With a voice that is simultaneously melancholy and uplifting, and a tone that seems to draw her life experience up through her heart space, flowanastasia gives her all front of the mic, and you can hear the passion, pain, sorrow and joy in every nuance. She’s spent the last decade delivering vocals on labels like RAM, Shogun and Viper to name but a few, but 2021 sees her branch out and deliver music to the world in her own right. You may know her by her real name Anastasia, which was also her artist name until earlier this year when she changed it to long-time internet handle “flowanastasia”.
Drawing on her own life experiences, her lyrics tackle issues like mental health, addiction, and spirituality, and both the passion and pain filter through her soulful tones. Hailing from Toronto, Canada, she is a vocalist who bares her soul in her art and this last month has seen the release of the second single River Flows from her debut EP due to drop later this year on Deviant Audio.
This smoky, jazz-tinged roller is simply stunning and showcases flowanastasia’s vocal range and heartfelt lyrical abilities beautifully. Produced by Nymfo and mastered by Tyr Kohout (who also records all of Anastasia’s vocal projects, and is an outstanding producer in his own right), the single River Flows also ties in with a beautiful art project by talented illustrator Vytautas Bikauskas.
So Anastasia, firstly tell us about your early musical experiences.
Thank you so much for having me! I have to say it’s surreal because this is my first official written interview and I’ve been a huge fan of KMag for years. I was born in Ukraine and moved to Canada when I was a child. I spent all of my alone time doing creative activities like writing in journals, drawing, singing, and making up dances to perform for my family after dinner.
One of my earliest musical experiences is with a children’s Yamaha keyboard, which fascinated me because of the range of fun sounds I could play with, and pre-recorded songs I could dance to. I started taking piano lessons around then and completed my classical piano and music theory training about 11 years later.
Growing up, I was drawn to jazz, underground hip hop, and ambient electronic music, before I discovered D&B. I also sang in some school choirs and went to an elementary arts program for a few years, but in my family, it was more important to focus on academic studies like mathematics. My creativity was more encouraged as a hobby and not a profession. I didn’t believe music was something I could realistically pursue, even though it was my dream since childhood.
At what point did you really fully understand that your voice was something you could use as an artist, rather than just a tool to express yourself?
It took many years to get there. I’ve always had a soft singing voice and couldn’t “belt” loudly, so I never got leading roles in choirs. But I yearned to find a place where my style could fit. An early obsession with underground hip hop and spoken word prompted me to try a more “spoken” style, and I remember a few school assemblies where I performed my own spoken word poetry. I tried writing songs around those years too, but it never felt like things were flowing properly.
It wasn’t until I finished my classical piano training and started attending university for a business program in 2011, where I really started to “find myself” as an artist. I had met students from other programs who were hobby musicians too, and we would get together for jam circles and improvise. Sometimes I would use my voice, other times a keyboard or piano, and I would start to collect and play unique instruments that I would bring along (things like kalimbas, Native American flutes, djembes, and more).
That period of exploration felt like the foundation of my development as an artist. After years of sitting alone at a piano and learning other people’s music, the concept of improvising and collaborating with other musicians was a completely new experience for me. I also discovered that the key to my own song-writing was to improvise first. Before that, I guess I thought people wrote songs by expressing ideas they already figured out in their head. I didn’t realize that improvisation was a big part of getting to those ideas in the first place!
After university, I still didn’t believe in myself as a singer. I purchased a 4-track loop station and started to produce really amateur beats along with my keyboard and a computer. I put those beats on SoundCloud, and would sometimes feature snippets of my voice, used as a “sound sample” instead of a main melody. Producers on SoundCloud began asking me to send samples of my voice to use in their tunes, and that’s what ultimately started my journey as an electronic music vocalist. One collaboration led to another, and with each song I continued to develop my song-writing skills and find my voice.
You’ve been delivering vocals for many of the scene’s best labels for over a decade. Talk to us about your first releases. What labels did you first connect with and what was that experience like?
My earliest releases were mostly in the realm of liquid D&B, which had been a great fit with my softer voice. I’ll be eternally grateful to labels like Fokuz, Soul Deep, and Galacy Records that supported me. A big milestone was definitely with Galacy, sister label of Liquicity. They were the first label to approach me and request topline vocals for specific songs. Previous to that, I was only approached by producers, so this new label connection was very encouraging and I was so grateful they believed in me as an artist.
