Zola Jesus, aka Nika Roza Danilova, isn't an easy woman to track down. The Russian American singer celebrated her birthday earlier this week, and in between touring, recording and finishing her degrees in French and Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin, she managed to find a few minutes to answer some quick questions. The pitch-black pop singer plays a free show tonight at the Billiken Club with Brooklynites Cult of Youth.
Diana Benanti: You've spoken a bit about the toll that opera training took on your self-confidence, and your relentless pursuit of sonic, as well as personal perfection. Do you think that's the artist's stigmata; the unshakable belief that nothing you do is good enough for you?
That is the tragic flaw, I think. The constant feeling of never being able to live up the the expectations of that which lays inside you... a feeling of not doing yourself justice, ever. Opera training was difficult because it was all about perfecting a historical craft of times' past. To perform the songs another person wrote, to give them life and make them feel as the author intended. It is a tall order, something that is hard on the soul. It wears. After awhile you want to create something of your own, to contribute instead of mimic."
How do you keep your studies, touring, and writing for the next album in balance without going batshit crazy?
The need to progress, move forward, is innate. And a good challenge is all the reward.
Have you, or would you ever, write a Zola Jesus opera?
I have thought about it. I have some pieces I've been working on indefinitely.
You're a champion of embracing the difficult human emotions that the rest of the world is too chicken allow themselves to feel. What's your take on everything that's going on in America and abroad?
Earth is a natural dichotomy, and that's what makes it so interesting. There is a lot of darkness going on in the world but no more than before. It's important not to revel in the dark aspects but to understand their place in the progression of society. It takes a struggle to move forward, and that's what's exciting to watch unfold.
So much of contemporary life is hunting and gathering stimulation, which can lead to psychic fatigue and cascading ennui. How do you combat that creatively? Is there a disturbing story or image or cosmic occurrence that you can't shake?
The underlying need for survival is what quakes us all. And with that do we develop aggression, passion, ferocity. I find that special.