The dark romantic transformation of Zola Jesus

Personal resurrection
By DANIEL BROCKMAN  |  April 19, 2011

Zola main
NU-GOTH “I can’t deny that, for me, a lot of the music comes from a dark place,” says Nika Roza Danilova. 
I'm going to guess that Nika Roza Danilova's teenage years were not full of the frivolity that most of us associate with that pimpled life phase. After all, while we were doing whatever it was we did to stave off boredom and anxiety, Danilova was, as Zola Jesus, cranking out a discography that detailed her transformation from classically trained opera brat to wings-spread dark-pop diva. Zola Jesus also documents Danilova's transition from cocooned childhood to rapturous adulthood. And it may be an example of a personal hobby turning into a career. But what seems most important her is finding a way to use her weapons-grade voice to bring light to the darkness of life.

At 21, just out of college, with a double major in French and philosophy, Danilova, who comes to Brighton Music Hall this Friday, already has an extensive œuvre, with a slew of singles, three separate EPs released in the past year. Her second full-length due out this fall. "Music has always been this innate force in me," she says from her new home of Los Angeles, having recently relocated from the wintry tundra of Wisconsin that informed the chilly terrain of her earlier work (especially her glacially expansive breakthrough, 2010's Stridulum EP, on Sacred Bones Records). "As far as a career, music is something that I've always wanted to do, but I never knew in what capacity. When I was young, I studied piano, violin, voice, but always on the classical end. After a while, I started to feel . . . deprived. Of the emotional aspect of creation, of creating something that could be personal and intimate. Zola Jesus was about rediscovering music, in a way."

The project began in Danilova's bedroom, but once she decided to let the outside world in, her music shifted from distorted lullabies to clarion calls into infinity like the Stridulum centerpieces "Night" and "Manifest Destiny." "In the past, I would try to hide behind fuzz and noise textures, because I wanted to be protected by that, but it's far more challenging and effective to give yourself up to the music, even if it means letting yourself be more vulnerable. In a way, it's all about saying, 'I'm going to use my voice, and I'm going to try to say something with it,' and not try to hide behind anything."

Zola Jesus is routinely dismissed as "goth," with most descriptions comparing Danilova's voice to '80s sirens of the eyeliner set like Siouxsie Sioux and Kate Bush. And though she doesn't sing about Halloween being every day, or dance to the beat of the living dead, her music could be considered dark. "I can't deny that, for me, a lot of the music comes from a dark place. People are kind of into songs sung from a perspective of denial, with this kind of rose-colored perspective, and anything else is dark. But I don't know — I think of my songs as optimistic, really. They are all trying to face reality and overcome it, instead of trying to regress from reality."

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