It also gave me an opportunity to work with producers I hadn’t met before, and to gain the exposure of premieres on YouTube channels like Liquicity and UKF Drum & Bass, which was a huge boost for new listeners to discover me. And it was a good learning experience to understand what it was like communicating with a label, how to take and apply their feedback in my music, the business end of things, and much more.
After several years of releases on various labels, I was keen to branch out beyond the liquid subgenre, and explore my interests in darker styles, neurofunk, dancefloor vibes, and more. I started to reach out to producers on my own, instead of waiting for them to approach me, and that’s what led to some of my later releases, like a collab with Enei on Critical Music.
I understand you’ve also worked in the corporate world. Can you tell us about that?
Indeed, I’m still not a full-time musician. When I graduated from university, the goal was to apply my business skills at a day job somewhat relevant to music, while I continued to work towards my childhood dream after work. I was lucky to find an office job doing purchasing at a CD distribution company for a few years before it shut down.
Then, I worked as the business manager at a non-profit music publication called Musicworks magazine, which was an amazing experience learning how to “wear many hats” while running a small business. I was grateful to be part of that legacy – Musicworks has supported the exploration of experimental music since 1978, so I was exposed to an extraordinary history and community of artists.
After a few years there, I wanted to gain some business experience in a larger organization, so I’d been working in sales at a food manufacturing company over the last five years. The company recently changed ownership and my role was no longer needed, so I’m currently unemployed and doing everything I can to make my ultimate dream a reality.
And you’re pairing with Tyr Kohout. How did that happen?
Tyr is my biggest creative partner. He’s been the vocal engineer on all of my D&B recordings since 2017 (before we met, I was recording all-vocal projects in my bedroom with bad echoes, poor equipment and little knowledge). Tyr is also my DJ for live performances, the tech supervisor on my podcast Flow With The Show, and he’s a wicked music producer so we’ve collaborated on a lot of songs together too.
Even though we’re both based in Toronto, we actually discovered each other online, not in person. I was listening to an all-Canadian D&B mix and hearing his tune made me want to check the tracklist and find out more. I started following him on SoundCloud, and he followed me back, then sent a DM asking if I wanted to collaborate on a piece of music he was working on.
That also was my first in-person collab, since all of my previous projects were done via the internet, with producers far outside of Canada. I went to Tyr’s home studio, and he recorded my vocals there. Tyr has studied sound engineering extensively, so what he was able to do with my voice was far better than anything I’d done on my own.
Not only were his recording techniques and equipment better, he was also able to process my voice really well, create cool vocal effects, and gave me wonderful ideas for harmonies (something I’ve always struggled with). That experience was so significant, that I asked if he would be willing to record all of my D&B projects moving forward. I’ve learned a lot from him across a number of domains like audio software and video editing, as well as his approach to creativity and life in general. He’s one of the hardest working people I know. Meeting him was an absolute game-changer.
I understand there’s a reasonably strong underground scene in Canada. How were you introduced to D&B?
Underground is definitely the right word! If you were to approach a random person on the street, they probably wouldn’t know what D&B is. But there are a ton of small, yet loyal D&B communities across Canada. I was first exposed to a D&B song through someone in high school, but it didn’t quite grab me at that time.
A few years later, after a period of obsession with trip hop, prog rock, and dubstep, it was the YouTube algorithm that caused me to stumble upon D&B again, funny enough! I had just finished listening to a song by DJ Krush, and the next recommended song that was played was “Circles” by Adam F. I’ll never forget that moment. It felt like everything I loved about all different genres were represented in this one vibe. That experience prompted me to go down the D&B rabbit hole, and I started to discover a whole range of other artists and subgenres, through internet research and chat forums.
Later, I started looking for in-person shows to attend in Toronto. I didn’t know anyone else that also liked D&B, so I went to all my first shows alone. But I didn’t feel alone, because I was met with a community that felt so comfortable and familiar. The smiles and warm vibes, people encouraging each other when dancing, it was unlike anything I’d ever felt in other club settings. I also loved that I could go in running shoes, a t-shirt and a backpack, instead of “dressing up” like other club environments required. Eventually, I’d make friends in the Toronto community, and discovered more artists and Junglists across Canada thanks to the internet!
