Zola Jesus interview part one: Influences and the power of her crazy-strong voice

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The other day I interviewed Nika Danilova of Zola Jesus, in anticipation of her performance at the Loving Touch on January 19, in support of her new album Taiga. As the feature got bumped for space, I’ve broken the interview into a few chunks. This here is part one of three.

Metro Times: How are you, and how’s the tour going?

Nika Danilova: I’ve been touring quite a bit, but it’s great though.

MT: Cool. Well, I wanted to start by saying that I really liked the Spotifiy playlist that your threw out before you left. I don’t know how much effort you put into it or whatever, but I really love when artists are really clear about the things that they like, both influences and contemporary artists. I imagine in a way that might helps someone younger, who maybe enjoys your music who hasn’t heard this other stuff. Or even someone older like me, as I hadn’t heard Tanya Tagaq—that’s really cool. And I like how you put it on there after Maja Rajtke; that was one of the best fucking records from last year. I love DJing with that record, putting it on top of things.

ND: Yeah, I just did that last night. I just DJed it and it totally creeped everyone out. [Laughs]

MT: That playlist started out with newer stuff and went into older stuff, like Gas. And then Khlyst, which is so four horseman-y.

ND: That sort of rounded it out.

MT: If you were gonna make that right now, what would you put in there? And I’m just really curious because you’re a pretty heavy listener. What would you put in there that you’ve been listening to right now?

ND: That’s it, though. I just made that two days ago.

MT: Oh, it was that recently?

ND: That’s the stuff. Runhild Gammelsaeter, who was in Khlyst, she has a bunch of records that I’ve been listening to. A lot of Wagner. Really in to Gas, good tour music. I’ve been really into Gas.

MT: I never really got how you came to be operatically trained at such a young age? Could you tell me about that?

ND: Yeah, I don’t really know either! When I was five years old, I decided I wanted to be a musician and I started singing because I didn’t have any instruments; my parents weren’t musicians so I just started singing. So I just got really into that. I wanted to study it properly, like you would with any other instrument, so I enrolled in classical voice and that’s kind of how I discovered opera. And from then on it has been part of my life.

MT: How did you enroll in it? Were there classes at a community center or what?

ND: There was a private instructor who lived down the road from me, which was insane because no one lived down the road from me other than farmers. She was an opera singer and she was giving lessons and I was just eight or nine.

MT: Do you think that’s why you have such a strong voice or do you think it’s natural or is it hard to say?

ND: I think a lot of it is might as well. At this point, I don’t know what I would sound like naturally. I think this is what I sound like.

MT: But your voice is so strong. There’s that quote, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Your voice is seriously like that.

ND: Aww, thank you.

About The Author

Mike McGonigal

Metro Times music editor Mike McGonigal has written about music since 1984, when he started the fanzine Chemical Imbalance at age sixteen with money saved from mowing lawns in Florida. He's since written for Spin, Pitchfork, the Village VOICE and Artforum. He's been a museum guard, a financial reporter, a bicycle...
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