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by Alex Brzezicka

Walk with Daya ‘In Between The Dreams’: surrounded by queer idols and clouded by love.

Ever since ‘Hide Away’, a single that put the then 16-year-old artist in the international spotlight, Daya has been out in the open. With her public and social media presence, variety of projects and personal feelings, Daya’s vulnerable pop – like an imagined lovechild of Alessia Cara and Lorde – kept us company during the sweetest and saddest moments. Having been intimate with intense emotions accompanying any affection, Daya decided to tell us all about it in a new EP, In Between The Dreams.

A Pittsburg-based singer knows the industry better than any newcomer. Part Indian, of Punjabi heritage, part American and queer, Daya looks beyond any labels that anyone could stick to her, even if by accident. Being unapologetically herself, the songwriter has already snatched a Grammy for Best Dance Record for her single with The Chainsmokers, ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ and earned a gold certification for her debut album. Now, 23-year-old, Daya is about to open a fresh chapter: she’s just moved to a new house where she dreams vividly, and released a record trapping loneliness and negativity of a period in the past, so she can be free once again.

Obsessed with her new EP, we ask Daya to give spill all the tea about it. The artist guides us through coming of age, the idealization and the god-like power of love: it feels truly holy when you’ve got someone who can relate to when trying to figure out the turns and tricks of adulthood. We choose Daya. Let us introduce you…

Daya, your stage name in Sanskrit is a word for “compassion”. What role plays your Indian/Punjabi American heritage to you as an artist?

I don’t know that it plays a distinct role in my artistry at this point in my career in terms of influencing my sound, but I like to think that I carry everything that makes up me as a person into my artistry, and that definitely includes my Punjabi heritage. I’m very proud of my family’s history and proud to be part Indian American.

Congrats on releasing your new EP, In Between Dreams. Can you talk me through the process of creating it?

I think the project officially started almost a year ago when I made ‘Her’ with my co-writers, Oscar and Katie. It felt like it lived in this really cool 80s dance pop space and I just had an instant craving to make more in that realm. I made the other songs within the next few months or so, and I think each song just naturally started unravelling a different part of the story that felt like part of a bigger whole and suddenly it became the EP.

What inspired you while working on it?

I was living on my own for the first time in my life and undergoing many major life changes— basically my whole life as I knew it suddenly flipped upside down all at once. I was coming to terms with the end of a lot of things that had been very meaningful to me while also at the same time trying to plant the seeds for new life to come out on the other side of it.

How does it feel looking back at it now?

I’m really proud of this project and how it represents that point in my life. I think it was a very confusing and lonely time looking back on it, but this project brought a lot of comfort and clarity that maybe I wouldn’t have had otherwise.  I’m really happy that it’s out and that people are loving it so far.

‘Love You When You’re Gone’ is very special as it’s talking about love universally. How important it is for you to present an inclusive image of love?

I think love is already inclusive and universal in and of itself; it’s a feeling that every single human can experience at some point in their lives, and it can transcend cultural norms or standards or any other set of barriers. In writing about it I don’t think I’m doing anything unique or special, just simply writing from my perspective as someone who’s been in love.

Did you have any dream that was really significant to you or felt prophetic?

I’ve been having a lot of really vivid dreams for the first time in my life. I don’t know if that has to do with all of the life changes I’ve undergone this past year or the physical change in my surroundings when I moved into my new house, but at one point in the year, I was having one every single night. A lot were hard to make sense of but there were a few that stuck out and I think really did have an effect on my thinking and the creation of this EP.

On the EP, you contrast the romantic vs actual reality of your relationship. In love, we are often so late to see the facts beyond the idealised fiction. Why do you think that happens?

I think love is a very entrancing and all-consuming feeling and can often cloud any feelings of hesitation or criticism of the relationship while we’re in it. I think often we can be so in love that we don’t really want to believe in a reality where the relationship isn’t the most idealized version of love, and in turn, we shut out that reality.  I think part of that is what makes love so untouchable and beautiful, but I think it’s also good to be cautious at times and try not to be so blind to red flags or any sort of abnormal behaviour in the other person.

Your music is so beautifully vulnerable. Is it difficult for you to open up in front of thousands of your fans?

I don’t think so. I think it makes me feel more connected to my music to write those kinds of personal and specific lyrics and can only hope that it makes others feel the same.

Since you’ve been in the spotlight for a few years now, do you feel like the possibility to peek into the adult’s life while being a teenager has prepared you better for adulthood?

I think yes and no in some ways. When I was younger and just getting into the industry, I was really excited to grow up and live an “adult” life and be hanging out with people 10 years older than me, and while it did prepare me in some ways, I do wish that I cherished my teenage years a bit more and allowed myself to just be free and dumb because I have the rest of my life to live like an adult.

Your last limited merch edition features ‘my idol is queer’ t-shirts. Did you have any queer idols growing up? How important is it to have someone like that for you?

I think Lady Gaga was the closest thing to a queer idol for me. Through her music and artistry, she created a very open-minded and welcoming space for her fans to identify as whatever and be partners with whoever. I think she’s not only moved the needle in a big way for the queer community but also for culture as a whole, and I feel very lucky to have grown up in the same time as her.

Talking about idols, you became one for many, a bit confused, young people. What does that mean to you?

I think visibility and representation are always important, and if it helps someone come to terms with their sexuality a bit better to see me being open about mine, then I’m going to keep doing it. I can only hope to be another example of someone who is queer and is actively living out her dreams so that younger queer people can point to me as an example and know that they can do it too.

If you met your 16-year-old self, what word of advice would you give to her?

I would tell her to spend more time on herself and relax a bit more.  It’s a very emotionally and physically demanding job and I think it’s important to work hard but also allow time and space for mental breaks, and I don’t really think I did that enough when I was younger.

What are you excited about in the nearest future?

I’m really excited to get back into the studio and finish an album.  I haven’t released one in years and I feel like I’ve really hit a wave recently with writing that’s felt the most honest and inspiring yet. I’m also going on my first headlining tour in the fall in nearly five years so I’m very very excited about that.

Press play on Daya’s In Between Dreams below now…

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