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Drishti Bodhraj Premprakashi

JWB Blogger

Travelling Singer, Zoya Mohan Jazzes Up A Conversation With JWB

  • JWB Post
  •  October 6, 2016


I have her song, ‘She Sells’ playing on my earphones as I write this.

“She sells, sea-souls on the seashore….” Sings the travelling songstress Singer Zoya Mohan.

Brought up in the USA, Zoya identifies as a nomad in search of a home. This young rising star has toured and opened for artists like Kawehi, Ryan Scott, Storyman, Salman Rushdie, Raghu Dixit, and Lucy Rose. She studied Music Business at Berklee College of Music and finally chased her dream to create her own music.

Although the interview took place via email, as a music lover myself, I felt very much in tune with her. 

You were born in India and grew up in the US. What’s the one quality that makes you Indian and one quality that makes you American?

I don’t really think of it as being American or Indian. If there is anything I can identify myself with, it’s being an artist, a friend, a lover, a human. Period! I am proud to be of Indian origin and proud to be an American. There are aspects of both societies that I am repulsed by, politically or socially, yet there are ideals in both societies that leave me prideful and inspired. 

What songs did you sing as a kid?

I grew up as a dancer. I used to sing old Bollywood songs while dancing. In my elementary school days, I started singing Destiny’s Child or Britney Spears. I guess it wasn’t until my early teens that I found the niche of the singer-songwriter world that I basically breathe today. This singer-songwriter culture was introduced to me by artists like Norah Jones, Ani DiFranco, and Fiona Apple. I fell in love with the word ‘play’ and a well-written song. Then I began to sing and write my own. 

I’d rather not talk about the ones I sang because I very recently realised the meaning of those songs. #StrugglesOfChildhood

Do you remember any lines from the first song you wrote as a child?

I had this little pink sparkly songwriting book, my first one, that is scribbled front to back with teen angst. It’s hard to remember solid lines from that, but I do remember songs from the first album I recorded called Paradigm Through in 2006 or 2007. I think some of the lyrics went –

  “My love is full and ready

Just pull the trigger and take a shot” 

 … Really adolescent writings *laughs*

Still better than what I was writing at 14. You’re good, Zoya.

Do you have any campus story from Berklee to share with us?

Berklee was beautiful and a beast, at the same time. It was hard at first to be surrounded by some of the best talents from around the world. The first two years at Berklee, I hardly sang or picked up my guitar. I was just frozen. I dropped songwriting and studied Music Business. After two years, I somehow worked up the courage and wrote ‘Letters to Toska.’

 I managed a lot of bands back then and showed the song to one of the rappers I worked with. It was funny, the reaction. He was like, “What?! You sing?!” I released ‘Letters To Toska EP’ later that year and it was amazing how the tables turned. I became a pretty versed singer-songwriter in the Boston/NYC circuit. 

Do you have any memories from the stage on your first tour?

 I did many small North East tours during college. However, I would still consider my first official tour being with loop-pedal, one-woman band, Kawehi. I opened for her at Brighton Music Hall in Boston and after the show, she asked me to join her on her west coast tour. I immediately said yes.

 The crowds were amazing and meeting all the fans after the shows was just a cherry on the top. She taught me that being a singer-songwriter can be a legit career, and it wasn’t all some luck of the draw anymore. Every night, on stage during that tour, I remembered feeling like this could be the start of something. 

‘The girl who used to live in my room’ is the name of one of your albums. Is it about a friend? 

I travelled and moved around a lot as a kid. I went to a lot of boarding schools and, because of this, my room became my sanctuary. That album paid tribute to that nomadic girl, who was always in search of a home.  

“Zoya: Plugged In,” donated all it’s proceeds to install electricity in schools in rural India. What motivated you to do so?

My father owns a travel company, and when I was a kid, he would take me to rural schools and villages in India. He had installed electricity, fans and lights in many schools in Udaipur. After the remix compilation was completed, all the producers and I decided we should donate the earnings to a cause. That is when the idea was born: electronic music for electricity. 


Do you have some teasers to share from your third album?

