Having lived in 5 different countries and speaking four languages fluently, the multi-dimensional globe trotting singer, songwriter and performer, Darja is a true citizen of the world. She pours her soul into sounds of haunted nostalgia one moment, and the sound of wild carefree ecstasy, the next. Darja has built a significant following of loyal supporters who helped her generate a major buzz for her performances at Toshi’s Living Room, the RAW Showcase, the Royale Club in Boston, Le Nationale in Montreal, The Plaza Hotel for New York Fashion Week, The Time Hotel in NYC and most recently The Sheraton hotel for New York Fashion Week.
Splitting time between her education and her music career, she appeared on TV music competitions, including Germany’s Popstars in 2001 and ITV’s Pop Idol, Season 2 in the UK. During Popstars, Darja gained significant publicity in Germany and started working on a solo career with Producer Tony Coutura. Darja decided to put on hold a solo record deal offer by East West Records, owned by Warner Brothers, to pursue a BSc in International Relations at the prestigious London School of Economics and Political Sciences. While still in college, in 2003 Darja participated in ITV’s Pop Idol (Season 2), where she was selected into the last 5 groups of 10 in the competition. After her performance of Shakira’s “Underneath Your Clothes,” Simon Cowell drew a comparison between her and Shakira: she possesses “that certain hit factor,” and as a result, he states, “as a pop star package, I think it was excellent.
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Darja had this to say about her latest single, “Rise Up:“This song was inspired by my entire life’s journey up to date. I have always been a foreigner everywhere I lived, so I always felt a bit like an outsider trying to fit in. Today I feel like a citizen of the world. I identify with every race and every social class, because I have seen it all, I have experienced the bottom I have experienced the top and ultimately it is all fleeting until you decide to love yourself for who you are no matter what life throws at you. “Rise Up” is about finding back to yourself, about finding back to your strength and overcoming the toughest moments and stand tall and stronger than ever. I was very close to becoming a popstar in Germany and after a few unfortunate circumstances it did not come to fruition and it was traumatizing to the point where I never wanted to sing again. After many years of grieving and healing from that experience, overcoming many insecurities and self-sabotage, I found my way back to music and performing and I remembered what really matters to me. “Rise Up” is about shaking off the last remnants of past trauma, about shedding the old skin to be reborn into a new stronger, lighter, more confident and positive self. There are people out there who have gone through much tougher life experiences than I have and I want this song to be their song, I want it to give strength and inspiration to those who need it the most.”
Learn more about Darja in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time today! Where does this interview find you? Is there music playing in the background? If so, what is it? What music gets you instantly out of a bad mood? What is a song you are loving these days?
I’m sitting in my home studio/office and I got Cardi B “Bodak Yellow” playing a lot in the background at the moment. I love the beat and I love a good rags to riches story. I love people who re-invent themselves and that’s what Cardi B is doing right now. She is real, she is authentic and to me it’s a hot empowerment track.
Growing up, did you always want to be a musician? Can you recall your earliest musical memory? Was there a time where you thought of doing something completely different?
I have been performing on stage since the age of 4, when I started training as a Rhythmic Gymnast and when I say training I mean every day for 5 hours. So at a very young age I became a professional performer dancing to the most beautiful music, so the transition to creating music came very natural to me.
Overall, how do you think 2017 has been for you and music career? What are you most excited about for in 2018? Do you think you will make any New Year’s Resolutions?
#17 is my lucky number and I decided that 2017 be the year that takes me to the next level. I released the Music Video for “True Paradise”, which was recognized at multiple major film festivals. I also recently released my new single “Rise Up” and the music video. “Rise Up” is an empowerment anthem that represents the reinvention of me as an artist and a real first introduction to the industry. For 2018 I am very excited to keep building on the foundation I built in 2017 and release my new single “Darkest Blue”, which is a ballad and will show a very different side to me. My long standing New Year’s Resolution is to stop self sabotaging myself and keep working on being the best I can be and not listen to negative talk. In the Chinese culture the #8 is the symbol of prosperity so I am very motivated to “make some money moves” in 2018.
