Interview | Zoya
Zoya Mohan on making it in the scene from India to California and back.
Born in New Delhi, India, Zoya has continuously embraced her cultural roots as her music has evolved. In her early years, the young singer never thought she would make it in mainstream music even after studying at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. She hit the stages early after graduation, and found luck from playing in coffee shops, dive bars and clubs.
After the success of her debut album, Zoya toured throughout the world and caught the eyes of industry heavyweights including director A.R. Rahman and producers like The Chainsmokers, Martin Garrix, Clean Bandit, Natty, Lucie Rose, and Madame Gandhi among others. With the release of her hit full-length album, The Girl Who Used to Live In My Room in 2015, Zoya quickly followed with the electronic remix album Zoya: Plugged In, in which all proceeds from the album were donated to organizations providing electricity to rural schools in Udaipur, India.
Knowing that she wanted to make an international impact, Zoya went back to live in India for four years. Last year in an article by Vice, she talked about her challenges and what it took for her to go from tiny gigs to full on festivals (like Supersonic and NH7) in her homeland. This year, she’s been working tireless back in the states to push out her evolution of sound.
Now with a new single out with Jack Harlow called ‘Bad Girls Dream’, which was recently reviewed by Rolling Stone India, she continues to push the discussion on what new pop artists are suppose to look and sound like. With her tantalizing music and ability to be attuned to her surroundings, she is surely a new young sensation to watch out for.
Your tantric dream vocals offer a different take on pop music. What was it you saw that wasn’t representative in pop before when you were first coming out with your sound?
I just wanted to make music. I just wanted to write songs that spoke to as many people as possible.
I think the world and how the universe works with me is that it gave me the forefront to talk about this. That every girl, despite not be the perfect pop culture color, can do this. I wouldn’t have thought of that unless I lived in India for four years.
What was your experience like going back to live in India?
All the millennials at the time in India are going through this experience where everyone wears what they want to wear and do what they want to do. Kids wanted to break through all those experiences; like familial experiences – the best way to do that is through music and fashion.
It was breakthrough against the usual type-casted Bollywood experience.
India gave me the opportunity to experience what I wanted to do. It was really quick. It went from clubs to main stage press. I was dealing with press like GQ & Rolling Stone and brands like Vans. It’s a small world there.
‘Bad Girls Dream’ with Jack Harlow has gotten quite some critical acclaim, like from Rolling Stone for one. How do you feel about the feedback?
Jack is so talented.
That the fact that it came back from India with no management and no help to then being put in a room with Mark Nilan – he kind of put me through the wringer. I wrote like 50 songs, and he would say “no, don’t do this, write better”. And then I would come back with 10 songs thereafter. He really crafted my art.
How has it been working with Grammy winning producer Mark Nilan Jr.?
He taught me the art of rewriting. He said to me once, “Do you want to make something great or something that’s trending on Spotify or do you want to make music that’s lasting?” He shaped my songwriting. It’s been amazing.
What has been the baddest thing you’ve done in being a ‘bad girl’ to being a ‘bad b**ch’?
Being a ‘bad girl’ isn’t really about what you do, but it’s about showing how you feel about yourself. A lot of ‘bad girls’ out there, you know, we are trained to validate ourselves whether it’s through sex or partying. It’s a form of coping. It’s a phase that I’m glad I passed. A lot of women and males go through this phase – filling the void with the outside world.
As a woman, what has been your inspiration to thrive in the industry that you’re in?
I’ve always said to myself, “I don’t care what I do in life as long as I make music.”
Maybe if there was someone who looked like me in the industry – maybe I would have thought that this type of career would have been possible. That [there] wouldn’t be a battle inside myself saying, “am I good enough?”
It’s about making a difference, and not just what pop culture wants. And who knows, maybe it’ll help another girl growing up who is super talented.