You’re a part of the Deviant Audio collective. Tell us a bit about the crew!
Deviant Audio is a Toronto music label founded by STRANJAH and dedicated to pushing the boundaries of bass music. When I first discovered D&B, I heard STRANJAH’s music in mixes and saw he was one of the only Canadian producers to have gained international recognition, having released tracks on respected labels such as Metalheadz, Hospital and Critical. He also organized awesome shows in Toronto and championed local talent.
I admired him for a long time, before getting the chance to meet in person through Tyr Kohout a few years ago. They had worked together on a number of creative projects, and I was grateful to start developing a friendship with him too. I’ve been thankful to release some of my own music on Deviant Audio, and more recently, I’ve also helped with label operations behind-the-scenes, as a labour of love.
In addition to creating music, STRANJAH is also an established educator and his mission is to demystify music production. He provides tools and educational content so that virtually anyone can succeed in making music. STRANJAH’s YouTube channel has grown massively as a result of his efforts, and there’s been a beautiful community developing around it. Over time, Deviant Audio is also becoming an extension of STRANJAH’s educational mission, and we’re working on fostering a community where everyone can support each other.
As well as your music projects, you also have a YouTube channel. What’s the story behind that?
Outside of music itself, I’m often looking for new ways to provide value to people, in formats that are either entertaining or educational (or both). There are two main types of videos I upload to my YouTube channel.
One is a series with Tyr Kohout called “Recording DnB Vocals” which is a behind-the-scenes look at our recording and editing process in the studio. So far, we’ve done it for my collab “Satellites” with Synergy, “Pressure” with Freaks & Geeks, and “Right Way” with Dossa & Locuzzed.
Tyr and I started filming our projects around the beginning of the pandemic. We figured it might be nice to provide an inside look at our work. In addition to watching us record, you’ll see us work out harmonies, create vocal effects, and learn about Tyr’s vocal processing techniques. It’s become an extra special thing for me too, as it captures creative moments when they happen, like a time capsule I can look back on. I’ve learned a lot about video editing in the process too.
The other main series on my YouTube channel is the podcast Flow With The Show, which I started a few months ago. It’s a video podcast, but I also have the audio available on all platforms like Spotify, Google, Stitcher, and more! The objective is to explore the art of being human with a new guest in each episode, creating conversations about topics like mental health, music, career paths, comedy, and success in today’s world.
Starting a podcast is something I’ve thought about for a long time (I was even voted “most likely to have a talk show” in elementary school haha), but it’s something I only seriously looked into once I left the corporate world. I wanted to have a platform where I could discuss topics that interest me outside of music too and allow people to get to know me on more levels.
I also found that listening to podcasts during the pandemic provided a comforting relief, perhaps because of the familiarity of hearing humans speak, it seemed to warm my soul. So far, I’ve been grateful to have guests like Mefjus, Becky Saif, Winslow, Laurie Charlesworth, and more, and the conversations have been so insightful. They’ve impacted my life in many ways already, and I hope that others will also find joy or inspiration from them.
What do you use as inspiration for your lyrics?
My lyrics often speak about mental health and my internal struggles to grow, change, and find understanding as a human being. I don’t often speak about romantic themes, because I find they’re well-covered in most other music, and my personal insights have more to do with the times I’ve spent alone.
Years of addictions like substance abuse and disordered eating are often the basis of my thoughts and lyrics. Much like everyone else, I’ve had a long quest for spiritual understanding, joy, life’s meaning, balance, motivation, and peace, so my lyrics often explore the questions and insights I’ve experienced throughout that journey.
More recently, I’ve been recovering from my addictions, and have been fully clean and sober for over 8 months, which is the longest in my adult life. I’ve also been working very hard to maintain a healthy regime of exercise and nutrition, which has always been a challenge. It’s a whole new chapter now, and I’ll continue to express my experiences through lyrics and online content.
So the new single then, tell us a bit about how it came about. Working with Nymfo must have been pretty cool!
