Interview: Zola Jesus at Field Day

By on Tuesday, 23rd August 2011 at 12:00 pm

Prior to her haunting set at this year’s Field Day, I spoke to Nika Danilova, aka Zola Jesus, about her upcoming album, current tour and more.

You’re only 22, is it weird that you’re performing your music all across the world?
I think I’m starting to lose time. I get nervous that time’s slipping from me so the earlier I get started the better. This is not even the beginning.

You were performing opera at a young age, do you think that training as influenced your music as a whole?
I think it definitely changed the way I sing, which I can’t take back now. Maybe in a sense I think everything has indirectly influenced my music because of who I am and where I came from.

You say where you came from affects your music?
It made me a different person.

Your new album – ‘Conatus’ – is coming out next month, what can we expect?
A lot of different things. Of course it’s still going to sound like ‘Stridulum’ in a sense because it’s me, but I’ve really tried to do almost the opposite of ‘Stridulum’. It’s like an inversion of my style before, just because I felt like I needed to challenge what I was doing and making in order to grow as an artist and as a musician. You can expect some changes in the sonic quality, the production, the instruments and everything.

What were the main influences of the new album?
Probably, again indirectly, things like 808 State and Aphex Twin I’ve been listening to a lot of, but you probably can’t notice that on the record. I was more influenced by doing things that I didn’t have the skill to do, so I had to learn new things and had to kind of push through a lot of setbacks.

Quite an emotional album then?
It was very emotional. I think lyrically it’s different because it’s much more personal and the record, in a way, documents my process of trying to be better and trying to grow as a human being and as a performer and of course you’re going to do through a lot of catharsis doing that.

A word that comes up a lot when describing Zola Jesus is “dark”; do you think that’s justified?
It’s a little bit of a dichotomy because I do think about things in a way that’s more misanthropic or more nihilistic, but as a person I try to work through those things in a way that’s optimistic. It’s like having a mental disorder and trying to overcome it, which is exactly what it is. So I try to be positive about it and who I am as a person is the opposite of dark – extremely open and communicative.

When you’re performing on stage you almost look like you’re in a trance, would you say there’s a different ‘you’ on stage as to off it?
The me on stage is basically me trying to not throw up while I’m on stage. The more I can forget there’s people in front of me the better off I am and so in doing that I need to completely turn off and do something that is way more intrinsic and kind of close my eyes. Maybe that’s what makes it in one way more theatrical or visual is because of movement, I’m a very rhythmic person. At the same time I think it’s important to give people something that is very raw and very emotional – not just stand up there and play your instrument because that’s your chance to present that record in its live form. For me my music is very physical.

As well as playing Field Day today, you played Big Chill yesterday. How was that?
It was good, people were very chill, which I guess I should have expected more. People seemed to enjoy it but it’s a weird atmosphere playing at three o’clock in the daytime – very sunny, very warm and everyone’s having a picnic in front of you. But it was great.

You played Big Chill yesterday and you’re at Field Day today, how would you compare UK festivals to those in the U.S.?
I haven’t played that many American festivals actually, [Field Day] reminds me a lot of Pitchfork in Chicago. People here are more dressed up, I’ve noticed that they’re a lot fancier. Big Chill was the first British festival I’ve ever played, so if people are like that they’re definitely more chilled out and more relaxed.

After this run of festivals and shows has finished, what do you have planned for the rest of the year?
Just touring. There’s going to be a lot of bouncing back between the US and Europe, I think I’ll be back here three more times before the year is over. Basically playing shows, doing promo and hustling.

Zola Jesus’ upcoming album ‘Conatus’ is due for release on the 26th of September. Many thanks to Kate, Natasha and Rachel for helping us sort this interview.

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