer, songwriter and pianist, originally from Slovenia, but now living in Silicon Valley, who is building a career from writing Pop jams about growing up in the digital age.

How did you start your music journey? When did you first know, you wanted to pursue a music career?

I was always obsessed with performing and singing, practically ever since I could talk. I’m grateful that my parents saw that innate passion for music early on and put me in music school for classical piano at age 6. Over the next nine years, I gained the core knowledge of music that I very much still refer back to today.

What does music mean to you? What do you feel while writing new material?

Music is what makes every day moments feel like magic. It’s the soundtrack to our lives, from heartbreaks and celebrations, to losses and successes. It helps us reflect on the world around us and I believe that as a musician, it’s my job to present known concepts or ideas in new ways. All of the main human experience stories have already been written, but it’s up to the artists to mold them and reflect upon them from a different angle.

When I’m writing, I always want to be as raw and honest as possible. It’s pretty counterintuitive if you think about it, but the more personal you get, the more people can relate to you – the experience and the music feel (and are!) more genuine and that’s when real connections and the best life soundtracks are born.

What has had the biggest impact on you in your life? Who has been your greatest music influence?

From an experiential perspective, my family’s move to California back in 2012 was definitely one of the most impactful moments of my life. I was 14 at the time and right in the middle of transitioning from my teenage years to young adulthood. The brand-new culture, behaviors, and people that I encountered in the US blended with my upbringing in Slovenia and created the hybrid I am today.

From a musical perspective, one of the most important people in my life was definitely my piano teacher in Slovenia – Anamarija Jemec. I was one of her first students, she was just 22 when I started, and she was my teacher throughout all 9 years of my classical piano training in Europe. She showed me that music isn’t just black and white notes, but that there are feelings and stories hidden inside those pages. She made me look at music from a deeply personal storytelling perspective which is something that I continue to look for in all music I play and create.

You bring a different, refreshing sound to the Slovenian music scene, both with your songs and visual aesthetic. In your songs, do you focus more on the story telling or on the performance in general?

Thanks – that really means a lot! I think that’s definitely a result of my aforementioned move to the US and being exposed to so much new music that I really didn’t have that much access to in Slovenia, such as jazz, musical theatre, and pure Pop. I met photographer Jani Ugrin when I was on EMA back in 2016 and he’s been behind all of my visuals since then. So, with this background info, I think the performance and storytelling are entirely interconnected; they should stem from and inform the decisions of one another. If you’re trying to base a performance independently, without considering the storytelling or emotional impact of the song, the performance just won’t be that impactful, it’ll feel disconnected. I think this viewpoint is something I carried over from my days of doing musical theatre. I always have the song first – after all, that’s the core of what I do. Then as I have the demo and start working my way up to production elements, I’ll start envisioning different things that’ll inspire the rest of the song. Then as that is done, I’ll have lived in its mini world for long enough to have a much clearer image connected with it: that’s when I start focusing on working out every detail of the visual components. But once again, it all starts with the song.

 

What is the story behind your most recent single Kids and how did you come up with the visual concept for it?

Kids serves as an exposition to the millennial generation and our relationship with technology, the numerous benefits and potential obstacles that the digital age has created. The bridge lyrics are really the pillars of the song: “Is it true that I’m connecting, or reality rejecting?”. I believe this is a very active and important question for our generation, one that will continue to impact the development of technology and the ways we continue to integrate it in our lives.

The visuals for the song were very tricky to come up with as this was the first song where I would introduce my new image – much more streamlined, clean, and modern than my previous, heavily 80s influenced work. This meant me and Jani had to work more or less from the ground up, creating an entirely new concept that would be both specific to Kids, but could also be expanded and built upon for my upcoming music. Since I knew I wanted to dedicate this next chapter of my career to writing about technology, we were influenced a lot by Black Mirrorand their ability to create a both current yet somewhat futuristic world. The white background in the Kids video represents the cold, harsh reality of our lives, while the flowers depict the fantasy we put on online. As you might’ve noticed, there are more and more flowers throughout the video, alluding to getting caught up in this fairytale, fake online world. Along with these, every outfit or “character” represents a characteristic of the millennial generation: pink (vanity), blue (melancholy), yellow (felicity), purple (apathy), red(romance), and green (boredom). 

How do you want your music to impact people?

Ultimately, I’m hoping that my own experience can in some way resonate with people. When I wrote “wanna change the world, 21 and feeling old” in Kids, I was debating whether to put it in the song. Every time I heard myself say it out loud, my stomach cramped up like I was revealing something too personal and vulnerable about myself that I wasn’t sure I wanted others to know. But it’s this very reason that led me to include it in the final version of the track. After the song was released, I got a surprising number of messages from people telling me how that line hit home with them and how they felt like someone was exposing them, exposing something about them they didn’t want to reveal. And there’s nothing more rewarding than that. Music is meant to be shared, to find others who think and see the world the way you do, and to experience it together.

