At the time, the singer-songwriter, who started her career at the age of 9 performing cover songs at venues across the Valley, was releasing her self-titled EP. The promising collection of songs saw her embrace a more dynamic, hybrid pop sound, marking her first steps toward a new chapter as both an adult and an independent artist.
But just as everything was coming together, “I immediately went on hiatus,” Roya says.
It wasn’t as sudden as it seemed. Things had been building up for a while. She’d lost her voice after performing a New Year’s Eve gig with bronchitis and was ill for several months after. (“I didn’t really go on vocal rest, and instead of [performing] five to six nights a week, I went down to two nights a week.”)
She’d also lost her father to suicide in December 2017. But despite the emotional weight of these events, she’d decided to complete the project in full.
“Nothing was going to stop me from getting it out,” Roya says. “So I finished this EP and did the show at Rebel Lounge, and after that show, everything went dark. I deleted everything off Instagram, and I stayed off social media. I just needed to live my life and figure out what I was going to do.”
Over the next couple of years, Roya took ample time for self-discovery. She got an office job to support herself and tried to sort out her next moves, both personally and professionally. Then COVID hit, and Roya was forced once more to rethink her personal trajectory.
“Right before March 2020, things were really flowing,” she says. “I started writing a lot of new music, and it just felt genuine and I felt super connected to myself for the first time in a long time. Then the pandemic hit and I lost my job and I lost a couple other gigs I had. So I just kind of went back to the music. It’s really been nice, honestly, over this last year-and-a-half to put so much of my energy and focus into my music and my artwork and my brand and all of those things.”
Around the same time, she started taking classes in music marketing as well as offerings from the professional group Women in Music. On the one hand, she was learning valuable new skills for a modern artist. (“I don’t have a natural proclivity to want to be on social media,” Roya says.) But it was also a time to dig deeper and explore her relationship to music.
After working since childhood, in part pro- viding for her family, Roya said she never really had a chance to decide what she wanted from life as a working musician. “When I was younger, the first early records I put out were piano and new age,” she says. “Then I started doing more of this pop-jazz thing with the record that I put out in 2015. I’d say that I feel like I wasn’t in control during those times. Like, I was be- ing pushed in a direction that I was expected to fulfill. And then you grew up like that. It was very hard to separate things. What was mine? What was somebody else’s? What was it that I actually wanted to accomplish?”
Part of that was, even after she had al- ready left covers behind circa 2006, she still saw the appeal of the old circuit, especially the promise of financial stability.
“I definitely feel like it was harder to fo- cus on becoming an artist when you’re trying to please crowds and make a living and things like that,” Roya says.
More recently, as she’s worked other odd jobs, Roya still grapples with life as a professional musician. Only now, she sees just what that life meant to her.
“What I can recognize now that I didn’t recognize then is that I am super grateful that I can go out and gig to make a living if I want to,” she says. “I’m trying to work on that now.”
Fortunately, her recent creative efforts have paid off thanks to her latest single, “Ripe,” which debuted in July. The pop- rock jam is a personal triumph for Roya after years of upheavals and uncertainty. It skirts the lines between modern pop — think a more understated Olivia Rodrigo — and the sensual stylings of Beach House.
“It’s kind of a declaration of personal freedom through self-discovery, and how I feel free after getting to know myself better all these years,” she says of the single. “And I keep saying this, but this song and this piece of artwork and this new chapter, it’s really an indication of some of the shit that I’ve been able to come out of. It just makes me feel confident about [the future].”
The fact that the song’s gained some traction, including plays on local radio station KWSS, doesn’t hurt either. But it’s not just about building her career and her prospects, as Roya explains; she’s gotten heavy into collaborations as of late; Jesse Morrison, a.k.a. Killa Maus, co-produced “Ripe,” and Tanner Riccio of Katastro is an occasional songwriting partner. Those partnerships have greater value, and they speak to Roya’s ongoing personal and artistic development and how she perceives this stage in her career.
“I started collaborating a little bit more on my songs with other people and other producers and just kind of branching out more than I had in the past,” Roya says. “I try to meet somebody new [in the music business] at the coffee shop at least once a week. I’m a lot more willing to collaborate and connect with all types of people. I just turned 30 in June and it kind of took me some time to understand that.”
That commitment extends to a new monthly industry event she’s looking to launch in the near future. Connect + Collaborate is geared toward “women, non-bi- nary, and trans individuals across all fields of the music industry.” The aim, as Roya expanded upon via email, is to “build on the diverse music community Phoenix has to offer while fostering a strong support network for one another.”
At the end of the day, Roya sees the alignment between her own career goals and building up the local scene as some- thing natural. It’s all about making the best, most nurturing city possible for artists.
“If you’re here in Phoenix, you might as well try and build the community,” she says. “I’m really wanting to change things from competition to collaboration. We all have resources, and nothing’s a secret. We don’t need to keep anything from each other. It’s about transparency, honesty, and collaboration.”
Aside from the group, Roya has other plans for the rest of 2021 and beyond. That starts with a new single in October, “Keep Talking,” which is also part of a forthcoming EP. She’d also like to play more shows and eventually tour, though she admits she’d need to hire a booking agent and manager to get that going. She’d also like to record a new full-length LP, her first in some 15 years.
But whatever happens, Roya recognizes the journey that she’s been on in the last few years. She’s not nearly done, but at least she understands one important lesson: change is clearly a good thing.
“I actually really, really needed a shift,” Roya says. “Just to start coming from a place of having fun and love and gratitude.”