[This interview was originally published on April 10, 2010]
With her latest release, an EP titled Stridulum, Pitchfork dubbed the elusive 21-year-old Nika Roza Danilova aka Zola Jesus a “noise-goth queen.” Not sure if that is a good title or not but what I am sure of is that her bone-chilling operatic voice is one of the most unique I’ve heard in the past few years.
I had the pleasure of seeing the queen of noise-goth juxtaposed in stark daylight during SXSW, one of the week’s strongest performances. After the show I briefly chatted with Zola Jesus (who was 20-years-old at the time) about her musical journey, how to survive SXSW, the technicality of her live show and even upcoming college exams. Being familiar with only her recorded persona and having just seen the emotionally charged performance, I was taken aback at how eloquent, down-to-earth and just plain sweet Nika was. Check out my interview with Zola Jesus below and be sure to pick up Stridulum.
Keep an eye on her MySpace for tour dates, it’s a show you won’t want to miss!
> How would you summarize your career up to this point?
ZJ: Generally speaking I don’t know, I’m still in the beginning. There’s a lot more I want to do. I’m just trying to get as much accomplished as possible.
> You’ve had 2 full-lengths and a brand new EP released, can you tell me a little bit about those?
ZJ: Yeah, I always get confused because the second LP (or was it the first?) New Amsterdam wasn’t supposed to be a rarities thing, like things thrown together…it was never intended to be a cohesive album. Whereas The Spoils was recorded as an album and that to me is like my first record and my only LP to date. I have those and then Stridulum that just came out with six songs. All very different.
‘I always wanted to create a soundtrack for people to live their really heavy moments to’
> Your music is very layered, what is your process of creating music like?
ZJ: I just start with a drum beat, I love percussion. From there I start a melody line and then I figure out what I’m gonna sing and then I just create harmonies and layers and layers and layers of sound. All of the synths make one big sound, one big wave of texture.
> Is it hard to bring to a live show?
ZJ: Yeah it’s extremely hard. I have one guy playing bass synth and melody synth and then I have another guy playing main synth…all these synths going with all of the different layers that I would have. But there are like 3 more layers that I could never recreate live.
> What inspires your music and those layers…not musically?
ZJ: Not musically? Well as far as the layers go I’m generally inspired by film because I love film. I’m inspired by moods and by like…this. Hear all the people talking? All the different people talking, some things will come out and some things won’t. Things poke through, I like that.
> We were listening to the album earlier and my friend said it’s very cinematic.
ZJ: Yeah, I love that. I always wanted to create a soundtrack for people to live their really heavy moments to, create different sounds and songs for different moments.
> Is this your first time coming to SXSW?
ZJ: No this is my 3rd time here, second time playing.
How have your experiences been so far?
ZJ: It’s a clusterfuck, there are so many people and so much going on. Its really too much stimulation for me, I just try to keep it really relaxed when I’m here and low key. It’s hard to.
‘I think it’s disappointing to see bands that [have] one good thing and stick to it forever.’
> Do you catch other bands when you’re here or do you just play?
ZJ: I haven’t yet because I just got here last night, I haven’t caught any bands yet. My whole band wants to see GWAR. [both laugh] I haven’t really even had time to look at the schedule.
> What kind of advice would you give other bands being that you’re a 2-year veteran?
ZJ: If you’re playing don’t overbook yourself because you’ll never make it all and it’s not worth it, you know? Just enjoy it…and prepare not to wash for a long time. [both laugh]
> You said that you feel you are just at the beginning, do you anticipate taking your music in different directions in the future?
ZJ: It’s going to take so many different directions because I get bored really quickly and there’s so many things that I want to do and so many things that haven’t been done yet.
I’m just going to continue to grow and evolve as an artist. I think it’s disappointing to see bands that [have] one good thing and stick to it forever. You’re not doing your job as an artist, you’ve got to explore.
> Do you have any boundaries as to what you wouldn’t do?
ZJ: I probably wouldn’t create something that’s…I don’t like doing things that are trendy and I don’t like doing things that I know will make money. I always want to do things that are honest and raw. I’m not going to make music for Honda advertisements or anything. I just want to do things that are honest and really big.
I love that. Thank you so much for chatting!
ZJ: Aww thanks so much!
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