Working with Nymfo was an absolute dream come true! Before that, we’d done a couple of other tracks together (all forthcoming), and the creative relationship worked out so naturally that I had to take a chance and ask if he’d be willing to work on something for my debut album. I’m so grateful he said yes.
River Flows is the second single from the album, and it’s quite different from what I’ve released before. In addition to singing, it also features some of my spoken word poetry and rap. The vocals were written and recorded in May 2020, at a particularly dark and confusing time for the world. I think you’ll certainly hear some of that despair and struggle in the lyrics. In most of my life and content, I aim to resonate out the most positive energy possible, but this was one of the first times I went in the opposite direction, deeper into the darkness and vulnerability.
I originally recorded the vocals for a completely different instrumental, producer and label, and that label didn’t like my spoken bits. Usually, I take label feedback and apply it with no problem. But this was the first case where I felt the spoken bits were too special to me, and I wanted to hold on to my original vision. So, I took the vocals back and waited for a while to figure out what to do with them.
When the idea to create my debut album came about, I asked Nymfo if he’d be willing to produce a track around that existing River Flows vocal. I’ve never worked like that before. Instead, I’d always done it the other way around, writing vocals to an instrumental. But he gave it a try and ended up taking the song to a whole new level. I think it worked out for the best, and I’m so grateful for it.
Explain a bit more about the rest of the album then. Is there a theme or a topic, or is it more of a collection of tracks?
Since this is my debut album, I definitely spent a long time figuring out what the theme should be and what kind of music to have on it. The album has 5 tracks from different producers, and they’re all across various subgenres of D&B. I was happy to have the chance to explore all of the styles I love, showing a diverse representation of myself as an artist.
I decided to name the album “Face Yourself”. It’s the title of one of the tracks, a good summary of the various lyrical concepts in the album, and something I’ve been actively trying to do in my personal life over the last year. I discovered that I’ve often suppressed my issues, or tried to avoid certain thoughts and feelings. But in doing so, it’s actually caused further problems.
Having struggled through mental health challenges like anxiety and depression, as well as addiction, I realized I am often the greatest barrier to my own success. I can’t continue to hide away from others or from myself. Instead, I have to face things directly to overcome them, if I want to live a happy and healthy life.
I also discovered that seeing other people ‘face themselves’ and overcome their inner battles has been a strong inspiration to me, and it’s been interesting to explore the impact we have on each other as humans. There’s a ton of related thoughts and questions I dig into throughout the album.
I was also very grateful to host my first ever remix competition this summer, with the first album single “Sending Signals” produced by Tyr Kohout. We got a ton of great entries and I was so thankful to see different creative spins on the track, which made it even more special to me. We’ll be planning to release some of the top remixes next year on a separate remix album!
Finally then, away from music, what other interests do you have, and what other things would you say you were ‘into’?
One of my greatest joys outside of music is stand-up comedy. It’s something I don’t write or perform myself, rather it’s just something I enjoy watching others do. Like most people, I love to laugh, and the art of stand-up comedy always brings me happiness. I love to watch stand-up comedy specials on TV or online or listen to comedy podcasts.
Before the pandemic, I’d only attended stand-up shows in person a few times over the years, but moving forward, it’s something I definitely want to go to more often and support. Especially in my newfound sobriety, the prospect of “going out” and being social in a bar or restaurant setting is still a little bit daunting. But the idea of going to a stand-up comedy show doesn’t prompt that same anxiety. And I also like to inject some of my silly humour in between my more serious posts online.
Aside from that, I have a great love of being in nature, walking through forests and swimming in lakes. I find that it always sparks a sense of deep calm, wonder, and appreciation. I’m grateful that Toronto is a vibrant urban city with many people and fun things to do, but it’s also surrounded by parks and wilderness, so you’re never too far from nature.
Thank you for taking the time to talk. What parting words would you like to leave with the Knowledge readers?
Thank you so much! For any readers who are discovering me for the first time, I hope my music and content can bring you some positivity. For those who have been listening to my music for a while, I hope this article gave you a chance to know me a bit deeper. I want to thank you all for your support and wish you good health, courage, strength, joy and peace.