Music ended up choosing me, then I chose it back: Zoya
A Humming Heart got in touch with Zoya Mohan, a Berklee graduate who is clearly so very full of life and even more talented. We had a lot of fun getting to know her, someone’s music we really enjoy. Read on and find out what Zoya is all about.
Was music something you were always drawn to and wanted to pursue as a profession?
Yes mostly – I used to dance and paint. Dancing was more of a childhood hobby but, oil painting was something I really loved. Music kind of ended up choosing me, and I chose it back, as a profession a bit later.
You are a graduate from Berklee College of Music in Boston, which of course is “the” place you want to go to if you’re serious about studying the art. How much has it helped you today?
Berklee was one of the best times of my life. Being surrounded by musicians and like-minded artists 24/7 was incredibly inspiring. I originally went to Berklee to study in the Songwriting department but, after my first year, my path changed. I ended up choosing Music Business as my major to equip myself with knowledge about the industry to ultimately release my own music and manage my music career how I see fit.
I knew I wanted to make my music on my own terms. Berklee was probably one of the only colleges that accepted that, encouraged entrepreneurship, and showed me new avenues I could take to have my music be heard. My education there definitely enabled me with the skill set to make this into a actual career as an independent musician.
Do you feel that hard work, or “acquired talent” can trump natural or “god-gifted” skills?
Well it can, I also feel money can trump both those things in our industry today. But hard work, I would say will never not pay off. And you may have all the god-gifted talent in the world but without hard work and dedication to your craft – your career can’t be long-lasting and self-sustaining.
How did you end up collaborating with Kiran Gandhi, and how was the experience? Could you shed some light on her concept of “atomic living”?
Kiran! Ah, one of my favorite women. It was so fun to work with her on my record Lunar Eclipsed. We met at Berklee when she was conducting a masterclass on how to balance tour life and the life as a music business entrepreneur. It was very atomic, actually, how we met. She just had this incredible energy and vibe about her – we ended up hitting it off and grabbing a drink later that week.
Atomic Living is basically the idea that our world is filled with atoms and, just like humans, atoms bounce off each other and create new connections. She said to pick three to six things that are most important to me — my passions or pillars. For me, it was traveling, family, art, learning, things like that. She said that I should always make decisions based on those pillars instead of looking to the future and making decisions based on some job I want to get five years down the line, or making decisions based on what other people expect out of me.
She said then there will be no room to regret any decisions and the “atomic moments” that form are so much more true than if I followed a path just to get to Point B. Instead, I should be open to numerous paths that may come out of my “atomic decisions.”
So one of my favorite tattoos says “step atomically” in Greek (since the Greeks were the ones who first discovered the atom), and that’s why I got it on my foot. So with every step I make in life, I keep her philosophy in mind.
You know the biggest difference between popular Western (specifically American) music and popular Hindi music. Do you think Indian film music might benefit from slowly moving towards the Hollywood/American way?
They have already! It’s not a matter of benefiting or not – it is really just history repeating itself. Different kinds of music throughout ages has been spread around the world, moved across oceans, and immersed into various cultures. Music is really just a big recycling bin. Now with the internet and major corporate commercial control, that recycling bin is just getting smaller – music for the masses is turning into a commodity – it’s not so much about the art anymore.
There is an Indian influences in (some of) your music? Who are the Indian musicians you look up to for inspiration?
Yes, so my music is influenced by many different countries, not just India. But of course, India is where I was born and have my roots in – so it kind of pours out naturally. Influences wise – as a child dancing to Bollywood, Kathak, Bharatnatyam and living in an Indian home I was always exposed to the classics like AR Rahman, but as I grew up I began to find my own influences… Kind of more obscure choices but Sanam Marvi is one big one and Susheela Raman as well.
When can we see you play in India? (We really want to!)
JAN 23. NARIYAL PAANI, Ali Baug
JAN 31. HIGH SPIRITS, Pune
FEB 2-10. DELHI AUTO EXPO w/ TAAL INC. & RENAULT, Delhi
FEB 14. GRASSROUTES JOURNEYS, Purushwadi Village
FEB 16. WORKSHOP: TRUE SCHOOL OF MUSIC, Mumbai
FEB 21. MUMBAI : THE STORY BOX, Mumbai
FEB 26. AWESTRUNG, High Street Phoenix
MARCH 8. HIGH SPIRITS, Pune
MARCH 11. THE WHITE OWL, Mumbai
Your career is pretty young at the moment but what has been the biggest struggle so far?
Balancing both hats. To act as my own manager, booking, marketing, pr etc while also nurturing my craft as a songwriter and artist are tough sometimes.
What are the short-term and long-term goals for you?
Short term – is to balance my shows in India and shows in the US. They are two different markets with two very different things to offer. I would love to find a way to balance out both while still handling all my own bookings and management.
Long term – I hope to break into the UK, that has been something in the works for a while now. Ultimately, to balance out the year with tours in the UK, US during summer, and India during winter while hosting more masterclasses or workshops about the music business and the culture of DIY – that would be a dream come true! I also hope to run my own venue one day – so there are a lot of different plans for the future. But, one will only find out when we get there!
Any artists you would love to collaborate with and for any particular reason?
Fiona Apple, Ani DiFranco, or Camille. Hands Down. These three women have impacted my songwriting and the direction of my music incredibly. It would be a dream come true to be able to collaborate with them.
What would you be more happy with – commercial success or a cult following?
Cult following. I feel like with commercial success there are lots of expectations from many third parties and focus on pleasing mass media that creates boundaries to your art and message. On the other hand, with a cult following, there is one original, unwavering idea, personality, or movement that the audience chooses to follow. Then, there is no need to manipulate the market or attain permission from any third parties to create or perform what you want to.
Favorite Indian musicians- Susheela Raman, Sanam Marvi, Anoushka Shankar, Vishwa Mohan Batt Neha Bhasin (her Punjabi folk stuff), and some of my friends in the indie scene like Gowri, Nicholson, Nischay Parekh, or Tejas Menon
Favorite International musicians- Fiona Apple, Camille, Ani DiFranco, Daughter, Ben Howard, Laura Marling (“and a big fat, ETC.”)
When you are not making music, you are-
sending and answering emails. rehearsing or going to see live shows!
5 essential tracks on your playlist are-
ANIMA! – Serendipity
AURORA – Runaway
Hundred Waters – Down From The Rafters (Huxley Remix)