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Anja Kotar is the Conscious Pop Lyricist You’ve Been Waiting For

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Anja Kotar transports listeners into the shoes of a NOMAD

The Slovenian musician unpacks a 9-track memoir that tells an unfiltered narrative of a foreign, transfer student adjusting to the fast-paced, drug-infused lifestyle of American teenagers. 

Photo courtesy of Anja Kotar

Silicon Valley isn’t the usual destination for an aspiring artist, but as for Slovenian singer, songwriter, Anja Kotar, the tech-centered environment gives her the perfect flow of ideas. The 21-year-old left her European stomping grounds behind for California living, in 2012, for a better chance at pursuing her musical dreams.

While some fade to dust, Kotar continues to flourish in an industry that’s not so welcoming to new talent. She recently dropped her latest album “NOMAD,” and let’s just say it’s like nothing we’ve ever heard. Her sound is a well-blended mix of Jazz, Pop, and Electronic ecstasy. The poster child of Cali even shared her own “Theory of Relativity” off the critically acclaimed body of work, leaving us with hope that she has the superpowers to stop time and keep this album on replay for eternity.

Walk me through your transition from growing up in Slovenia to becoming a resident of Silicon Valley.

[It] was actually 6 years ago, [when] my family and I moved to the states. It was a big transition personally and culturally. Back in Europe, I was focused on classical music. Singing was always my greatest passion but Slovenia didn’t have as many opportunities. When I moved, I started going to a high school conservatory. I think a big part of developing myself as a singer was being apart of the theater program at the school. A lot of [my] music is influenced by my experience of growing up in America. The “NOMAD” album – I wrote it when I was transitioning from a teenager to a young adult here.

“I often felt like I was apart of everything and nothing at once and belonging everywhere and nowhere at the same time.”

The more I started talking to my friends at school here, I noticed that it was not just a particular situation for me, but also a very common experience among teenagers growing up. This transition has both shaped me as a person and a musician. If this hadn’t happened, I probably wouldn’t be writing my music the way I do now. I’m very grateful that my parents took that leap of faith.

What are your thoughts on the interconnectivity evolving between the music and tech industries?

One of the greatest things about living in Silicon Valley is the free-flow of ideas that you might now get in Los Angeles. The music industry has a high-barrier entry. With tech, everyone is open-minded and willing to take ideas from anyone who has something of value. My brother and I participated in the President’s Business Challenge, [where] teams all across San Jose pitched their ideal startup. The finalists got to pitch at a very famous company. My brother Klemon is a programmer and is planning to launch the app. It was a very unique experience you could only get here. We’re very lucky to have this opportunity.

As an artist whose received formal training, what’s your perspective on the stigma attached to music education being considered a “waste of time” for musicians?

From my perspective, I don’t see it that way. It’s about understanding what you’re doing and not just doing it because it feels right. It gives you a natural advantage because you view things from a different perspective. You [will be able to] understand what you’re doing in music and in the music business. It was a lot easier to start working in the music industry because I knew what I had to do.

“I would definitely encourage musicians to let go of that perception and embrace education. It will make [your] craft better.”

Aside from being an artist, you’re a full-blown entrepreneur. Tell me about your clothing brand, Too Cool. Where did your eclectic sense of fashion originate from?                                                                       

I think fashion-wise, one of the first people to show me the beauty of it [all] was my mom. As a little girl, I would linger into her room and I would see her picking out her outfit for the day. It just showed me the magic of being a woman. It’s a great way of self-expression. One of my biggest fashion influences is Iris Apfel. I watched her documentary on Netflix and realized there are no rules to fashion. It’s been an uphill parade of outfits since then. As I was planning the release of “NOMAD” last year, I was trying to think of ways to elevate it. I believe the future of music lies in the interdisciplinary art. Every song on the album has an item in the online store that’s related directly to the lyrics of the songs. It was my way of bringing the listener into the Nomad world.

Pascal Guyon had a major hand in the production of your album, how did you connect with him?

I started looking for producers for this album three years ago. I was going through social media and LinkedIn looking for producers that created music I like. The thing that I love about him is that he understood that European culture-side of me because he comes from France. I also really appreciated that he has a classical background. There were a lot of things in our upbringing that we could both relate too. It’s been a dream; I have learned so much from him.

A Breakdown of the Most Standout Lyrics from NOMAD

Theory of Relativity

You said you wish you could “Stop time” and spend it with your sibling. What is your recollection of the memorable car ride with your brother Klemon?

