Interview Zola Jesus: ‘Making Music Is Compulsive’

Ahead of her performance at this weekend’s Latitude festival, DIY caught up with Nika to discuss her feelings on ‘Conatus’ a year on.

Since releasing her third full-length album last year, Nika Rosa Danilova - aka Zola Jesus - has been extremely busy. ‘Conatus’ was her most fully formed and assured work yet, and she has followed the release with a year of intensive touring, unusual live shows and collaborations. Ahead of her performance at this weekend’s Latitude festival, DIY caught up with Nika to discuss her feelings on the album a year on and overcoming her fear of live performance.

It is now almost a year since ‘Conatus’ was released. How do you feel about the album now on reflection?
It has definitely taken on a new shape. Since playing the songs live over the year they have really grown and expanded into something completely new. It’s always strange to listen to the record again after having spent an extra year with the songs.

You have been extremely prolific in terms of recorded output with three albums in as many years and four EPs in the same time. Is it important to you to always keep creating and pushing yourself forward?
Making music is very compulsive for me. It’s hard to slow down. Not only is it a very cathartic process, but it’s also an incredible puzzle that I feel like I’ll never quite solve. Trying to figure out new ways to communicate my ideas is very exciting but it takes a lot of dedication and hard work to push forward into new uncharted territory.

Have you started work on the follow up to ‘Conatus’ yet, and where do you see the next album heading at a very early stage?
It’s all swirling around inside of me. I’ve started writing a bit but nothing is concrete.

What can you tell us about your collaboration with Orbital on ‘New France’ - how did that come about and were you always aware of their work?
They approached me about singing on their track, and since I was a fan I agreed!

It’s striking how well your voice complements that massive electro sound. Do you see your music going in a similar direction in the future?
My music is already pretty electronic. I like the idea of being that classic “hook girl” in house tracks, but I don’t know if it’s something I could do full time! It was a good little taste though!

You recently performed with EL-P on American TV. How did you meet up with him? It seems on the face of it an unlikely pairing. Do you like to surprise people by working with different musicians who they may not immediately associate you with?
We are friends and fans of each other’s work. I think EL-P and I have a lot in common actually. We’re both paranoid, conspiracy theorist sci-fi nerds who like big beats. I love working with him, not only is he a sweetheart but he is truly a skilful musician and a damn hard worker. I couldn’t be more proud to share the stage with him.

In May you performed at the Guggenheim Museum in New York along with a string section and Mivos Quartet with your songs arranged by J.G. Thirwell. That must have been a thrilling experience. How was it to perform there and hear your songs in a different context and environment?
That moment was a huge milestone in my life. For the first time I felt like I was doing something right. That felt so surreal. I can’t even explain the feeling I had in my chest when I was on stage. It was overwhelming.

Does performing in an unusual environment like a museum inspire you in a different way?
I’m a sucker for beautiful architecture. To be able to perform in a space that carries it’s own energy and story, it adds so much more blood to my own music. If I could do a whole tour of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings as venues, oh man, that would be heaven!

Your performance on stage seems far more expressive and potent. Do you feel that you have grown as a live performer over the last few years?
I think I’m finally getting to the point where I can get over the initial fear of being on a pedestal in front of a mass group of people staring at me. But it’s still very intimidating. I’ve been working really hard on giving a very good performance of my music, to concentrate and focus on the output. Because in the past I was so overwhelmed and terrified all I could do was pace back and forth and barely even get the words out my mouth. So I feel very happy that now I feel like I am at the level that everyone else is at… to get on stage and just focus on performing, rather than being distracted by the existential pressures of having to deliver some sort of raw unhinged primal humanness of being a person on stage in front of other persons. It is a very bizarre concept, something I think if I saw a bunch of ants doing I would be very perplexed by. But it’s a part of my path, so don’t question it just do it!

Finally, What can we expect from Zola Jesus in the year ahead?
It is time again to turn myself inside out. I need to remove myself for a bit and escape, work diligently on my next record. I will be playing shows sporadically in the meantime.

Zola Jesus will play Latitude Festival on Saturday 14th July, 20:35 - 21:20, in the i Arena.

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