I always like to ask artists about where they came from and how that city or town has influenced them as an artist now. So how do you think your hometown and current home has affected you and your music today? You’ve certainly done a lot of traveling growing up!
Absolutely! I was born in Latvia, raised in Germany, then moved to London and now NYC. I have definitely moved around a lot and when I was younger it wasn’t always easy. I always felt like an outsider. All I wanted is to fit in and belong somewhere. My pursuit of music was very much shaped by that sense of uncertainty and lack of identity. Music gave me that sense of identity and grounded me in a world of uncertainty. I now feel like a citizen of the world, I belong everywhere because my sense of belonging comes from within. Where I am is where I belong and NYC was a very significant part of my growth process as an artist. Here, as an artist you are surrounded by the best of the best in the industry, and to keep up with the incredible talent you simply have to become the best you can be – you have no choice. I am so grateful to this city, it can make you or break you, and it has inspired me to work hard on my craft and keep growing and creating better music.
What was the inspiration for your latest single “Rise Up”? What was it like making the music video for it with the director Gaudens Martin Zulu and cinematographer Snyder Derival?
My new single “Rise Up” was inspired by my entire life’s journey up to date. Because I have moved around so much in my life time, I can identify with every race and every social class, because I have seen it all, I have experienced the bottom I have experienced the top and ultimately it is all fleeting until you decide to love yourself for who you are no matter where you are in your journey and what life throws at you. “Rise Up” is about finding back to yourself, about finding back to your strength and overcoming the toughest moments and stand tall and stronger than ever in the end. In my early music career I experienced numerous painful circumstances to the point where I became so bitter and disillusioned that I never wanted to sing again. After many years of grieving and healing I started to pick up the broken pieces. I had to battle my demons, insecurities and self-sabotage, but in the end I found my way back to music and performing and I remembered what really matters to me. “Rise Up” is about shaking off the last remnants of pain and hardship, about shedding the old skin to be reborn into a new stronger, lighter, more confident and positive self. “Rise Up” is inspired by my own desperate need for healing resurrection and I do not take for granted for one single moment, that there are people out there who at this very moment are going through or have gone through much tougher life experiences than I have, and I want “Rise Up” to be their song, I want it to give strength and inspiration to those who need it the most.
Working with Gaudens was amazing. Besides being an extremely talented film director, and editor of numerous Nikki Minaj music videos, he is one of the most humble and kind people I know, and it’s always such a pleasure to run into people like this in the industry. He single handedly pulled together the entire team for the shoot and everyone was on point! We filmed the entire video in two days. Snyder (Justine Skye, Teyena Teylor, 50 Cent) is an equally amazing cinematographer. We had actually been following each other on IG for two years, and I didn’t realize he is the cinematographer Gaudens kept raving about, until we saw each other on set. Amazing coincidence and clearly it was meant to be. I am a big believer in Law of Attraction, what you think about is what you get, and I was very grateful to get Snyder! And the entire rest of the amazing team, like choreographer Ana Kisin, makeup artist Ryan B Anthony, stylist Giovonni, as well as my amazing dancers Careese Gordon, Miata Vah, Alexander Diaz and Gilberto Onxlaught.
How do you think “Rise Up” prepares listeners for more music from you? Speaking of, when do you hope to release more new songs and even a full album of new material?
“Rise Up” is an introduction to much more to come from me in 2018. My new single release will be “Darkest Blue” a haunting ballad that will show a different side to me. I will definitely be working on an EP and since I am a very visual person, I will be creating more visual art work also.
I am curious to know more about how not becoming the pop star you thought you were going to be in Germany influenced who you are today and your overall career path?
I believe that me not becoming a PopStar in Germany is the best thing that could have happened to me. Back then I was very young and very naïve about the industry. At such a young age it is tough to accept and understand the reality of the business aspect on the music industry. I wasn’t quite my own person yet, still finding out who I am as a person and an artist, and then these men in suits start planning and plotting and telling you what’s going to happen and you kinda go with it because you don’t know any better. It wasn’t all bad, it was an exciting time but the foundation on which everything was building was a shaky one, which I think would have made my career short lived. Now I am wiser, stronger, more grounded and more knowledgeable about everything and especially about myself. I have built a very strong foundation and I know exactly what I want and what I am capable of both on my own and with the support of a good team. Most importantly I have the freedom of choice and I love it. I run my own business and it is empowering.
