A conversation with Zola Jesus


by Rose Blanton

To her fans she’s known as Zola Jesus, but when I sat down with Nika Danilova I was introduced to an articulate young woman who thrives by challenging herself and creating whole worlds for everyone to indulge in.

Rose Blanton: What was it like producing an album with Dean Hurley?

Nika Danilova: I was ready to take a leap and work closely with someone and I just couldn’t finish on my own. I was looking for someone I felt comfortable with. We had a little trial in the studio and it went so well and I felt so close to him that I decided to make a whole record with him.

RB: What was your favorite part about creating this album and what did you do differently this time around? 

ND: My favorite part was when I was writing, I was pretty isolated so I didn’t think about my past work or what people wanted. I was really focusing on the moment. On what I needed to say on the record. An incredible liberation, a release almost. I did a lot of things differently. I wrote specifically for the voice, the vocals are very clear. It was a huge challenge that I needed to confront.

RB: Your first two LPS were recorded at home, but this one was in a studio. What was that experience like? 

ND: I liked it more, because I felt like in the past I was limiting myself, in what I had and what I knew as a technician. Being able to be in the studio and work with someone and have all the gear, I just felt like the idea I always had was finally able to be brought to fruition.

RB: What an awesome discovery! What’s your favorite track on the new album?

ND: My favorite track is probably “Nail” because it’s almost entirely acapella and I just like how vulnerable that feels.

RB: And that probably connects back to your writing of the album and focusing on the voice. Really sounds like what you were trying to achieve. 

ND: Yeah, it is.

RB: You’ve worked with a string quartet on Versions and for this album you’re touring with a brass ensemble. Do you have any aspirations of working with an entire orchestra and perhaps creating some sort of opera or rock opera?

ND: I don’t know, maybe. I love the large scale scope of an orchestra and how much sound it can produce and all the instruments and shades and colors that are right at your disposal, so maybe one day.

RB: We’ll just have to wait and see I guess…

ND: Yeeeah.

RB: Do you think nature or forestry or perhaps the way humanity interacts with nature is a theme for the album?

ND: Totally. Totally both. I wrote the record pretty deep in nature. I felt like one human in this greater world, I felt like an intruder almost and the dichotomy of being a human in the natural world and feeling so alone. I just found that so interesting and wanted to explore that within the album.

RB: So you’ve been quoted before as wanting to conquer the mainstream? How are you going to do that?

ND: Inherently I say that because I’m just so ill fit for that world and I find it very entertaining that there could be a misanthropic, nihilistic young girl who wants to become a pop star. I find that idea entertaining.

RB:You’re working with a light designer for this tour. What kind of atmosphere do you want to create at your shows? 

ND: Well it’s been hugely important that I figure out ways to create an atmosphere, an environment, a universe. When I made this record it felt like this entire world. It was larger than life. And now that the songs are coming to the stage, I need to figure out their platform. And that’s what has been interesting to figure out. How to synthesize the visual aspect of the music. I’m taking the production side very seriously. I like idea of manipulating all your senses, and the live stage is the place to do it. You’ve got sights, you’ve got sound, you’re smelling things.

RB: All five senses, eh? What do you think your record would taste like?

ND: A lot of Bordeaux. [laughs]

RB: You’ve got a great visual aesthetic, do you have any interest in fashion or designers? 

ND: Yeah, it’s an entire universe I’m trying to create, so when I discover other artists who fit this idea, I feel like they’re grasping after the same truth. I love Rick Owens, Yohji Yamamoto and Ann Demeulemeester.

RB: We’ve almost run out of time, but what is on the horizon for Zola Jesus?

ND: So much of what I do next is a reaction of what I did. It’s either a growth from it or a pendulum reaction. I’m already getting ideas which is kind of crazy. I never get ideas this soon.

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