Playing it Cool with Anja Kotar

Only five-years-old when her parents started her down a creative path, Slovenia-born Anja Kotar embraced music and dance when most of us are barely learning to tie our own shoes. Once her piano lessons started, she was in deep and hasn’t looked back since. Fast forward to today and her and her family have made a home for themselves here in the states, and music is still an ever present force in her life. From her latest single, “How To Be Cool” to what the future holds – which is plenty for this young singer. We talked about all of that and more in this back and forth exchange of letters in word formations.

Kendra: How long did it take you to adjust to your new home in the states when you came from Slovenia?

Anja: The transition was very abrupt – we moved here only two days before high school started. We really didn’t have anything set yet here – no car, no house; all we knew was the Conservatory I would study at. It was definitely a big culture shock at first – despite being fluent in English, the environment around me was now so different, every detail of life seemed to function in a new way. However, looking back at it now, I am glad it happened that way as it forced me to adapt quickly. I auditioned for theatre productions and the jazz band right away, and these gave me the opportunity to study brand new genres over the course of the next few years and find my footing in our new home.

Kendra: From the looks of your Instagram, you’re all about the beach. Do you spend a lot of time there writing music?

Anja: Actually no. I was trained as a classical pianist so most of the songs I write start with me at home, sitting at my piano (we brought my first piano from Slovenia with us). However, I love the beach because it’s a great place to “test” out new songs I’m working on, to relax, run away with my mind for a bit, and find inspiration.

Kendra: Was “How To Be Cool” penned on the sand?

Anja: That’ll have to be a no again. “How To Be Cool” has a very urban sound, the disco beat and synths to me very much feel like driving or dancing a hot night away, covered in sweat and glitter. The only thing I ever wrote on a beach was in Carmel a few months back. I was finishing up NOMAD at the time, and couldn’t find the right bridge for the last song of the album, “Poster Child of California.” It was a beautiful day, I was walking down the beach with my photographer friend (with whom we just shot music videos for the album a few days before this) barefoot, watching the waves hit the shore and the missing lyric for the song finally came to me.

Kendra: Of course, I have got to ask, what’s your advice to actually pass as cool?

Anja: I believe that, however loose or enigmatic we portray the concept of “cool” to be, it ultimately stems from within ourselves. What in my eyes makes someone cool, is self-assurance, confidence, individuality, and uniqueness.

Kendra: You’re not only an artist but a student. What’s one major less you’ve learned at Berklee that you may not have learned elsewhere?

Anja: That creativity is work and not just sitting around, waiting for inspiration to come. It is about constantly seeking out new knowledge in different areas and genres of music, consciously digging deeper, observing and discovering the world around us, and using it all to proactively create.

Kendra: What are you music-based plans for the coming months?

Anja: My main focus is currently the NOMAD short film. Each month, we’ll be putting out music videos for songs from the first half of the album, all of which combined together will create a short film in the end. We are also starting to plan tours for the fall, but it’s all under wraps for now.

Kendra: Going back to the beach, if your friends put you in charge of making a mixtape for a beach trip what five songs would have to be on it?

Beach Boys – “Good Vibrations
Bob Marley – “Could You Be Loved
Creedence Clearwater Revival – “Bad Moon Rising
Bob Dylan – “Shelter from the Storm
Janis Joplin – “Summertime

Mireya Lewis Brings The Heat This Summer

Reading through what Mireya Lewis had to say in the traffic of the dreaded 405 was soothing and kind of surreal when I got down to her mixtape and one of the songs she picked was playing on the radio. Coincidences aside, it was nice to hear from this Houston-based artist about her creative church upbringing, her debut full-length that she recorded locally at Barron Studios, and worked on with Analogue Escape, Jay Miles, and Chris Rockaway. Excited about what’s to come, we talked about the future, past and present.

Kendra: How helpful was it to attend a school for the arts in high school?

Mireya Lewis: Attending HSPVA was awesome for many reasons. At that school, I gained the music theory background that was needed to direct my band. It also afforded me more opportunity for practice and performance. In addition, my writing style was diversified in High School because I was exposed to classical music, music theater, and jazz.

Kendra: Do you suggest that parents take an active role in their kids and allow them to be creative sooner than later?

Mireya: I encourage parents to give their kids as much freedom for creative expression as possible because that’s the only way for you to get to know who they really are. Take inventory of the rules you set. Are your rules in place to keep your kids safe, healthy, and happy, or have you set rules just to make the adults comfortable?

Kendra: You also came up in the church. It seems like a lot of great singers have. Where do you feel you’d be without that influence?

Mireya: Church was where I first started singing publicly. Because of my religious background and my desire to encourage others, my music will always have some element of positivity and inspiration. I can’t get away from it!

Kendra: Perhaps you wouldn’t have this “pop with a message.” How important is it that your music have substance?

Mireya: Life is fleeting. It’s important that my music has substance because I want the world to be better because I was here.

Kendra: Let’s talk about “Daddy.” Definitely an anthem for the summer, but I have to ask about the video…how hot was it performing in those all-black ensembles?

Mireya: Bwhahahahahaha! The “Daddy” music video (directed by Lamont DeSal Jones of District Studios) was shot in the month of April, and we started early in the morning. So, we were actually pretty comfortable. Once it got hot, we were done shooting.

Kendra: “Daddy” is just the beginning because you have an album slated for August. What can fans expect from that?

Mireya: I am so excited about this project. It is my first full-length album! I have a lot to say. Just as I speak to the issue of misogyny on “Daddy,” you can expect the content of the rest of the album to be substantial and positive, while the clever melodies and instrumental music will stick with you and take you as far as your mind will allow. It has been a lot of fun, writing and recording this album, and I hope you will feel that from the final product.

Kendra: The new album will be out soon enough, but what’s the plan after that? Touring?

Mireya: After the album is released I’m looking to shoot videos for at least three more of the songs on the album, facilitate public conversations about the album’s content, and definitely tour! The music on this album is a lot of fun to perform live! So, I can’t wait!

Kendra: Going back to the idea of summer anthems, if you had to make a mixtape during the summer when you were a teen back at the performing arts school, what five songs would have to be on it?

Mireya: I love this question. My five songs for the mixtape would be:
Forgive Them, Father” Lauryn Hill
What Would You Do?” City High
Fantasy” Mariah Carey feat. ODB
“Ironic” Alanis Morissette
Fly Away” Lenny Kravitz

Setting Down Roots with Pam Taylor

Every person on earth has a tale to tell and when it comes to Pam Taylor, it’s one you’re going to want to pull up a chair for. Singing in the classic Americana Roots style, we talked about her days of loving Eminem and Limp Bizkit (we could’ve totally been besties growing up!), a dark moment in her past when music may not have been an option anymore and the lighter roads ahead. Now take more than a minute to get a piece of this rising star’s story.

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