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Turn Me On: Koi Anunta and In Love & WAR

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Singer, composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist Koi Anunta has recently released Tessitura, her latest project under the name In Love & War. The six-song EP beautifully weaves Anunta’s tapestry of trip-hop, industrial rock, orchestral, singer-songwriter and classical influences.

Anunta spent much of her youth being classically-trained before graduating with a medical degree at the age of twenty-four. Her love of improvisation led her to bring her proficiency at classic violin and piano into the spaces of the aforementioned forms of experimental rock. Anunta’s largely-auteured Tessitura is a statement of mastery of this work, while also serving as what is hopefully a first step in the exciting adventure that lies ahead for In Love & War.

In celebration of releasing Tessitura, Anunta sat down with Rock Cellar for an extended interview in her home studio in Hollywood as the latest installment in our ongoing Turn Me On category. When discussing the sounds that matter to her, Anunta invariably uses a combination of the words “dark, cinematic, haunting, epic.” What makes Anunta a remarkable talent is her ability to find these emotional landscapes in Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev and easily as she does in Nine Inch Nails and Portishead.

Of crafting Tessitura, Anunta shared “It’s a genuine reflection of who I am as a person. I’m classically trained. I really like industrial rock. The orchestral elements are there. I laid MIDI down that’s more electronic-based, because that feels natural to me. I always start with the lyrics, which I think is probably where the singer-songwriter thing comes from. That shapes the musical journey.”

Anunta’s musical journey began in Buffalo, New York where she started studying piano at the age of four and violin at the age of eight. Music was always an impassioned pursuit, even as Anunta who, after skipping first and second grade, graduated with a B.A. in English from Yale at the age of twenty before attending the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. On how she found herself equally rooted in medicine and music, Anunta reflected, “In all honesty, music lessons from my parents were something to make me more well-rounded as a candidate to get into medical school, not for the sake of music itself. But I’ve always enjoyed it. I thought I was good at it. I never actually took it seriously as a career.”

Anunta said of the career change, “I was in the a cappella group and chamber orchestra at Yale. Fourth year of medical school, I had finished two away electives, one at Harvard for plastic surgery and one at UCLA for liver transplant. After I’d finished my 25th shift of 38 hours at a time, watching people die, I thought, ‘Do I want to do this? Just because I’m good at it, does it mean that I should? Am I obligated?’ I really did enjoy helping people. It’s a great thing to do with your life. But, did I want to take the only life that I had and dedicate it to that at my own expense? At my own exhaustion and misery? I decided, ‘I’m just going to do music and see how that goes.’ Because when I was on stage, I stopped worrying about things. Nothing ever seemed to be bad. I recognized the connection for me with the audience was always one of joy. When I played, people were happy. There was never a time when I played and people were upset or dying or sick. When most people are sad, they go and listen to their favorite song and then they feel better. When they’re sick, they go to the hospital to make their body better. I decided I was going to reach people in this way.”

After moving to Hollywood, Anunta realized her perfect pitch and ability to improvise were the ideal skill sets to be able to find sustainable work as a session musician. Of the current realities of being a reliable session player, Anunta explained, “The way it used to be, the label would rent out a house in Malibu, and the band could be there for three months and just come up with magic over time. In reality, I haven’t heard the whole song. I show up cold. They play four bars and they’re literally like, ‘Okay, Go.’ And I have to make up something on the spot. And you only have one or two shots to do it. Then they keep it, and you have to remember what you did and then double it, triple it, harmonize, whatever they need. Then you’re done in 45 minutes. And you still haven’t actually heard the whole song through. Because they don’t have time. So that’s actually a skill to polish.”

On how she’s able to establish herself in such an unthinkably cutthroat and competitive field, Anunta further mused, “To some extent, it is creative; because you are pulling it out of thin air. But you have to do it out of thin air, on command, within a specified amount of time. I do love making up things. I think improvising is one of my personal strengths as a session musician, especially for violin. I think a lot of violinists need their sheet music. They need to have their parts written out. But it’s always been easier for me to come up with something. And I prefer playing my own thing rather than the sheet music. Which is why I think my career has tended to be more with bands than with film scores. I think that choice sorted out itself.”

After earning a reputation as a dependable hired gun, Anunta made the decision to finally share with a trusted colleague the music she had continued to write, record and produce in her home studio. With his encouragement, Anunta wrote four new songs and polished two existing ones for the EP that became Tessitura.

On how she came to self-produce Tessitura, Anunta revealed, “It was all just out of necessity. I thought, ‘Well, I want to make music. I don’t want to brother anyone. I might as well just do it.’ I never even thought I wasn’t capable of producing. I never defined those roles. I never thought, ‘Oh, I wrote this song. I can’t produce it.’ I thought, ‘Well, I know what I want it to sound like. I might as well just make it sound like that.’ Then I just kept working on it until it came out the way I thought it should sound. And for better or worse I did it. So I never thought, ‘I know it’s not good enough.’ Or ‘I do think it’s good enough.’ It was more of, ‘This is how it is. We’ll just go with that.’”

One of the most fascinating things Anunta has learned about making music in the digital era is the benefit of making EPs and videos that through social media can be shared directly with an ever-present and increasingly encouraging fan base. On growing her audience, Anunta beamed excitedly, “With this release, I’ve noticed how engaged the fans are. First of all, I can’t believe I have fans. Second of all, they’re so engaged. They’re really, really excited about stuff. I’ll spend hours a day talking to them on social media answering questions about songs or upcoming videos. They’re really, really want new stuff all the time. I think it would be impossible if years went by between releases. That’s much easier to do with EPs.”

One of the innovative ways Anunta is promoting Tessitura is by releasing music videos for all six songs therein. The video for “Gun To My Head” was released prior to the release of Tessitura, which found Anunta directing, editing, producing and starring. Anunta explained that she had never considered directing her own music videos. But after two potential directors fell through, Anunta once again stepped up to a meaningful opportunity.

“I think it was a month or two before the EP was supposed to come out.” Anunta said, further looking back on a prolific first half of 2019. “I honestly had gotten sick of trying to find people. I thought, ‘How hard can it be? I already know what I want.’ I had a really, really clear idea of what I thought the story should be. So I just tried to go with what I saw in my mind. My mom was nice enough to let me use her house, which was kind of epic. That was part of the reason of having that story. I thought, ‘We have this free house. What story could we make that would utilize this house to its full extent?’”

Of directing herself, Anunta chuckled, “I think the biggest challenge was not knowing what I looked like on camera when I was trying to do the thing that I wanted. No one was telling me, ‘Turn slightly left.’ So we’d have to look in the camera. I practiced at home in the mirror and was hoping for the best. I still, honestly, had a lot of insecurity about the fact that I worried that the video wasn’t good enough. Or the music wasn’t good enough. I’m not saying it was my way because I know best. It was my way because I didn’t know what else to do.”

One of the most refreshing aspects of speaking with Anunta is how quickly she’s willing to give credit to those who have helped shape Tessitura and the following music videos. In the case of filming the “Gun To My Head” with Angelica Rodriguez, Anunta offered, “My cinematographer is extremely talented. Her eye is amazing. She did a lot of the heavy lifting for me. We shot the whole thing in less than eight hours. We were just trying to be creative with clearly defining things with shadow, light, color.”

Following the success of “Gun To My Head” video, Anunta has completed a stunning and imaginative lyric video for the song “Stars,” with a video for “My Mistake” being released in the coming weeks.

To turn yourself on to In Love & War go to https://inloveandwarband.com for links enjoy to all Tessitura on several major streaming platforms, videos as they continue to be released, and all of the latest news and reviews.

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