PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Totally in Character: An Interview with Zola Jesus

Rob McCallum

As Zola Jesus, musician Nika Roza Danilova has come off as a mysterious figure, thanks in part to her music's dark, brooding sound. In a conversation with PopMatters, she reveals that the distinction between Zola Jesus and Niki Roza is not an easy one to make.

Veiled. Mysterious. Masked. Call Nika Roza Danilova what you will. As Zola Jesus, she has certainly been a shrouded figure since her first release on Sacred Bones Records last year. Carving out a unique space--much in the vein of a young Kate Bush or Björk--to sit in since she shot to the forefront of the blogosphere last year, it’s hard to believe the operatically trained 21-year-old from Wisconsin is such a new figure in the music scene, as she presents a sound with a maturity way beyond her years.

There was an undeniable lack of expectancy for the transition she made from the solitary lo-fi of last year’s The Spoils to the all-enrapturing ethereal pop on this year’s Stridulum EP. It is a transition that seems to signal her ascendancy into the art-pop hall of fame as – backed by her new band – she embarks on a tour later this year with the Swedish songstress of insomnia, Fever Ray. Popmatters finds out more.

Zola Jesus is a stage name. Are you getting into a character when you record/perform your music?

No, that would be dishonest. Zola Jesus is too personal for that.

Do you still write/record all the music alone?

Yes.

Your music is quite dark and atmospheric. How does this reflect on you personally?

The world is quite dark. It’s easy to live in denial and not face uncomfortable realities, but I’ve never been an escapist. I'm just reflecting what I see.

In vocal tone, who would you say you aspire to as a young artist?

Mariah Carey, Tina Turner, and Meredith Monk.

You started releasing material at the tender age of 16. What in your background led you to become such an accomplished artist at such a young age?

I didn’t have any other choice, this is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. To be honest, I felt like my first record didn’t come soon enough.

Your music almost defies genre-casting as it sews so many elements together. Is this something you feel is important as a musician?

It’s vital. Making genre-specific music defeats the purpose of becoming an artist. If you’re choosing to make music you’re promising to contribute something special and exclusive to society, unless you’re a covers band. My own record collection is starkly varied; there is so much beautiful music out there, disregarding genre or style. It’s most important to appreciate a song distinctly for its impact and power and not for the way it’s presented.

You're actually trained as an opera singer. Do you think this alters your approach to the music you're now making?

I don’t think so.

You recorded quite a deranged cover of Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love”. How did this come about?

I wanted to cover it. Grace Slick has an incredible force in her voice.

The Stridulum EP feels much less lo-fi than your earlier recordings. Was this intentional and if so what lead to the change?

I felt like I did everything I wanted to do with that form. It was just a personal and artistic decision in order to grow as a musician and challenge myself.

You played with Xiu XIu for a show at the Bowery Ballroom. That must have felt quite a moment.

I felt very lucky.

You're also part of Former Ghosts with Xiu Xiu frontman Jamie Stewart. How does this project differ?

Freddy [Ruppert] writes all the music, and I only sing on several songs. It’s a lot more electronic and definitely Freddy’s baby.

I hear you're inclusion into the band came from quite flattering circumstances?

Yes, he contacted me about singing on a particular song, and he liked it so much he asked me to be a full-fledged contributing member. Freddy is a very brilliant musician and the biggest sweetheart. It’s been a great experience.

You were a part of some of the most influential end-of-year lists last year. You seem to be getting quite a lot of exposure and attention of late; do you feel like things are really beginning to happen for you?

I hope so but I will always feel very small. There is still a lot of work to do.

And finally, what does the future hold for you?

Everything. I will not stop.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.