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When it comes to creating, the toughest part of the process isn’t usually the act of expression, but rather getting started. The battle between idea and execution is handled with fervency by 24-year-old singer-songwriter Darja Tomanovic.
The budding pop artist, born in Serbia and transplanted to Austin, was classically trained in piano performance before abandoning the confines of classical music for ventures into the world of her own songwriting. Only three officially released songs deep, she notes the exercise of songwriting is already an incredible source of liberation. It’s clear from her music so far that she’s onto a unique sound, visiting indie-pop scapes that make heavy use of synths, driven songwriting and her powerfully harmonic voice all at once. Songs like “Fallen,” “9 to 5” and her latest release, “Alone” intoxicate easily, walking the line between dance tracks and melodic tunnels seamlessly. The journey, as it’s understood, is not an easy path, but with each step, Tomanovic is finding herself, and she’ll only get better with time.
Darja has been living and working in Austin for about two years now, writing, recording and performing her music in between her time spent at work, marketing for a music management company. “I’m always around music,” she says. “But being an artist and writing and performing my own songs is my main focus.”
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Music has long been a part of Darja’s DNA, having grown up in Serbia where her parents introduced her to artists like Whitney Houston, Celine Dion and Bruce Springsteen, and attending a music high school where she trained in classical piano performance. “My mom played piano, and we always had music in my house. I’ve always wanted to play it and to be in music, I just thought that playing classical piano was the only option, and I was never too crazy about it,” she says. “I loved it but I didn’t have the passion for it. I loved performing, and that’s why I did it. I went to a lot of competitions and stuff so my childhood was basically trapped playing piano instead of playing outside.”
She recalls being intrigued by the ideas of composing and songwriting once she discovered Jazz, but also being torn between those passions and classical performance–which at the time, she was beginning to grow out of. She had begun exploring interests outside of classical piano when one of her professors condemned her for worrying about anything other than rigid practice schedules and performance expectations. That’s when she broke through.
“The first song that I wrote was at 16 and that moment was when I felt like ‘Wow, I want to do this.’ It felt so liberating, and I never was really much of a singer, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I needed a little push and performing my own songs helped me get my own voice,” she explains.
She moved to Texas from Serbia in 2012 on a Jazz studies scholarship to Texas State in San Marcos. Upon her graduation in 2016, she began recording her first couple of songs and decided to make the 30 mile move to the music capital to expose herself to more live music, perform her own material and meet other artists and creatives along the way.
Now, Darja is full steam ahead, working inch by inch alongside her producers, Moses Elias and Robert Sewell of the Hustle House to perfect her sound and improve her songwriting abilities. A song for her usually starts with one or a few lyric ideas that she has. “I’m constantly writing down thoughts and phrases in my notes and my phone and then I sit down look at lyrics and try to find what that sounds like,” she says. Influenced by potent contemporary lyricists like Julia Michaels, Billie Eilish, John Mayer, and Sara Bareilles, she’s often drawn to the writing that she feels is most relatable in the moment as the seed for what her songs eventually grow into. “For the last single “Alone,” I had a poem that I had written, and I brought it to the guys and I asked ‘can we do something with this, can we make it into a song?’ So, I love starting off with lyrics. I think that’s pretty much how all of my songs start.”
While as an artist it can be easy to let people’s perceptions of your music get the best of you, at the root of Darja’s desire is creative release. ”My main reason for doing this is because I don’t really know how to express myself, so through music and through writing that’s how I get everything out that’s been bottling up inside. I definitely do have moments where I’m like ‘Are people going to like it or do people hate me, like what is going on?’ But, at the end of the day if I’m happy with it, then I’m okay,” she says.
Through that sense of authentic creation, Darja wants listeners to take what they need from her music, interpreting it the way they see fit, since everyone will think and relate about a song in different ways. “I hope that because I love lyrics, people recognize that and take them as much as they take in the music. I want people to be able to dance to it or be sad to it, but also understand that they can think about what I wrote and feel it,” she explains.
According to Darja, 2018 has been her favorite yet as far as artistry and creative development. “I’ve grown a lot, and everyone that I’m working with is constantly pushing me and they’re all amazing musicians but also amazing people, which is just a very nurturing nourishing environment,” she says. “At the end of each session, I think of how grateful I am to have everyone around me because it takes a village, and I’m going places that I want to be going. I know it’s a very long process, and sometimes I’m impatient so I want it now, but when I stop and look around me, I love it.”
With new music on the horizon for 2019, Darja looks to the future with excitement and artistic comfortability. “I am so excited, and I love everything that we’ve done and every song sounds better and they’re all different from everything that I’ve released so far,” she says. “I’m just feeling the change, and I see and hear the progress that we’re making. I’m very excited to share with everyone it just takes a little time.”
Check out the visualizer for “Alone” below:
Onaje is a Junior Journalism & African and African Diaspora studies major from Houston, Texas. He believes that the best kind of writer is a rapper and his work has appeared on NPR, The Daily Dot, Austin Monthly Magazine, and Orange Magazine.