As most of you know, I love music! It provided the backdrop and inspiration for my decision to become a dancer, and it remains one of the most important components of my fitness method today.
When I first heard about Anja Kotar, I was initially really impressed by her song, “How to Be Cool.” I was thrilled when she allowed us to use it for our videos, and I immediately added it to several of my class and private training playlists. What made me even more impressed with her was her story. As a Slovenian musician and songwriter, she pushed through all barriers to get her EP funded. And when she premiered it abroad, she was named Best New Artist in Slovenia! Her work is personal, and it makes some great statements about being authentic. Check out the video for her single at the end of this post!
Anja is a determined, wise, and talented artist. Please read more about her life and work below. And be sure to check out our new on-demand videos featuring her music here that will be dropping November 1st. (You’ll be hearing her in future videos, too!).
Enjoy! We looking forward to sweating and jamming out to great music with you!
Full name: Anja Kotar
Where were you born? Ljubljana, Slovenia (Europe).
Where did you grow up? I lived in Europe until I was 14, then moved to San Jose, CA with my family in 2012.
What’s your biggest passion? Music.
Tell me about your career. Have you changed directions? If so, why? And what brought you to music?
I consider myself very lucky as I’ve always been naturally drawn to music and can’t remember a time when I would want to do anything else with my life. I would track the beginnings all the way back to when I was six when my parents noticed my passion for music and put me in music school for classical piano. While in Europe, that was my world – I played as a soloist and with a piano trio at festivals and venues such as the Slovenian National Opera House or The Philharmonic. Singing, however, was always my greatest passion but at the time, I just didn’t have an opportunity to really showcase it. It wasn’t until my family moved to the US in 2012 and I started to write my own music, perform in musicals and sing with a jazz band, that I was able to combine all of the musical skills I’ve acquired throughout the years. After I had enough songs written, I decided to put together a Kickstarter campaign for my EP and raised $20,000 to record it. I premiered it back in Europe at festivals and won Best New Artist in Slovenia in 2016. When I came back to the US, I decided to put together a full album NOMAD that came out in May along with opening my own online store that connects music and fashion.
What has been your biggest hurdle as a musical artist?
I had a fairly unusual obstacle. When my family moved here, we found out that the Visa we were here on didn’t allow me or my brother to work in the US. At first, I was completely devastated because one of the main reasons we moved was to provide new opportunities for me and my brother and to help us pursue our dreams. However, I decided I wouldn’t let this dictate my music career so I started looking for other opportunities to grow, learn, and create. That’s how I decided on my Kickstarter and why I released my EP in Europe. I was able to pursue experiences that I otherwise probably wouldn’t had it not been for this obstacle. It allowed me to find my voice as an artist, so now that I have my Green Card, I can work in the music industry on my own terms and present myself the way I want to.
I love “How to Be Cool.” It has such a great beat, and the video uses some really interesting gestures (which of course caught my eye as a dancer!). Can you tell me the back story of this song? What inspired you?
Thank you so much – that means a lot!! All credits for the dance moves go to one of my best friend from high school, Sophie, who is currently at Point Park University studying musical theatre :)
It was one of the first songs that was complete 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 idealization of reckless partying that is branded as “cool”. How to Be Cool is rebelling against those standards and asking whether such behavior is really worth it in the long run. That question is then further resolved and answered throughout the album.
Before filming the video, Sophie and I had a long FaceTime session where we talked about the meaning of the lyrics and how we can match those up with the movements – she came back with what she called “Lorde meets Vogue” and it was absolutely perfect!
Have you had any interesting or surprising responses to this song?
I think the responses themselves were very surprising when the album had just come out. In my head, the song was never truly a single – I always viewed it as experimentation with my sound. The fact that people were jamming out and singing along to it was both extremely surprising and gratifying. If anything, it gave me confirmation and motivation to continue to explore and pursue interesting ways to spice up pop music :)
I just have a few more things that make me curious…
What do you wish you knew when you were younger?
That no moment or decision in life are final. When you’re younger, you get so caught up in and overwhelmed by small problems, viewing them as the single denominator of your future (and the rest of your life) :). As I grow older and experience more, I see that no one decision carries that much weight and that everything has potential of being solved. This, however, is of course no excuse to go around doing dumb things :)
What’s the best piece of musical/career advice you’ve ever gotten?
This was initially counterintuitive to me but, that the more personal your writing is, the more people will be able to relate to it.
What’s your guiltiest pleasure?
Reading Sci-Fi/horror/crime books (I love Stephen King and Agatha Christie) and gummy candy! I’m like a little kid in that regard, I always have some candy before doing a show and it makes me hyper like nothing else :)
What quality do you really cherish about yourself?
Probably my determination and stubbornness. These are both very tricky though – only if used properly, they can be greatly beneficial, and I’m constantly learning where that balance lies.
What’s something most people don’t know about you (that’s maybe a little funny or weird)?
I often start singing random lyrics and making up songs or musicals about whatever I’m doing at the time on the spot. I could be vacuuming the floor and you’d walk on me singing and dancing around with the vacuum cleaner!
ABOUT ANJA KOTAR
At only age five, Anja Kotar entered the music world by embarking on what would become 12 years of training in classical piano. After her first taste of the arts, Anja couldn’t get enough and began delving into jazz dance, ballet and acting. She soon became an unstoppable force in her home country of Slovenia, going on to perform at the Slovenian Philharmonic and National Opera House, win the World Show Dance Championship with her dance team, and act in the critically-acclaimed blockbuster film, Going Our Way. Anja continued to build on this momentum after moving to San Jose, California in 2012 where she became heavily involved in musical theater and jazz. While still in high school, she earned a Voice Certificate from Berklee College of Music and, upon graduating, attended the prestigious Broadway Artist Alliance in New York City. At 17, she completed her widely successful $20,000 Kickstarter project to fund the creation of her first EP.
After the release of her EP, Anja was invited to perform at the Slovenian Song Festival (DSZG), the longest running festival and most viewed show in the country which features the country’s top talent. After performing her original “Čas je zdaj” (The Time Is Now) and “Too Cool” live, Anja was nominated by RTV for Best Performance, Best Song, and Best New Artist, walking away with 2016’s Best New Artist. She then was nominated for Best Pop Song at the 2016 American Songwriting Awards and was featured on the Slovenian X-Factor.
Currently, Anja is working to complete her Bachelor’s degree from Berklee College of Music nearly two years early, promoting her brand new full-length album, NOMAD (produced by three–time Grammy nominated producer, Pascal Guyon), and launching her online store, Too Cool, which connects music and fashion.