By Brooke Magalis
a person who tells stories.
This is what singer-songwriter, Zoya, pushes herself to be. What she does with her music is in service to her lyrics, to her story. (She wins major points from this English major for that.) Zoya embraces her connections from school to create an eclectic sound–it’s not unusual for a saxophone or flute to weave its way into the soundscape, creating a rich experience for the listener. She observes some of the greats–Ani DiFranco, Fiona Apple–to help shape her music, and for good reason. Let’s be real, these ladies kick ass.
You can hear her influences, but Zoya brings something fresh to the table, something that stands apart from who she listens to and who she admires. Her take is a fresh one on the folk arena. Her music stands out from the noise, for me at least, for the intricate soundscapes, a unique one for each song. The instrumentation is impressive on each and every track of Zoya’s new album. There’s an interesting little nugget to be found in pretty much any track, whether it be tasty bongos, or a sexy, jazzy saxophone part. There’s always a little something extra for that earhole of yours.
Zoya’s latest album dropped recently. You can listen to it on SoundCloud, or you can be an even better person and go grab a copy on iTunes–fund the arts people, am I right?
So, I noticed that you covered a Daughter song–I adore that band, too. Is that the kind of vibe you’re looking to convey in your original music? I dig the sound effects and added instruments you have in there. What made you take that route with the cover? What other bands influence you?
Zoya: I love Daughter too! I love their music and Elena’s songwriting but – I think I am trying to create my own vibe, you know? I take influence from tons of songwriters and other artists by letting their work inspire mine. Their work influences me to explore new territories or avenues for my own work to grow. I take a lot of notes from the more obscure singer-songwriters like Ani DiFranco, Fiona Apple, & Laura Marling.
You have some really interesting elements in the tracks on The Girl Who Used to Live in My Room. There’s flute and sax, among other elements. What made you make this artistic decision? Is the instrumentation throughout the album what you originally envisioned prior to recording?
Zoya: Thanks! An album rarely comes out exactly how you envisioned it. There are tons of beautiful accidents that happen along the way. I always choose my instrumentation based on what I think the song needs to bring out the lyrics. I was lucky that, when we were recording this album, I was still in Boston at Berklee College of Music. I was surrounded by talented players who played a variety of instruments. Having lots of options makes it a really fun process.
How would you describe your music, just in your own words? What would you like for people to get from it? In other words, what is the takeaway?
Zoya: It is definitely a mixture of the folk pop singer-songwriter genre and world music, I would say. We use tons of instruments from around the world and my vocals have hints of Indian influence. I love using eclectic instrumentation and kind of collecting sounds to portray the story of each song. I want people to get what they want from it. I never want to impose my own thoughts on what my music means to people. They can take away what they want. Whether it be simply relating to the subject matter, having experienced the same emotions, or are inspired by any hopeful endings… I’m always blown away to hear other’s reactions. A lot of the times it opens my eyes up more to what one of my songs mean.
A question I tend to ask most musicians I speak with: What is your songwriting process like? What is your recording process like?
Zoya: Songwriting-wise – it kinda all just comes out at the same time. I think of a lyric I like and hum it in the car or shower.. and I kind of just know a song is going to come out of me. So I sit with my guitar, turn on my phone to record (so I don’t forget something cool I did) and just start messing around. A lot of times, in those recordings, I find a main part I like and I just go from there. I record most things in my own room. I always start with my own vocals and guitars. Then I invite friends over or go to their apartments to have them add on their improvisations. After, I sit and edit what I want to keep.
What was the catalyst for your music career? At what point did you realize you wanted to be a musician? Was there a distinct moment, or was it something that’s always been in you that you’ve always known about?
Zoya: I grew up around a lot of music and art. I used to dance and paint too. I was always painting, dancing, or singing. The moment that made me want to do music and only music was when I was at Orange County Highschool of the Arts. I was accepted in the Commercial Voice Department and the Visual Arts Department and I had to choose which Conservatory I would take. I was so very lucky that one of my professors heard my music and told me it would be a mistake to not continue with my songwriting. Since then, music has been my life. The thing I love about it is that music is the most challenging. There is so much to learn, numerous kinds of music from around the world, different theories, scales, and just so many options! It’s one of those art forms that has an infinite amount of palettes and possibilities.
Let’s wrap up with a little bit of rapid fire, shall we?
Full band electric or acoustic? Full band electric and acoustic.
Touring or recording? Touring.
Small, intimate show or huge crowds? Huge crowds.
Coffee or tea? Coffee!
Favorite genre? Singer-songwriter music (folk or not–just music that focuses on the lyrics, storytelling, and messages)