Today Anja Kotar delivers her indie-pop stateside, but not too long ago she was living life in Slovenia. She spent the first fifteen of her life there. That was long enough to form insights into the teenage mind of both a Slovenian teen and one in the states. We talked about those differences, “How To Be Cool” in either place, the short film that coincides with her release, NOMAD and more.
Kendra: You came to the US from Slovenia at about 15. A crucial age in terms of social stress. How long did it take you to adjust to new customs, new fashion, new ways of teenage life or were the kids in Slovenia the same as the ones here?
Anja Kotar: At the time, I was young and excited to start a new life so far away from home. So everything seemed like a movie. Looking back, I see just how crazy the whole transition truly was. We got here two days before high school started so I was kind of thrown in the moment and had to swim.
On my first day at the Conservatory, I saw a fall musical signup form. I felt like Gabriella straight out of High School Musical. I auditioned a few days later and had done theatre until graduating. That’s where my core group of friends came from. We shared the same values and ambitions which meant we could support and help each other. In the sense of overall culture, American life is different than that in Europe on almost every level. So there was a lot of adjusting and learning, especially in the first few months. One of the main differences that I noticed within my generation was the scale of dreams that teenagers here had. No idea seemed too big or too out of reach as long as you’re ready to work for it. So for someone with big hopes of becoming a singer, that was absolutely mesmerizing.
Kendra: Thinking to your single “How to Be Cool,” was there a definitive way you noticed American kids trying to be cool that varied from back in Slovenia?
Anja: The greatest difference in the definition of cool among my generation in Slovenia vs. the US, is the sheer amount of races, cultures, and religions that mix together here. There are so many subgroups and each of them has their own set of ideals they strive for. So it’s much easier to feel like you fit in because it’s easier to find a group of like-minded people.
In Europe, however, culture is much more monogamous so if your ideas are unique. You feel like an outcast a lot faster. Funnily enough, the deeper down you dig into the teenage experience, the more you notice that we all go through the same personal issues and transitions, wherever in the world we live. “How To Be Cool” summarizes that constant desire of being “cool” no matter what your society defines it as.
Kendra: Last time we talked you were talking about a NOMAD short film to go along with the album. How is that going?
Anja: It’s going great! We’ve currently released the first two videos from it, “How To Be Cool” and “Eighteen.” Visually, I absolutely love “Eighteen” because it really starts to delve into the core of what NOMAD is about. “How To Be Cool” in many ways is a prelude, setting the tone. While “Eighteen” is then the song (and video) that starts talking about specific issues and dilemmas teenagers are faced with. Following this video, we have two more coming out until the end of the year. Together they will conclude the first chapter of NOMAD – figuring out the teenage years – and then we move on to trying to find a place in this world as a young adult.
Kendra: Is there anything you’ve taken from NOMAD that you learned, and are going to do differently the next time you hit the studio?
Anja: One of the most important things I’ve learned is people really appreciate the attention to detail and unique ideas. I’m a perfectionist. Many times when I was in the studio for this album, I started to feel a bit silly for spending hours on finding the right sound for a single beep. Sometimes I would tell myself that no one would even notice it. But quite on the contrary, people notice everything. Even if they just register the different beep as a change in mood – they’ll know! That’s very encouraging and fulfilling to be aware. So I’m determined to spend even more time and attention to detail the next time around.
Kendra: How are things going at Berklee? Has class got in the way of your music?
Anja: Things are going fantastic. I don’t think school’s distracting me at all, quite the opposite. It’s actually empowering me along this journey. I would study a concept on music marketing one day and the next I’d already been using the newly gained knowledge in my professional life as a musician. I’ve been working really hard on completing my classes. So I’ll be able to finish my Bachelor’s degree two years early and graduate this December.
Kendra: So 2017 is almost over with. Any plans to close out the year?
Anja: I have a few cool performances coming up. This includes a shared bill at the famous Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco and the Cancer Walk in Seattle. Along with that, we’re starting a nationwide radio campaign, rolling out the remainder of the short film, and expanding the Too Cool store.