Which song was the most difficult to record so far?

From a purely recording perspective, I think one of my upcoming singles (can’t say the name yet) was the most difficult so far. I worked on it with my good friend and fantastic producer whom I’ve collaborated with on his tracks before – Hugo Smeh / Hyu. I absolutely love his work and his treatment of sounds so I asked him to produce one of my new singles. When I first sent him the song, it was a ballad with long, sleepy, Lana del Rey – style melodic lines. He worked off of that but as I was listening back, the melody writing I’d done just wasn’t blending together, it was like the chorus and the verses were taken from two completely different songs. The challenge came because me and Hyu never actually physically got together in the studio as we live on two opposite sides of the globe. I would send him ideas through Instagram messages and he would respond a few days later with a new version of the song – we unintentionally personified the millennial generation and our relationship with technology (hehe). We went through at least 10 different treatments of the song, until he one day sent me this incredible funk, Aretha Franklin-inspired version of the production with a brass section and some string samples. I was in Seattle at the time working on Kids and living in my brother Klemen’s apartment who goes to college there, so I pulled out my mini portable mic the middle of the kitchen and wrote the new verse and pre-chorus that you’ll hear when the song comes out. It was at that moment that everything really started to come together.

What would you say is the most challenging aspect of your career?

The lack of pre-set steps! I’m a huge planner and perfectionist, and I always need to know what I’m doing next and how I will get there (literally and metaphorically speaking). But having a career in music goes against all that, especially when you’re starting out and trying to get a footing in the business. There’s no winning formula, or list of things you have to do in order to “make it” in music. It’s all about adapting, going with the flow, as everything can pretty much change overnight.

You’re currently living in between San Jose, California and Ljubljana. How did the move influence your work? Do you maybe see any connections between the two cities?

I actually no longer live in Ljubljana 🙁 I come occasionally to visit my grandparents and friends or for work, but I now live between San Jose (CA), LA, and Seattle. The funniest thing I’ve noticed in the behaviors of Europeans and Americans is that they both idealize each other. It’s interesting how we always want what we don’t have 🙂 Throughout the past seven years that I’ve lived in the US, I’ve been able to appreciate both cultures, but most importantly I’m constantly trying to take the best out of each. I think the strongest connection between all these US cities and Ljubljana are their young people: they’re ambitious, have big ideas, and are prepared to work for them. However, I do feel that there are many more opportunities to realize those ideas here in the States; the environment is very supportive and people are eager to help you, instead of trying to bring you down. I wish the youth in Slovenia had more opportunities to learn and grow and pursue their dreams, without having to move out of the country in order to experience the right climate to do that.

What’s something that people would be surprised to know about you? Do you have a secret talent, weird habit, personality trademark, etc.?

I’m super childish (haha!). I love talking to myself, making up weird songs and characters. I just really try to have fun at all times 🙂 There’s something about the simplicity and wonder that you experience as a child and I guess that’s my way of trying to preserve that. I truly believe that you can be much more productive if you are constantly pursuing happiness, if you try and find joy and excitement in the littlest of moments, so making random jokes along the way helps to remind me of that. I also really, really, REALLY love candy, so there’s that. 🙂

Which song do you love to perform live?

Oh, that’s easy: Theory of Relativity. I think it’s because I wrote it about such a specific moment that I can’t sing without thinking about it: late summer evening when me and my brother were driving in his convertible, listening to the Arctic Monkeys, and watching the sun set in front of us. My brother is my best friend and knows me better than anyone else so I usually start tearing up before I even start singing the song, during the intro!

What’s the song you’re listening to most at the moment?

“That’s Why God Made the Radio” by the Beach Boys. That song represents every summer car ride I’ve had here in the US and always makes either makes me nostalgic or incredibly excited about life. There was a period of time last year when this was always the first song I’d listen to when I’d get in the car on my way to workout every morning – it immediately put me in such a good mood!

What would you consider to be your greatest achievement? 

I genuinely don’t like to classify my “achievements”. I don’t like reveling in the past, but much rather spend my time thinking about the future and what I can do to get to where I want to be. I always set very high goals for myself so let’s just say that my greatest achievement is yet to be achieved.

Any upcoming plans or projects you would like to share with our readers?

I have a lot of new music and visuals ready for 2019, all of which stem from what I’ve introduced with Kids. I also just released a Pop House collaboration track with Joza which I wrote and recorded in Seattle back in January.

I’d also stay on the lookout for a new single announcement very soon 🙂

Anja, thank you very much for your time and answers. The best of luck with your career and upcoming projects!

Visit Anja’s Website and Instagram.

Photography: Jani Ugrin