Indian-American songstress Zoya turns to pop on new single, 'The Shaman and The Singer’
For someone who held singer-songwriter/folk artists such as Fiona Apple and fusion artist Susheela Raman as influences at one point, Mumbai-based, California-bred Zoya Mohan was reluctant to be influenced by mainstream pop. Until she began taking spin classes, that is.
She says over the phone, “The class is like a club — like triggering lights and stuff. So every week, I had to make a playlist for the class. I stopped listening to singer-songwriter stuff and listening to Spotify Discover Weekly playlists. I found artists like Halsey, Maggie Rogers, Amy Shark, Oh, Wonder and Sylvan Esso.”
She admits that she was “against” pop music for a long time, but knew it was amongst the most powerful ways of creating music. She says, “You can take one idea and communicate it with so many different people from different backgrounds. I think that’s something all artists would want at some point in their career.”
On her recently released single ‘The Shaman and The Singer’, Zoya – who moved to Mumbai nearly two years ago after completing her course in music business at Berklee College of Music in Boston — is talking about a relationship and her past self. There’s a dark, pulsing beat and plucked strings she sets her low but powerful vocals over, singing the hook, “I miss the girl I was before she became used.”
It’s not wildly mainstream pop like any of the artists Zoya’s been listening to when she’s on a spin bike, but it’s certainly a reinvention for an artist who went from recording pop albums as an adolescent to fusion music that explored her Indian-American identity and finally, the folksy-electronic songs that came to be her full-length album Natural Disaster. On ‘The Shaman and The Singer’, Zoya explains why she chose a very personal and “sad” lyrical theme, “I’m very far away from home, so the relationships I have in this country or whenever I go to a different country and live there are really meaningful because I don’t have any family or friends in those cities.”
After performing at festivals such as Nariyal Paani in Alibaug and NH7 Weekender in Pune over the last year, Zoya has been finding her feet ever since she arrived in Mumbai to be a part of the alternative and indie music circuit — signing on to artist and event management company KRUNK and testing the waters with different live performance styles. She’s played solo, with a full-fledged band, and as a duo with violinist-producer Ajay Jayanthi and now settled in on a duo setup with bassist Gianluca Liberatore (with singer-guitarist Zoya handling electronic sampling and triggering backing tracks). She says it certainly wasn’t easy having such a fluid approach to performing. “It was confusing on my part, because the music was Ajay’s productions. I was apprehensive about electronic music at first, because I knew that once I opened that door the possibilities would be endless. I would feel out of control. The exact opposite happened,” she says.
Even with help from an artist agency with bookings, Zoya manages most of her music business herself. The do-it-yourself ethic extends to her music — she sat down with sample and beat libraries accrued from electronic producers such as Tarqeeb, Kumail and EZ Riser aka Sohail Arora (who’s also the showrunner at KRUNK). She charts her sonic influences as “blending American singer-songwriter with Indian influences” to world music and more. She says, “Now that I have that, I’m ready for a more global and universal sound that everyone can embrace.”
There are six songs Zoya has prepped on her own — including reworking existing material such as ‘Letters to Toska’ and ‘What’s Done is Done’ — for her shows now. She was in the US for a run of shows earlier this year, but has plans to play outside India more, including a UK tour in the works for next year. It’s DIY all the way through for her. “I’m still doing everything — you can be the artist, the songwriter, the music producer and the business mind behind everything, and the band manager and the guitarist! In my most of my masterclasses, I tell people, ‘Don’t wait for something to come to you. If you really love something, work as hard as you can and put as many different hats as you want to, to get this done.’”
‘The Shaman and The Singer’ video has been directed by Sanya Sagar, PynkMoss Productions. Watch it here: