The electro-pop artist creates a fully immersive experience with her debut album NOMAD and the world that it encapsulates.
One thing that all musicians can relate to is the worth ethic required to elevate a project from gestation to realisation. As with most creative endeavours, it is a profession not handed to you but built from the ground up with a dose of stubbornness, a tonne of determination and your fair share of blood, sweat and tears. Anja Kotar knows all about the resilience required to create your own world. The Slovenian-born 19 year old singer-songwriter relocated to San Jose, California with her family in order to pursue her art.
“It was one of the craziest experiences of my life! [We moved] just two days before high school started (as a Sophomore) and we had nothing here, no house, no car – nothing,” Kotar says. “We stayed in a hotel for the first few months and everything was moving so fast. Now looking back, I’m glad it was that way – it forced me to be quick on my feet and start involving myself in the new environment. I signed up for musical theatre auditions in the first week of school and the rest is history.”
Kotar began to write her debut album NOMAD whilst she was still in high school, wanting to capture those formative years whilst she was transitioning into adulthood. It eventually morphed into a concept album. “I had a full notebook of music written that the concept started to take shape – that’s when I really started thinking about the overall visuals and looking for ways to elevate them and truly provide and experience for someone listening to it,” she explains. “I am an unrelenting perfectionist – I would spend hours upon hours debating about one snare hit! I definitely felt a responsibility to adequately capture these moments and emotions, not only for my group of friends who experienced it with me but for everyone else that will be going through those same things next year or decades down the line.”
NOMAD was wholly funded by Kickstarter, an impressive feat for an artist who was sharing their original music for the first time. Kotar visualised the album itself as a mixtape played inside a car, which then extended into a conceptual online shop of merchandise, with each item in the shop corresponding to a track on the album. “I’ve always loved fashion and the liberty of expression it offers, I wanted to incorporate that in my music. Now each of the items/songs also has a product in the online store that we also wear in the music videos for the correlating songs, all of which take the listeners deeper into the world of NOMAD,” Kotar is also a big believer in supporting her fellow budding creatives. “Because I believe that the future of music lies in interdisciplinary art, I connected with indie designers with whom I worked on creating the products for the store. The name itself is a sarcastic take on the concept of “cool”, ultimately showcasing that individuality and uniqueness are “too cool.”
Next on the radar is to release a short film of NOMAD that encompasses the first half of the album, a music video for which is being released every month to piece the story together. “We’re also planning the first leg of the NOMAD tour in the fall,” reveals Kotar. “But I can’t tell you all the details yet!” Very impressive for someone still studying for her degree at Berklee College of Music!
Anja Kotar’s debut album NOMAD is available now.
Your recent single ‘How To Be Cool’ is brilliant! Was there anything that was inspiring that track?
Thank you so much! It was one of the first songs that was completed for the album, both its writing and production. With it, I’m really defining the theme and sonics for the rest of the tracks. It was very much a summary of my experience as a teenager in the 21st century – constantly bombarded with idealisation of reckless partying that is branded as “cool”. ‘How to Be Cool’ is rebelling against those standards and asking whether such behaviour is really worth it in the long run. That question is then further resolved and answered throughout the album.
It is probably the most “pop” track on NOMAD; did you feel that it was important to have that one big track that people could dance to?
I think writing pop music is important because it is one of the most widely accessible genres and incorporates many different influences from all across. Humans are known to release feel-good hormones when singing together so writing easily memorable melodies to transcend messages was an almost natural choice for me. After all, isn’t an artist’s greatest purpose to connect people?
We definitely hear echoes of Robyn in ‘How To Be Cool’ and ‘Poster Child of California’! Are you a fan of hers? Who else would you say inspires your music?
To be very honest, I don’t know much about her, I maybe heard a snippet of a song here and there so any similarity is purely coincidental. As far as writing and storytelling goes, I’m a huge fan of Queen (and Freddie’s voice and performing abilities!). Production-wise, this album was very much inspired by the 80s sounds of Prince and Phil Collins drum beats, as well as current artists such as Lana Del Rey for her lyricism, The Weeknd, and Jon Bellion.
You show a more experimental electronic edge to your song-writing in songs like ‘Modern Galileo’ and ‘Coltrane’. What do you do to keep you inspired as a song-writer?
I think it’s very important to keep an open mind and continue to learn and explore at any given opportunity. That of course (at least for me) means studying music, both its history and musicians of the past as well as the theory and its underlying structures, as well as branching out into different art forms and studies – you never know where your next idea will come from!
You’re still studying at Berklee College of Music. How do you find the time to juggle all of your passions?
I love being busy – seeing hard work pay off is the ultimate motivator! I also truly believe it’s (despite popular stereotypes) very important for musicians to be educated, it opens so many new possibilities, both musically and in business and the way you decide to run your career.
Which was your first love: music or fashion? How do you satisfy your need to do both?
Definitely music – I always had an innate desire to express myself through it. My love for fashion developed later on as I watched my Mom put together outfits and discover little worlds of their own in each of them. Fashion allows me to play around and take on a different character each day, but music is an overarching, longterm process that follows my personal growth and development.
Will you be focusing on fashion as your next project?
I definitely want to continue to add new products to the Too Cool online store – we’re planning on creating limited edition items for every new music video we release. Looking even further, I truly want to keep using the store in every album I make, connecting music and fashion.
What do you hope listeners will take from listening to Nomad?
Ultimately, NOMAD is a journey to discovering and embracing your unique self in the transition between the teenage and young adult years. If listeners can hear just one of the tracks on the album and feel like it talks exactly about something they’ve felt or experienced but never truly knew how to describe it, then my job is done.