Anya Kvitka sells her soul music but never sells out

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Jeff Capps/Senior Staff

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There’s a reason San Jose’s Anya Kvitka has received numerous awards recently, including Best Breakout Musical Act from CBS. Combining hip-hop, jazz, R&B, rock and even a hint of reggae, Kvitka is a multidisciplinary artist with a powerful yet soothing voice that commands attention. While Kvitka has only one EP under her belt, she has been releasing new songs online and participating in TED talks. Most recently, she opened for Foxes at the New Parish in Oakland Friday. Before her show, Kvitka chatted with The Daily Californian about her Russian heritage, TED talks and her love of Amy Winehouse.

The Daily Cal: How has your Russian background influenced you?

Anya Kvitka: I think my discipline is definitely something I picked up from my heritage. My melodies and harmonies that I write are definitely based in a certain school of music from Russia.

DC: What school was that?

AK: It’s just the Russian school of music; it’s a very disciplined, hard-core school. You see the same kind of thing whether it’s sports, or music, or whatever. The Russian school of music birthed a lot of famous composers, pianists and musicians in general, and I’m lucky enough to have been a descendant of that. Not saying I’m like them at all, but in terms of influences, I think it stemmed a bit from that.

DC: Did the discipline you gained from this help you in terms of teaching yourself how to sing?

AK: I got my first CD when we were picking up my dad from an airport in Russia. I remember seeing Toni Braxton’s Secrets, and that song “Un-Break My Heart” was my shit, and then I bought the CD after I begged my mom to let me. I memorized every fucking song on that album to a T: every little ad-lib, breath, everything. I tried to mimic a lot growing up, and then once I got to high school, my mom said I needed to take vocal classes, ’cause I was messing up my voice trying to sing like Whitney Houston (laughs). So I started singing opera for a little bit in high school and then picked it back up again in college. It helped me learn to understand my instrument.

DC: So opera helped you realize your voice a bit more?

AK: Yeah, it’s just like any kind of training. You can be talented for days, but if you don’t have a certain set of fundamental, theoretical things that you practice, then your talent is just gonna bypass that pretty quickly. It let me manipulate my voice the way I wanted to, and not the other way around; I was in control.

DC: Much like you transitioning into your voice, you’ve recently been transitioning through a few different producers. Could you elaborate on that?

AK: After leaving Soapbox Melodics and working with Hippie Sabotage for my first EP, I met snack|BOT — who’s now in my band — while he was working with Phife Dawg from A Tribe Called Quest at the time. So I swooped in and got him, and have been working with him ever since. I’m also working with AmpLive, which is dope; he was hella cool!

I just like to surround myself with people who are about their craft and want to make this a lifestyle and not just a hobby. Our guitarist Matt has been involved in everything in San Jose, and we met when I was still working with Soapbox. I think our first recording together was an Amy Winehouse cover, ’cause that’s my shit. Our drummer learned all of our songs in two days and took a bus to LA to do a show with us, and he fucking rocked. You just don’t find real musicians like them every day. Everybody that I have the pleasure to be around is that and then some, so I’m just a lucky girl (laughs).

DC: Is that how you were able to be a part of TED talks a year ago?

AK: The one I did last year was completely out of the blue. My high school friend’s mom was coordinating it and told me the topic was women empowerment, and she wanted me to be in it representing the arts. They asked me to come back again this year to actually do a talk instead of just a set. I’ll be premiering a video at the talk as well. The talk is called “Bridging the Gap,” and I’m going to talk about bridging the gap between the discipline it takes in piano and the discipline it takes in what I do now and how it’s the same strategy for everything.

DC: You mentioned that you’re a big Amy Winehouse fan. What does she mean to you?

AK: Nobody can really live up to musicians like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, but I think for our time, she was the closest we were going to get. She was obviously a poet and not just a songwriter, and on top of that, she came from jazz, which is a lost art form in mainstream culture. When she came about, everyone started stepping their game up, and she became this pillar that everyone tried to live up to. With her gone and similar artists like Adele not currently doing anything, everything’s back to just ‘unce-unce-unce.’ I think music is more than that — it’s more than a machine. Amy took her soulful music and made it mainstream, which is the coolest shit to me. If you can take real good music that takes skill and artistry and make it popular, that’s a completely different goal than to just get out there.

DC: Do you see yourself working toward a similar goal?

AK: It’s easier said than done. When I started, I didn’t see any other way, and now that I’ve been working for a while, I understand that it’s a bit more complicated and that there’s always compromise involved. I’m going to stand my ground as much as I can, but I realize that you need to be able to meet in the middle. I just never want to be cliche — that, to me, is the most boring thing in the world, and it’s poisonous to culture and art. I want to strive to make sure my music is always real and soulful.

Ian Birnam covers music. Contact him at [email protected]