What do you think of social media today and the importance of it for artists now? Do you find that it’s hard to keep up with it all?
Personally I love interacting on social media. My favorite is Instagram at the moment. To me as an artist my presence on social media is my way of sharing my creative work and a way to find out about amazing projects and other amazing artists. I have met producers, cinematographers, photographers, make up artists, and fashion designers through social media and it’s so easy to get in touch. I am also a very visual person and I love being creative in that way on social media, while promoting my message and art. Sometimes it is hard to keep up with it, but to me it’s actually fun.
I know there is a lot of controversy around social media also and in some ways I get it. Very recently the former CEO of Facebook, Sean Parker, stated that Facebook is targeting our psychological weakness of craving validation – in his words “It’s a social-validation feedback loop …”. I can see how some kinds might get addicted to constant likes as a form of validation, which I don’t think is healthy, so I do believe social media has to be used responsibly. It should never be a primary source of validation.
True validation comes from within, from loving yourself, knowing who you are and doing what you love to do. Social media is essentially an amazing tool you can use, but it is not your whole world.
We are living in a crazy and at times rough world right now so I am curious how you think being a musician gives you the most joy in life today? How do you think that new music being created today is going to reflect these difficult times?
When I was studying at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts an amazing teacher once told us that it is us artists who carry the responsibility to spread a message of love and shed light on social and political issues. I have taken this message to heart. As artists we are studying the world around us every day, we write about what we see, we write about what moves us, we carry a message for our listeners. Being able to communicate with my fellow human beings in such a way, gives me joy. The way I see it music is always a reflection of current state of affairs, whether it’s the internal affairs of the creator, or the external affairs of the creator’s world. I think we will hear a lot of empowerment songs as well as social and political criticism over the next years to come.
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? What musicians would you absolutely still love to work with in the future?
I love Sia. Her lyrics and vocal delivery touch my soul. The stories she tells feel real and authentic. For a long time I didn’t know she wrote all these hits for other artists – like Rihanna’s “Diamonds” and Beyonce’s “Pretty Hurts”. And then there is “Chandelier” and “Elastic Heart” for which she masterminded the most stunning visual works of art with the music videos. I aspire to do just that in my work – be my most authentic self and stay true to my artistic vision. I love Ellie Goulding, when she hits those drums live on stage that’s everything! Also, she is a fellow Capricorn! Yeah I am into astrology…what’s your star sign? (it’s one of the first questions I ask haha)
I would love to work with Haux, I have been listening to “Touch” on repeat. Just to have a little feature with him would be amazing. The vocal and mix are just so beautifully haunting. And then of course there are many more artists and producers that inspire me – Rihanna, Lana del Rey, Adele, Kygo, Alessia Cara, Calvin Harris, Alesso, Tove Lo, Zedd, Ed Sheeran just to name a few.
What do you hope your fans take away from your music? Do you think there is a greater music in your songs?
I want my fans to enjoy my music and feel what I feel. I want my fans to be inspired to be the best they can be at what they choose to do; I want my fans to grieve with me and heal their wounds. I my fans to rise with me and know that our time will come, that we can survive anything, that we are stronger than we think and that all of us are an important part of our world. We are all connected and I want to make that connection visible to my fans.
What advice would you give to a young person who is thinking about becoming a musician one day?
Believe in yourself, because if you don’t no one else will. Work hard on your craft and be disciplined. The hardworking ones often outshine the more talented ones, who were too lazy to work on themselves. Be authentic. Don’t try to imitate. It is your own uniqueness, that makes you special, never forget that.
Would you like to share anything else about yourself or your music with our readers?
Huge shout out to my fans and all the amazing people who have supported me along the way! Thank you so much for this cool interview. Much love and success to you all always!