The song came about two years ago around this time. I just finished high school and my brother just got his license. We got into his Audi convertible, took the roof off, and just drove. We blasted Arctic Monkeys from the speakers and melted into the sunset. I remember thinking at that very moment, “This is perfect!” I wish I could just stop time at [that] very moment and stay [there] forever.

How to be Cool

The hook goes, “How to be cool without being cruel to yourself…” What were you noticing about the environment around you for you to pen these lyrics?

As I started high school here and began having a social life, I noticed everyone’s obsession with being cool. I think even more prominently than in Europe. The media [pushes] the image upon kids and teenagers of what it means to be cool. Very often, that image is deeply intertwined with drugs an alcohol. I saw so many of my friends and schoolmates fall [under] that influence. I kept [saying to] myself, “There must be a way to be cool without being cruel to yourself.”

Eighteen

“Go to school… get a degree… get high… get drunk in the back seat…” Your life at 18 years old sounded like a wild ride, what were you experiencing at school?

This is a pattern that I saw from my schoolmates during my senior year of high school. Everyone was aiming [to attend] Stanford or Harvard [and] working so hard [with unwanted] pressure by their parents. The flip coin of that was [witnessing] them getting high in their cars to take off the pressure. It’s about what society wants you to do and how they were trying to numb the feeling of being a certain way.

Photo courtesy of Anja Kotar

Happy Pill

“If happiness comes inside a 100-milligram dose, I would like to get my hands on a couple of those. Strip me of my thoughts and the way I feel, I lost you to a happy pill.” Was there a particular person this track was written about? The story seems close to home. 

 A lot of the album is written about growing up in America from my point of view. I saw how prominent the pharmaceutical industry is here and its influence on people’s mental health. For anyone having problems, the first step is always “Take this pill! It’s going to make you feel better,” as opposed to talking to people. I had friends going through a lot and there only way out was through a pill.

Put Down the Gun

Has anyone close to you ever committed suicide?

No, but I did know certain people going through that thought process. I wrote that song in one of my classes after our class read an article in Rolling Stone, in 2013, about a girl from Cupertino who went through a really hard time. She was humiliated and decided to end it all through suicide. That Thursday, I went into the practice room during lunch and wrote that hook. Suicide is prominent in American culture but I wasn’t ready for that.

Coltrane

I can hear the Jazz influence in your sound. When did you get introduced to John Coltrane’s music?

It was during high school. I was very involved with both theater and Jazz music at the conservatory. I sang in a vocal Jazz group and a Jazz band, and because of that, I got the opportunity to travel across the states and perform at Jazz festivals. That was the first time I got immersed into the complexity and magic of Jazz music. It’s not very common for people to listen to Jazz in Europe. This song is very much inspired by those high school Jazz years. The person who this was written about, his favorite artist is Coltrane. It’s kind of my own little nod to that part of my life.

Poster Child of California

How would you define the essence of what it means to be the “Poster Child of California”?

Empowered… confident… and strong… Someone who embraces their weakness and individuality. I think that’s the main thing about California women. This was written about my group of three friends who I’m still super close with. Every section of each verse is written about every single one of them. It was my way to show [people] it’s not just that stereotypical blonde, it-girl that you see in magazines. The women aren’t always so happy and perfect.

Modern Galileo

You wrote this is a “new age love story with you and the screen…” Do you feel this generation uses the internet to escape reality?

It’s a cliche about a Silicon Valley kid whose very artsy and loves to stay inside behind the walls of suburban life and how he explores the world through the internet. The majority of these kids feel they don’t really need to experience it in real life. The experience on social media is what Modern Galileo talks about. Sonically, it sounds like Super Mario from the ’80s. The sound reminds me of traveling through the pixelated, old-school internet.

Finale

You intentionally circled back to the theme in Theory of Relativity, why?

The album opens up with you driving and running away from those problems but then the album kind of works through those problems. In the end, it shows you embracing these things. The only way to be cool is to be yourself. That’s why there’s this imagery of driving back home and going back to your roots.

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Cori Maass: The Human Experience through the Eye of a Minimalist

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Mary Caroline Russell

How often do we pay attention to the human experience? An aspect of life so utterly important yet overlooked time and time again. But there are a rare few who get the picture, much like American artist, Cori Maass.

The LA-based illustrator uses her canvas to explore and depict the emotions and interconnectivity of people. Noting she’s deeply inspired by “lessons the Earth holds that mirror our internal experiences,” her minimalist style portrays the messages through intricate lines, shapes, and text.

Maass believes art is destined to intersect with life, which she conveys through murals, printed works, brand collaborations, fashion, and tattoos.

Does anyone of the work here engage with any particular social issues?