We are releasing a single from the new album on Rolling Stone India on September 6th. That will be the first official sneak peek! 


Your third album is called “Natural Disaster.” What experience was a disaster for you?

It isn’t that there was one huge disaster. The concept behind the album is what I am facing in my career right now. I am realizing more and more that the only thing in the way of me and my dream is – me. I am a natural disaster. Holistically, the album simply explores the labyrinth of human ambitions, insecurity, and fear when following your dreams.

You feel like a disaster too? Because, same!

What is it like touring with a band?

It is heaven! I love being on the road and am thoroughly addicted to it, at this point. 

I’d like to tour with a band, too. Not necessarily with my band. *Stares at EXO posters*

The biggest stage you’ve performed on that made you feel very small? 

Probably the Special Olympics in LA.

Your dream stage?  

The Greek Theatre or the Red Rocks Amphitheatre. 

Have you met AR Rahman? How was he in person?

I have performed on stage with him and been in his presence at functions many times but, never have actually met him one on one. He always has a calm yet powerful presence about him, though. In January 2015, he shared one of my interviews via Facebook. That was a crazy day, and I am still confused as to how he found me! It’s pretty nostalgic for me because after that day India started opening its doors to me. 

When you decided to check India out, what did you discover about the country that you never knew before?

I officially decided that last year in August. I have travelled through India a lot with my family, but this was a very different experience. Living in Mumbai for those months, I was shocked at how westernized the culture is here, and the indie music scene was just such an exciting thing to be invited to be a part of. It was surprising to me that there were metal bands and rock bands and even singer-songwriters performing western music at venues and festivals around the country. 

Your best experience with a fan?

 There’s been a lot of those. My favorite experiences of meeting fans are always when someone tells me a certain song got them through something in their life or inspired them to pick up a guitar and express themselves through songwriting, too.

Zoya Mohan

Aww, that is so touching!

What kind of struggles did you face to create a space parallel to mainstream Bollywood platform?

I came into the Indian indie scene a bit later than most. I can’t imagine how it was ten years ago for those who really started the underground scene. For me, my hope is to create a space in this country for the singer-songwriter. I feel like most audiences are used to going out to see live music, to get drunk, and party. But this kind of music deserves a different respect, a different environment, and a different intention when listening. 

That’s been a struggle, not just against mainstream Bollywood music, but with mainstream music as a whole, more specifically electronic music or pop music. 

The biggest struggle you’ve had to face in your career so far?

Balancing both music business and creating it. Handling most of my PR, bookings, visual content, management, scheduling, etc. gets exhausting. Sometimes, I wish I could just sit back and solely focus on only the creating part. However, I truly believe I wouldn’t be this far in my career, in such a short time, without investing in the business side of me. 

Tell us about your involvement in creating covers for your albums. 

Most of the visual content, like music videos or album artwork, are conceptualized by myself and one of my best friends, Lauren Johnson. She just has an eye for these kinds of things and it is always really fun because we get to create together.

Are they always your ideas?

Mostly the ideas stem from a lyric or the soundscape of one of my songs itself, so yes, the initial seed is planted by me. But, the idea grows and grows because of the collaboration between myself and Lauren.

Does your musical taste match with your parents?

They appreciate all kinds of music. I think the difference may be that I have a really specific taste and chose to make it a career. I just listen to music a lot differently.

Guitar or Sitar?


Monsoon or Autumn?


A city/country that you define as your alter ego?

Boston, USA

A song that your soul is singing right now?

Plans by Oh Wonder

Road trips or flights?


A moment of stage fright? 

 Hardly happens but, when it does, like all things, you just gotta breathe through it. 

Two words: Anxious hyperventilating

Favorite piece of jewelry?

 We sell these guitar string bracelets at shows that my best friend Lauren and I make. She made me one with a lucky key on it. I haven’t taken it off for years. 

Take notes, best friend.

Zoya’s album is definitely going to be on top of my playlist now. Also, I’m totally ready for Zoya’s new album. Bring it on, feels!

Do comment and tell us what you thought of her new teaser.

Until then, go follow her on , Twitter and

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