Zoya Mohan can't wait to bask in the Californian sun ahead of her West Coast tour starting this week. With snow pounding Boston, the Newport Beach native is eager to return home. But the inviting weather isn't the sole reason for excitement. Mohan, a 21-year-old Berklee College of Music graduate, is ready to bring with her a renewed musical purpose. With a dash of Bollywood accentuating her vocals, the singer enticingly offers two worlds within one voice.
Immigrating from New Delhi to Newport Beach as a young girl gave her dual perspective. "My parents used to throw these huge Indian parties but the thing that made it kind of different was that they'd have an hour or two of performances," Mohan tells the Weekly while waiting to board a plane home. "They'd make all of us kids learn Indian dances. When I was younger I used to be really embarrassed but now I realize being around that culture really inspired me to express myself through art."
Mohan took that upbringing and continued her journey as an Orange County School of the Arts student. "I actually got in for visual arts but a teacher saw me writing one day and she forged my path for me to move away from painting to do music full on," the singer says. "I owe Orange County School of the Arts for this direction I took." Her parents played a pivotal role before then when her father bought Mohan a guitar at the age of thirteen. She started with pop tunes but evolved as the years progressed.
Listening to Norah Jones and Ingrid Michaelson guided Mohan in a different direction. As she prepared applications to go to Berklee College of Music, a budding interest in world music took hold. "Finding my sound now is a very recent thing," she says. But that journey wasn't without a struggle.
Leaving Newport Beach behind for Berklee became ultimately rewarding but a stifled creativity frustrated Mohan. "I was actually having a hard time making music the first two years," she says. "I went through this phase where I told myself I wasn't special, there's a million people who are amazing."
Being at an acclaimed music school and not making music had to end. "I put together a couple of songs and starting recording them in my room," Mohan says. "It was probably the best experience I ever had." Her scented candles and travel souvenirs added to the most intimate of atmospheres. She edited, mixed and recorded Letters to Toska, an EP released in late 2013. The singer graciously offers the music video of the title track to the Weekly for an exclusive premiere!
Graduated and rejuvenated, Mohan's preparing The Girl Who Used to Live in my Room, a full-length album soon to be released. Needing a break from the every day studio work, she released Lasya, another EP inspired by Hinduism and dance. Two songs from Letters to Toska paired with a new composition to gave Mohan an outlet. "It was really fun," she says. "That was the point of it."
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The singer is looking for more good times opening up for Kawehi during the Evolution tour she's signed onto. Mohan has toured the east coast, but this is the first time the singer-songwriter returns back to the west coast musically since leaving OC. And that alluring hint of Bollywood vocal inflection that she'll be bringing with her? "Dancing embedded all this Indian music in my head," Mohan says. "I never got trained in Indian singing so it's kind of cool that it's coming out through the dancing I did when I was younger."
But before hitting the stage, the hometown girl is looking for a little fun in the sun. "I'm going to go to BJ's and get a pizookie. Then I'm going to the Balboa beach," Mohan says excitedly. "Over here in Boston, the snow piles are two times taller than me!"
Zoya performs with Kawehi at The Hotel Café, 1623 Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles, www.hotelcafe.com; Fri., 7 p.m., $10. 21+. For more information on Zoya, visit: www.zoyamusicofficial.com. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.