I like to focus on social issues first as human issues, both interpersonal and intrapersonal. I think sometimes it is easier to talk about issues from the standpoint of universal human experiences (like empathy, or shame, or sadness) rather than using the language of “politics”, where words can sometimes lose their meaning. Not that political conversation isn’t important, it is easier for me, however, to convey my feelings from a different place. I wrote a poem [attached] after the Cavanaugh trials brought up conversations surrounding the abuse that many women have experienced. My goal was to cut out the chatter and try to communicate from a place of power and identity for women.

Do you think art has the power to affect any kind of social change?

Definitely. Art is a reflection of what is going on at the time but also creates a narrative that affects society. Art shapes the social conversation whether that be through music, design, or any other medium.

With social media, artists are able to spread social change and images that give us something to visualize a better future rather than just talking about it.

Which themes and subjects do you like to illustrate and explore?

I am very interested in exploring the human experience. The human experience includes complex emotions, duality, moral dilemmas, and relationships. I like to explore visual (or written) metaphors to provide meaning for what I am experiencing.

Are you driven by creative interests or commercial interests?

My biggest interest is how art intersects and affects life. I like my art to be purposeful and engaging with people so that can lend itself to commercial interests because it allows people to be part of the story. However, I became an artist full time because I was frustrated by just creating things for the purpose of selling.

At the end of the day, I am fulfilled when I create from a pure place of honesty and it connects with someone else.

Do you find that this notion of place has a very strong impact on your work?

I think place definitely strongly impacts me personally. That will naturally translate to my work! I have to go to new places or different places to be able to stay centered within myself and continue to expand my perspective. Places are mostly made special to me by the people in them and the different parts of myself that come out when I am in those settings. Each place I have lived or traveled has taught me both about other people and about myself. I think of places as mirrors that show you pieces who you are.

Quite a lot of your work originates from human experience and the emotions and connections, please expand.

The best art advice I was ever given was in a photo class, where the instructor was talking about developing your photographic eye. He explained that good photos originate with seeing. This idea is something that I use for art and life as a whole now. I begin with seeing. Taking an honest look inside myself and taking the role of an observer in the world around me. I look for nuances and details and how they connect to form a bigger picture. Life as a human is messy and complex, much like nature.

Art is a way for me to process and wade through it all and reflect on the fact that it is ultimately beautiful.

Where do you create most of your pieces?

I work in coffee shops a lot!! The base of many of my pieces is digital or on paper so I can take my art and work wherever I go. These pieces then get translated into murals, apparel, prints, tattoos, and anything really. I am very interested in how art intersects life and adds to the fabric of our stories.

You talk about the “aesthetics of minimalism”. What does this mean and why is it important to you?

Minimalism is knowing how much is too much or too little; it’s a fine balance. I think it is important to me because I think it gives me the ability to say a lot simply while leaving space for someone else’s interpretation. This allows me to be honest and give people the opportunity to connect within their own life’s story.

In the minimalist space, I think it is important to apply new ideas to visual themes that may have been done, and in that, to add your personal perspective.

For example, artists have drawn faces minimally for years, but I ask myself to create from a perspective that is unique or (at least) honest.

Tell me about your current series.

Currently, I am exploring moral and emotional concepts through shapes and abstract lines. I hope to compile them into a book by the end of the year! The concepts I have been exploring so far are grief (the concept of death vs. rebirth, and acceptance of death), compartmentalization of emotions/actions, shame, and self-preservation. (I promise I am fun at parties hahaha).

What is one of the most challenging works you have made recently?

Lately, just in general, it has been a struggle to present myself honestly without feeling too seen. It is a hard balance of being vulnerable through art but allowing myself time to process when I know others are seeing my work. I always appreciate it though because I am creating through the confusion, I just sometimes get overwhelmed when I know I am being honest but it feels scary.

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Progressive loungewear line ‘DAYO’ designed with sustainability and sex appeal

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Ron Hill

Yolanda White is releasing a sexy, fun loungewear line just in time for the holidays.

White has teamed up with NY-based designer, Jenni, to create the modest, 6-piece collection, entitled DAYO. Veteran singer Chilli serves as the face of the line, which represents self-love and confidence translated through sultry champagne and red, silk fabrics.

NDLYSS spoke with the DAYO visionaries recently to discuss the brand’s creative direction, the importance of working with environmentally conscious fibers, and expansion for the new year.

What did you think was missing in the market that you wanted to add  with the DAYO clothing line?

Yolanda: What I see today in terms of loungewear and sleepwear is basically [all] the same. The reality is [that] there’s no innovation that happening in the segment. What women are looking for today is something that’s more comfortable that allows them to serve the many hats that they [wear] at home in the evening.

We started envisioning an opportunity to create more functional loungewear with built-in breast support [with] more coverage around their butts, hips, and stomach. All the stuff that we don’t want to show is basically the answer that DAYO is providing in the marketplace today.

Ron Hill

What’s the idea behind DAYO and where did the name come from?

Yolanda: The name DAYO means “happiness has arrived.” It’s [about] way more than fashion and offers the opportunity to get women to a place where we love ourselves with all that we have going on.

How would you describe the design aesthetic and the consumer that the line speaks to?
Jenni: We try to stay simple and luxurious with sophisticated fabrics imported from Japan. We also try to build structure inside by designing breast and hip support even though [the line] is very flowy and comfortable.

Yolanda: [Jenny] did a fabulous job putting the product development work at the forefront so we could add in the functionality and still keep it simple. It’s hidden so you can’t see all of that detail but it provides women with a lot more.

Ron Hill

Sustainability is an important topic right now, how do you feel your brand measures up to this eco-friendly trend?

Yolanda: Sustainability is a way we have to live so as a business leader it is always at the forefront. A lot of what you see in DAYO is made with 100 percent natural fibers. In terms of packaging and the way we put the brand together is very simple. Everything is recyclable to our consumers. We’re being very conscious about delivering an experience and still being purposeful about how we want to live.

Why did you choose primarily neutral colors and reds for the collection?

Yolanda: We want women to be able to pick up the items and wear them every day. It’s something you can wear 7 days a week, ensuring that it’s something they will not get tired of. It’s easy to throw on and have as a core staple in their wardrobe. Red is the cover of love, and, of course, we want to have that for the holidays.

What prompted you to select Chilli as the face of DAYO?

Yolanda: I had the opportunity to work with Chilli for another campaign. By far, she is a woman that has achieved it all and part of it is that she stands for something that is rooted in what the brand represents. When I think of the epitome of the brand it’s someone who is beautiful and committed to themselves. She was the first person that came to mind for me. 

How was the experience wearing the clothes for the first time?

Chilli: The fabric is so soft. It has this sheen to it and when you actually touch it, it’s even softer than it looks. If you fall asleep and the next day you need to wake up and run out you can do that. I like the versatility in the line.

Ron Hill

Are the majority of the pieces transitional?

Yolanda: I think they are but I’m trying to make sure that I market them as loungewear, first and foremost. And allow consumers the flexibility to tell their own story about how they want to use [the pieces].

What are your future plans for brand expansion?

Yolanda: We are launching DAYO Essentials in March, which will be our mainstream line that will be listed at a more affordable price point. We also have additional holiday surprises that you’ll see within the signature line.

To purchase items from the DAYO collection, click here.

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Megan Davies breaks glass ceiling with poignant, vulnerable, pop records on ‘Bad Poetry’ EP

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Introduced to the world via YouTube in the summer of 2013, Megan Davies has garnered a massive fanbase–accumulating nearly 200 million views and 1.3 million subscribers. The Nashville-based singer, widely recognized for her intoxicating alt-pop voice, has since then released an impressive discography of acoustic covers leading up to her forthcoming debut EP “Bad Poetry.” 

Touching on introspective topics such as bullying, alienation, digital addiction, the polished guitar player’s musical abilities fluidly transcend through her conscious songwriting. NDLYSS spoke with Davies recently to discuss her upcoming tour, the power online promotion, and new projects for the upcoming year. 

What specific moment in your life sparked your interest in pursuing a music career?

I don’t think there was one specific moment; I kind of always just did it. I always liked doing it. I spent all my sweet time growing up and eventually when it came time to choose what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, it made sense to choose music. I started playing guitar when I was 12, and that was my first instrument I was properly introduced to. I played a little piano and violin but I was terrible at it cause I didn’t practice at all. I didn’t start singing until high school – age 15, 16 – but, you know, when you’re playing guitar, you’re always singing along a little bit. For the most part when I was little, I was really shy. If people asked me to sing, I would say no. So, it definitely took a while to gain up the confidence.

YouTube was a huge part of your life. Why do you think social media is so important in this day and age to propel success?

Yeah! It’s super powerful the amount of people you can reach. You know, I’m based in Nashville, Tennessee but if you look at where people are listening to my music, it’s from all around the world. It’s amazing. And that’s the power of the internet and social media. It’s really important to find your audience and be able to communicate directly with them.

For sure. Your new single, “Gimme” centers around social media addiction. What are the dangers while you’re using it to create a name for yourself?

