Q&A: Zoya Mohan On Her New Track ‘What’s Done Is Done’
Let’s play that game where you blurt out the first word that comes to you when you hear a particular word. Let’s start with ‘Zoya’. Now most of you may have had ‘Akhtar’ pop in your head. But not us. For us it’s Zoya Mohan all the way. Zoya first caught our attention when she released her tracks ‘Forgive and Forget’ and ‘Letters to Toska’ earlier this year. Her vocal abilities had us hooked and post her latest release titled ‘What’s Done is Done’, our obsession with her has intensified times one thousand. (You’ll see till you reach the end of this article) So, some Facebook stalking, a few e-mails and a few online pings later, here’s Zoya’s story – right from the very start.
1. Tell us about your beginning in music – from the first song you heard/sang to the first song you wrote and the journey from the first to the second.
I actually didn't start off as a musician! I was a dancer. I studied with Nakul Dev Mahajan (now choreographer for So You Think You Can Dance) Bollywood, Kathak, and Fusion. So my initial influences in music were Bollywood and Hindustani Classical music. Then I quit dance and began painting. I very much so believed I was going to become an oil painter. Luckily, when I turned 13, my father bought me a guitar after he'd overheard me writing melodies and lyrics. Between the age of 13 and 16, I travelled to India twice and recorded my first two albums in Noida. The first song I wrote that caught people’s attention was Catch & Release. (We actually re-recorded it in a new rendition on the upcoming album). A music professor at the art high school I attended in California heard Catch & Release, told me to quit the Visual Arts Conservatory and encouraged me to pursue the Commercial Voice Conservatory. Ever since, I have been working toward becoming the folk singer-songwriter I am today.
2. Did shifting base from India to Southern California influence your music? If yes, how so?
Oh man, yes! I don’t think I would have been exposed to the indie singer-songwriter world at such a young age. I grew up when songwriters like Norah Jones and Ingrid Michaelson were very popular here in the States. I was heavily influenced by the pop world back then - but slowly I began to find myself transfixed on more obscure songwriters like Ani DiFranco, Laura Marling, and Fiona Apple. It wasn’t until Berklee that I began searching for even more out of the box songwriting by artists from around like world like Camille, Susheela Raman, or Sara Tavares.
3. Tell us about the things that you would want your readers to know during your time at the mecca for all practicing musicians – Berklee College of Music.
Berklee was one of the best times of my life. I was so lucky to have been surrounded by incredible musicians from all around the world, 24/7. It is a place of constant inspiration and constant learning. I actually ended up getting a degree in Music Business at Berklee instead of pursuing the performance or songwriting major. This was probably one of the best decisions of my life. Berklee really equipped me with the skills to manage the business side of things, and of course musically, to create what you see today. I manage myself, book my own tours, handle all my marketing - I really owe it to many of the professors there who took me under their wing – both as a musician and as a music business entrepreneur.
4. One round of Google revealed that ‘Toska’ translates to ‘At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause.’ What is the reason behind naming your debut EP ‘Letters to Toska’?
Toska is such a beautiful word. It is a Russian word that was said to be untranslatable in the English language. It was later on defined by a Russian writer named Vladimir Nabokov - and ah! when I read his definition it really hit home for me. Toska is essentially that feeling we all have but can’t quite define. It isn’t nostalgia - it’s this other kind of longing, aching, or pining for something that may or may not exist. I feel like we all are constantly looking for something deeper than what we have in this world - the epic search for happiness, home, or love, maybe. At least I know I am. The songs on that record were really just my attempts at battling “Toska”- the epic search.
5. What’s the story behind ‘What’s done is done’ – both musically and visually?
My mother religiously reads this book called "The Power of Now" by Eckhart Tolle. What’s Done Is Done lyrically and conceptually formed around that book. After I read it I was hyper-aware of my inability to live in the moment. I was constantly day dreaming in the past while feeling terrified of the future. Hardly ever did I just stop, live in the now, and appreciate all the beautiful souls, landscapes, art, and love around me.
6. From ‘Letters to Toska’ to ‘The Girl Who Used To Live In My Room’ how has the journey been? More importantly, how has the journey helped shape you both as a person and a musician?
Unexpected, crazy, and encouraging. The tours I’ve gone on, the emails I get, and the support from people my music has affected has been incredible. Musically - my musicianship and leading my band at shows has definitely become easier. Recording wise, I record most of what’s on my records in my room so there was a lot of growth in my skills as an engineer and producer between 'Letters To Toska' and 'The Girl Who Used To Live In My Room.’
As a person - I have grown, of course, as we all do. I’ve made many mistakes, I’ve almost given up, and I’ve been heartbroken along the way but, I’ve also cultivated a sense of empowerment and motivation to keep going. There is much more to do, many more roads to take, and a loads of songs to write. I am just excited to keep creating.
7. When you’re not dabbing with music and its parallel manifestations, what does Zoya like doing in her free time?
Travel! I love traveling with my Dad. I also love doing photo shoots with my best girlfriends, going on hikes, having a fancy drink somewhere with good company, and, of course, going out to see live music.
8. What is Zoya up to in 2015? Do we get to see you doing a gig in India soon?
Actually, yes! After this record releases later this month and my tour ends this August here in the US, I plan to come to India for a while. I’ll be looking for management overseas and hope to soon after set up some shows there for early next year. We have a bunch more projects in the works like "Zoya : Plugged In”, a new electronic remix compilation album coming out in October, and a new acoustic EP I am working on right now - so there will definitely be more from me in the very near future - but first - 'The Girl Who Used To Live In My Room' debuts this July 21st and I can’t wait for you to all hear it!
And how could we leave you without the song we’ve discussed for so long. This is What’s Done Is Done.