Nika Roza Danilova, A.K.A Zola Jesus, is on tour and Swide’s Ben Taylor met the singer to discuss her relationship with Zola, the evolution of her music and the reason it became her outlet for self-expression.
Interview: Zola Jesus – The struggle between light and dark
Zola Jesus unleashed her LP, Conatus, on to the world this year and the lead single, Vessel, was given its video debut in October. Directed by Jacqueline Castel, the video takes the audience through delicious textures that echo the power and versatility of the singer’s vocal skills. Nika has taken Zola Jesus on tour and is flooring crowds the world over, including myself. The power that erupts from this young artist is remarkable and, to say that she suffers from anxiety, pulls the audience into a frenzy of frenetic joy.
I got the chance to catch a few words with Nika Roza Danilova before she took to the stage with Zola Jesus.
Those who know your music understand that Zola Jesus is a guise that has been a part of you for many years to help you, in part, confront anxiety.
What’s your relationship like with Zola Jesus?
It’s become a stage to allow me to express myself. It’s become this space where I can put everything and it is the public space for it all. It is very much a part of me, and everything is completely me. It is just when I release the Zola Jesus, it is this feeling of formality which I want to release into the public.
Has Zola Jesus evolved at all?
It is part of the same thing. At this point I could call it another name but if you change your name during your career it just gets confusing and I understand Zola as Zola. It is interchangeable to me and it doesn’t really matter. I started this when I was young and that it was without thinking about it. Now it has taken on a life of its own.
You seem to be inclined to reveal more of yourself. What’s changed?
I have become more confident in myself. I feel like I have this constant struggle, I always wanted to have a career as a pop star and I want to put myself out there and have that sort of energy to it, but at the same time I am extremely timid and I have a lot of issues with anxiety. I’m doing this all on my own and I don’t have anyone creating this for me. I am getting there at my own pace.
I’ve noticed that you’ve injected your persona and performance with more light?
Just from this effort to let light into me because I feel like music has always been my release but shrouded with anxiety, like I said. I’m just trying to push through and find that happiness and that joy. That light helps.
What is light and dark for Zola Jesus? You have this space. Is there light and dark in there?
I mean, everything that I do is just a reflection of the human being as I am fascinated by the connectivity of human beings and everything that we have in common with each other. It is writing music that allows me to release and make this connection with the people that listen to it. You feel so alienated when you work by yourself and you don’t have many friends (laughing). Regardless, the light and darkness for me is a constant duality that I find in everything that everyone does in life; good and bad, good and evil, high and low. And the way that it manifests itself is different every time but it always has the same thread. You can either stay in the middle or chose one or the other and throughout my life I have always chosen one but I am trying to find a happy medium. It’s so hard.
Now you’re on tour and people know your music. Do you feel pressure from your audience?
Sometimes I feel like there are short cuts and I think people learn that, very quickly, about these but I owe it to myself not take these or let me them sway me at all. My ultimate goal, like many, is to do what I believe in and for people to meet in the middle with me.
Regarding aesthetics… What is your creative input?
100%. The thing about my music is, like I said, Zola Jesus is a space for all of my expression and that includes music but it is also visual and sensual. The music video for me is really important because it ties these two elements together so I am still working on the new video right now. I am trying to some new ideas. As for my director, she brings really good ideas for she is very intuitive and understands what I am going for but anytime I don’t like something I can say so. Everything done in my career is because I want it to be and I know that I can disagree because I want to be doing this, I want to be here.
As a live performer how would describe yourself?
Sometimes I feel like an animal at the zoo and everyone’s watching me, expecting something from me and I don’t know what it is they want. And then other times it is like this strange existential problem where I look at my hands and I’m like ‘what do you want me to do’. But it’s been getting better, where I feel very natural, where I let the songs into my body and that it is ok to stand still for just one second. Which wasn’t the case before. I am very analytical about everything. It is mostly about a very primitive release of the music and just communicating the songs in a way that just feels very honest and instinctive to me.
What has the tour taught you about creativity?
It’s really change the way that I write music because when I play I need that response from the audience I need that sort of energy unless this might as well be empty. So, realising what the audience needs is not only the physical energy of me but also the energy of the music. You know, really visceral and deep beats that you really feel in the room at that moment. That takes really deep subs and I just love to have that sort of physical impact during a live show.
Has your connection with songs changed?
It’s interesting because I wrote the record when I was going through so much inside me and so, it feels very personal and very introspective. To play it live to an audience and to want them to feel that physicality and reconcile that is important. There is a song where the chorus is basically ‘All I know I’m Home’ because I wrote it at home and I was happy to be there… I’m anywhere but home right now. And so, to sing that every night in a strange city just seems surreal and ironic. So they definitely take on new meanings that I bring just to the stage.
How are you influenced by popular culture and fashion?
I live it West Hollywood, which is very different from Wisconsin, where I grew up. I feel that I am affected as much as anyone, especially any American living in that sort of smoke and mirrors world. I try not to let it influence me… and if it does I try to react to it rather than play up to it or adopt it. It is always good to take elements, yes, because the different ways in which you synthesize it can reveal delicate elements within it.
Conatus is out now on Sacred Bones Records
Website – Zola Jesus
Interviewed by Ben Taylor
Tagged with: #INTERVIEW #MUSIC NEWS
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