I think we all know there can be this dark side to social media where you’re constantly looking at this curated version of people’s lives. And you’re even curating your own life! In a sense, we’re communicating with people but there’s also a fake sort of aspect of it. We’re not connecting in a real way. It can cause a lot of isolation or low self esteem. There’s a lot of negative things – sometimes could outweigh the positive – that can come out of using social media.

Your other single, “Doesn’t Matter” is also definitely another powerfully driven song. In a time where bullying and cyberbullying sits at the forefront of our social and political climate, what does this song mean to you? And what do you think it will mean to the listeners?

Right! “Doesn’t Matter” was actually specifically written about my own experiences growing up. I felt isolated and disconnected from everything, really. You know, there was a bit of social media in high school but nothing like I’m sure kids today experience. I can only imagine the anxiety and stress they feel in high school and then on top of that, social media. That’s got to be pretty intense. There are similarities, though; the emotion is still there and I think more than ever, it makes more sense today. The story still applies to people who are in high school today or even any age. You can place so much weight on little things that you experience at a certain time. And then, as you grow and get older, you recognize those things don’t really matter or as terrible as you thought they were at one point. That’s kind of what I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older.

What is your songwriting process like?

That’s a good question. For me, it always starts on the guitar. Both of these singles are pretty built up but when I’m writing, I always have my guitar in my hand. I imagine playing them with just my guitar. And musically, things come to me pretty quickly and then it’s about putting the right story and the right emotion on top of that. So, a lot of the times, I come up with like a chord progression or a guitar part or some little melody. Then, that melody will sound sad to me or it’ll remind me of something I saw or something I felt. It goes from there. I find when I try really hard to craft it or tell the story exactly how I want to, it never ends up that way. I’ve found subconsciously it always goes in the way it wants to go.

Where do you pull inspiration from? Is there anyone who sort of helped craft your sound to what it is today?

Oh yeah, there’s a lot! It’s funny because I look back on all the phases I went through musically and I listened to a lot of punk music in high school. I really wanted to be Hayley Williams from Paramore at one point. I look back on it now and laugh because there’s no way  I’d have a voice exactly like Hayley Williams. It was a thread, though, and there’s all these little threads that become who I am today. I really love this band called Metric from Canada and Radiohead; they’re both still a huge inspiration. I also went through a big phase of playing a lot of fingerstyle instrumental music…that was interest. So, there’s definitely been many phases over the years but they’ve all culminated in what I do today like I do a lot of fingerstyle folk playing with my acoustic guitar so it all carries through to the present.

Acacia Evans

What has been your favorite part of your musical journey?

My favorite part of what I do is touring so  I guess that’s been my favorite part of everything so far. I didn’t travel a lot growing up and even my first time driving out West, I was blown away just by the landscape and scenery change. It literally took my breath away. I felt like I was on a different planet! But being able to go out there and then play my music and talk to people who listen to my music and hear about their lives and what they do; it’s kind of a magical thing. There’s a collection of little moments within that but touring, for me, is really special.

Speaking of touring, are there any fun rituals you do when you’re performing?

Post show, I always have a glass of wine. I never drink before I play because I find that I lose all my musical abilities and it’s not good for anybody. I’m not that kind of person where I can have a drink on stage or something but it’s one of my favorite things to do now. I come off the stage, sit for like ten minutes and have a glass of wine just by myself.

Wine is definitely the best way to wind down!

Yeah, it’s my go to. The combination of the wine and the adrenaline going down…it’s one of my favorite moments. And then I go out and talk to people and typically hang out at the venue. I meet people and have conversations and yeah. That’s usually my routine.

If you could tell anything to your younger self anything now, what would you tell her?

I would tell myself to slow down honestly. I think when my YouTube channel started getting bigger numbers and it was growing, I was so afraid if I stopped working at any point  that it would just collapse. It would be over and I would be spending the rest of my life wondering why I didn’t capitalize on something that was going so well for me. I had that fear so I worked and I worked and I worked. Eventually, I just burned out. I would work insane hours to the point where I couldn’t anymore. I would just be so tired. It wasn’t the healthiest way to cope with what I do, obviously. And that’s something I’m still trying to figure out – that balance. Taking moments to breathe and experience life around me and live…it’s so important.

What can we expect from you as 2018 closes and we enter 2019?

In 2019, I’ll be going on tour so I have a bunch of dates on my calendar. I’ll be going back to Europe and playing in a bunch of countries I’ve never been to. And mostly just, releasing music. The nice thing about being independent is I can put things out as I make them and you know, it shows a journey of growth musically and people keep following along with me. That’s the plan for right now!

Congratulations! Sounds exciting.

Thank you!! I’m really excited about it. It’s going to be a good year!

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