IXclusive Interview: Zola Jesus Talks About Transitioning and Feeling Empowered

With her fourth studio album Taiga set to release October 7, singer and songwriter Nika Danilova the brains behind Zola Jesus is ready to embrace this new musical chapter in her life. A woman with a strong sense of self and with wisdom well beyond her years, Zola Jesus may just be the musical act you’ve been yearning for. IX Daily had the pleasure of chatting with Nika to find out what is coming up  in the months ahead, along with some fun facts on what Zola Jesus is all about.

Zola Jesus

How would you describe the type of music you create? I feel the media are creating their own genre for you, and to that point I hear the term ‘goth’ music used quite often. What is your take on that?

No, no! When I describe it to people I say it’s soulful, electronic, pop music. I mean it’s inherently pop music, but it has a lot of soul and a lot of guts to it, and it’s electronic typically.

Your new album Taiga has been described as a transition for you. In what ways has this been a transition?

Well, all of my records before this one have been very cloudy, very hazy, very full of noise and reverb and it’s become very distant and it was partly because I was very afraid and very vulnerable and I didn’t feel like I trusted my voice very much. And so, with this record I felt like I really needed to come to terms with that–have a confident voice, feel empowered. I feel like I had something that I was ready to give people. It took a couple of years, but I feel like this record is a reverse in a way. I feel very empowered—very liberated.

There is a lot of imagery in the descriptions and trailer for the new album, it feels very organic with a lot of themes drawn from nature. How does that relate back to you as an artist?

Well, I grew up in Northern Wisconsin on a 100 acres of forest and it was really interesting because you grow up in the forest or you grow up in the woods and you have this freedom. The freedom to roam, and the freedom to make as much sound as you want and you end up feeling very at peace and very connected to the world. And then you move to the big city and you feel like you are in this new forest, but it’s like a concrete forest and you don’t feel that same freedom. You feel that sense of oppression, you feel like you don’t have control over your destiny and I was really inspired by that–by how humans feel that they need to create this world on top of the world and what it’s doing to us mentally and emotionally.

Your first single off the album, “Dangerous Days” sounds a lot different from your past work. What is this song about?

The song is about being skeptical about what you are being told. So, things that you hear on TV, things that you hear on the radio, things that your friends are telling you, things that you see on the internet—there is just so much information these days that it’s even more important that each individual is able to judge for themselves what their ingesting in terms of information and to think for themselves. I think it is so easy now because there are so many outlets for people to kind of control and funnel the way people think so it’s even more important that we stand up and go “is this what I believe? Or am I just being fooled to believe this?”

Is there anything in particular that inspires you to write, or is there a certain format that you follow when song writing?

I think that my song writing is naturally very conventional. It is pop music and I like having that structure because it allows me to be creative in other ways. I do thrive in a traditional pop song format and I feel like that’s probably what I am most inspired by. Once I make music that’s more meandering and abstract I feel like I lose footing in trying to communicate anything.

What type of music were you listening to during the making of Taiga?

I was really into Bruckner and Mahler—really into the way they use brass and just how lush and how powerful their compositions are. And then as a producer, from a production standpoint, I was listening to a lot of kuduro and reggaeton and the newest Pusha T record I was really into. SO a lot of frenetic beats and different electronic music

You will be heading out on tour for this album so tell us, what can an audience expect from a live Zola Jesus show?

I am really excited about this tour because I feel like for the first time I have resurfaced to really fulfill a vision for what I want the tour to look like on stage. It’s going to be like a physical representation of this musical world I’ve been trying to inhabit in the last year or two while writing this record. I am really excited about that, I am still working out some of the details but it is going to be a very visual show, and it is going to feel like you are stepping into another environment.

How would you describe your fans?

They are wonderful, they are very much like me I think, and we have a lot in common in terms of the books they read and the movies we watch and I feel connected to them on universal things and philosophical things and I think they are people I would be friends with you know? It makes it really easy because I feel like I can connect with them in a very humble way. Sometimes I feel like some fans like one thing and want me to keep doing it and some fans are excited to see me progress and grow and challenge myself.

Has anything crazy ever happened during a live show?

Nothing too crazy. I had one show where people were stage diving (laughs) and I didn’t that think that was totally appropriate for the music, but I’ll take it!—I should take that back because I also will stage dive at shows so I guess I do set a precedence for that!

What do you do to prepare for the madness of promoting a new album and tour? I can imagine life is pretty hectic for you right now.

Well, I have been out of the whole swing of things for a couple of years so I was able to reset and kind of like prepare and I’ve just been really focusing on not letting it overwhelm me because I think sometimes it can be a lot. But, I don’t get easily overwhelmed so I’m ok.

Do you travel with any friends or family while you are on tour?

Yeah, I tour with my husband, he comes with me so he helps to keep everything grounded and he is very supportive.

How did you know that this is what you wanted to do with your life?

It was totally natural, it was something I wanted to do since I was so young. The only problem was figuring out how to do it when you are growing up in Northern Wisconsin and there is definitely no resources to be a musician. But thankfully I found a really good opera instructor in my hometown when I was very young. It was honestly the only thing I ever saw as my fate so I think I made the right choice.

Oh yes! Let’s talk about your background in opera for a moment. Do you feel your experience with that genre has played into the creation of Taiga?

Definitely! I actually starting studying with my old opera instructor again, I’ve been studying with her for the past year because I felt like I needed to touch base with someone and go—ok I’m having these emotional and psychological problems with my voice and I need you to tell me that it’s going to be ok. She was almost like this vocal therapist in that she helped me kind of take away the layers of fear and made me proud of my voice and confident. So that’s been very helpful and I have been studying and singing a lot of opera lately, it’s been good to have it back in my life.

How far does fashion and personal image play into who Zola Jesus is as an artist?

Everything that I do musically inhabits a particular ideal world, or inhabits this universe that I’m trying to create and it’s down to the music videos, stage shows, album cover—everything participates in that world so what I wear is also a reflection of that, I feel like it’s all just a very organic reflection of what I am trying to communicate on a greater level.

How would you describe the new album in three words or less?

Brass, bombastic, empowered.

 Zola Jesus new album Taiga will be available October 7. She heads out on tour this fall, catch all the details including cities and dates here.


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