At the age of 17 years old, Grace Tandon has transformed into breakout star Daya and is fulfilling her wildest dreams performing on stages around the world. She left Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, behind after her song "Hide Away" flew to the top of the charts, with the writing aid of Paramount Recording Studios.
It was only last year that her self-titled EP Daya debuted and Rolling Stone magazine picked her as "an artist to watch." Her next single, "Sit Still, Look Pretty," has also done well and her Chainsmokers collaboration "Don't Let Me Down" is currently a huge commercial success, both domestically and internationally.
It is easy to see why Daya is making headlines after hearing her perform live at the Pride festival in Los Angeles. Windy City Times talked to her backstage after her show.
Windy City Times: Hi, Daya. Have you been to Chicago much in the past?
Daya: I was only there for the first time at Lollapalooza last year. It was absolutely insane and I loved it.
WCT: You went as a spectator?
Daya: Yes, I went to watch. Hopefully, I will sing there sometime soon. I haven't explored the city much. Usually, I am in a city for just 24 hours.
WCT: You are at Pride Fest this year; what is your LGBT connection?
Daya: I have so many friends and family in the LGBTQ community. Playing there means so much to me because I get to the support them. I really believe that people should love who they want to love.
WCT: Did you always want to be a singer?
Daya: I did. I always dreamed of it. I remember going to concerts when I was younger such as Coldplay that my dad took me to. I was belting along to the songs and knew I wanted to do the same thing at some point in my life.
WCT: You have a unique voice. When did you realize you can sing?
Daya: I started taking lessons when I was 10 years old. I did music lessons a long time before that and I learned music theory. After that I took musical theater then switched to more pop. I was influenced by artists like Amy Winehouse and Adele.
WCT: Do you play musical instruments?
Daya: I studied classical piano for eight years. I then studied jazz piano, guitar, and the ukulele.
WCT: Ukulele? How Hawaiian of you…
Daya: Well, you only need to play five chords and you are all set for that one! [laughs]
WCT: Did you ever have regular jobs?
Daya: Honestly, I did babysitting jobs and that was it. I never have had a "job" job. People tell me I have it easy. I am 17, so I would have started to look for jobs last year and now I have this.
WCT: Where did the name Daya come from?
Daya: The name is actually a translation of my real name, Grace, in Hindi. I was just looking at translations one day and saw it as a way to make it fun and different for me. I came across it and fell in love with it. My grandpa is originally from India.
WCT: When the song "Hide Away" blew up on the radio, how did your life change?
Daya: Every part of it changed. Nothing was the same after that. I was doing shows and on the road promoting it. It took me overseas part of the time. I didn't see my friends everyday like I used to in high school. I had to take classes online. I just graduated last week. It was a struggle but I stuck with it.
WCT: That must have been a challenge.
Daya: Oh yeah. I was living the best of both worlds. I was doing school at the same time as doing shows. It was lots of craziness.
WCT: Are you having fun making this new music?
Daya: Yes, honestly, I can't wait for it to come out. It is electronic and pop. Pieces of me are in that music. I am really excited for the world to hear it.
WCT: You just played a song about letting someone go. Where did that song come from?
Daya: That song is called "Back to Me." It is about letting someone go that has done more harm to you than good. In the moment you are emotional. You want to keep them in your life because they have been there for so long but you realize to make yourself better you have to let them go.
WCT: Sounds personal. It is hard to perform slower tempo songs in these large settings?
Daya: It definitely was for this audience. I don't know if you noticed, but I switched up the tempo. I didn't do it too drastic so people wouldn't notice, but I knew this crowd needed something faster. It is a really important song for me so I like to include it in all of my sets.
WCT: What are your thoughts on [the shooting in] Orlando that just happened?
Daya: I woke up and thought, "What is this world coming to?" My heart goes out to all of the LGBTQ community, all the people involved, from the victims to the families and friends. It was really saddening and depressing. I didn't even want to perform today because I was so overwhelmed by the hatred in this country and world, but then I realized love is greater than that. We can stay together and love one another, especially at Pride where it is a celebration of love and life.
WCT: I'm glad you didn't back out.
Daya: I would never back out but I was apprehensive. I wasn't nervous about safety but there was so much going on.
WCT: Where does your style come from?
Daya: I just met my hair stylist today. We wanted to do something super funky and different. I have never done two buns on top of my head before so it was fun to try out. It is really cool and love it.
WCT: You have the gay glitter.
Daya: I was shedding it all over during my performance.
WCT: It will be all over your suitcase. Is there anyone you want to collaborate with?
Daya: I would love to collaborate with Ed Sheeran at some point. He is so talented as an artist; that would be a cool one.
WCT: It is easy to meet people at these events to work with.
Daya: I meet a ton of people that I connect with and make friends on the road. I miss my friend from home, so when I see people who are in the same position and are on their way up, they are performing every day and we have that in common.
WCT: You have the chops from what the crowd heard today.
Daya: Thank you. I just don't want to be repetitive and the same as someone else. I want to be different and known for my work. My new album will out by the end of the year.
WCT: Plans for a tour after that?
Daya: Yes, will do a headline tour after it drops, but until then I am doing one-off shows. Obviously, LA Pride, Chicago, and Nashville. I am doing a ton of Pride shows, then some radio shows. I am working the whole summer but it is fun for me!
See Daya perform at Pride Fest on the South Stage, Sunday, June 19 at 4 p.m, with info at www.northalsted.com/events/chicago-pride-fest-2016/
For more on Daya visit www.theofficialdaya.com .