Interview Zola Jesus: ‘Stridulum’, Former Ghosts, And Being Covered In Chocolate

Linda Martin catches up with 21-year-old Nika Roza Danilova.

21 year old Nika Roza Danilova is the brains behind Zola Jesus whose debut album ‘The Spoils’ managed to get some critical acclaim last year. This year, she is back with her excellent Stridulum EP, which will be released in the UK this week under the moniker ‘Stridulum II’. Later this month she will embark on her first European tour, bringing her all over the UK (she’s even doing a free show at Rough Trade East, so you’ve got absolutely no excuse to miss her). Time to catch up with her to discuss ‘Stridulum’, her side-project Former Ghosts and being covered in chocolate.

This month your Stridulum EP will be released in Europe as Stridulum II, and I must say that I love the cover. Being covered in chocolate syrup must have been like a dream come true?
Yes, it was surreal, and felt amazing.

I read that Souterrain had asked you to write more songs for the release of Stridulum II, in order to make it a full length. How did you feel about going back to an already finished EP?
It was difficult, not something I was prepared to do. Once I’m done with a certain vision I move on very quickly, and am constantly growing… so my songwriting had already changed a bit from before. But I hope they still work with the album.

Last year, you went from being a solo artist to being in a full band. Does it make you more confident with these guys having your back, or is it harder in a way because you had to let go of being in control?
I didn’t lose any control. I am still a solo artist. The only thing that changed is now when I play live I have a constant group of people who back me up, opposed to before when my backing band was always changing. I think it’s been liberating, they allow me to nail my set and be able to experiment within that.

Besides performing as Zola Jesus and recording one of my favourite albums of last year (well two actually if you also count Fleurs), you also managed to go to uni and study philosophy. How did you manage to do both things?
I have no idea! I just made it happen. My professors told me I wouldn’t be able to get away with it, but I did.

At the end of this month you’re going to tour Europe, are there any cities you are particularly looking forward to seeing?
Paris, Prague, Berlin… everywhere!

In London, you’re playing in a tiny basement one night, and supporting Fever Ray in one of the city’s biggest venues the other night. Which of the two do you prefer? And how do feel about being able to be Karin Dreijer Anderson’s support act?
I like them both for different reasons. I love the intimacy of small shows, but the sound at big shows is incomparable. I feel very grateful to be supporting Karin, she is a brilliant artist who I have so much respect for.

Apart from Zola Jesus, you’re also part of what might by now called the underground-super group Former Ghosts. I read that you recorded the first album by sending music back and forth by e-mail. Did you do the same for the forthcoming album New Love, or did you all spend some time together in a studio this time?
Nope, it was the same with New Love. At that time I was still living in Wisconsin and going to school, so it was the only way we could do it.

In November you are going on tour with Former Ghosts. I have seen Freddy Ruppert perform alone as Former Ghosts, and I have seen you perform as Zola Jesus in New York last June. There seems to be a world of difference between the two of you: Freddy seems to torture himself by being on stage with his songs while you seem to be perfectly comfortable in front on of an audience. How does performing live together work out for you?
I definitely do not feel comfortable in front of an audience, but I’m glad it looks like I do. I’m not sure how we perform live, we’ve only done it a couple of times and it’s always been very natural.

Thanks so much for taking the time for this interview. And if Stridulum III might ever come up, could you do a cover with random people covered in chocolate syrup and might I be one of them then?
Let’s do it!

Zola Jesus’s EP ‘Stridulum II’ will be released in the UK on 26th August; Former Ghost’s album ‘Fleurs’ will be released on 4th October.

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