[BROODING DANCE MUSIC] The past two years have been relentless ones for Nika Roza Danilova, the musician who calls herself Zola Jesus. In 2010 alone, the 22-year-old Wisconsin native released five records—a 7-inch, a full-length album and three EPs—of vaporous, dramatic electronic pop, all while touring the world in both headlining and supporting roles. Somehow, in the midst of that, she was able to finish her undergraduate degrees in French and philosophy and write and record another LP to be released later this year.
It’s little wonder then that when I get Danilova on the phone (in her touring van, of course) she sounds a little worse for the wear. “I’m doing all right, apart from being sick,” she says of her current concert schedule. “It’s hard because I’m someone that likes to be alone and likes to be in one place. But you have to do what you have to do.”
Doing what she has to do has served Danilova well considering the rapid trajectory of her career. Since the release of her first recordings only three years ago, she has picked up all manner of critical plaudits, especially in Europe, the home base of many of the artists that have fed the brooding heart of her sound—a pulsing, post-goth dance music crafted with programmed laptop beats and pensive synth sounds mixed with sepulchral live drums.
Flush with all this attention and extra cash from touring, Danilova has been able to expand on the static-heavy, overmodulated haze of her earliest work. “I started with literally no knowledge of production and engineering,” she says. “It’s been all about teaching myself how to make something sound as good as possible now.” The resulting efforts, particularly the haunting Valusia EP, push her warm yet haunted vocals further into the spotlight, lending her intimate tales of fractured spirits and uncomfortable relationships added weight and poignancy.
What hasn’t been able to get through to many critics and fans is just how personal all of these songs are, according to Danilova. “That’s the thing that’s confusing. That people think I’m putting on a persona because it’s not released under my own name. But the music is so important to me that to put on a different costume and try to be someone I’m not would be dishonest. That’s not what I intend with my music at all.”
SEE IT: Zola Jesus plays Holocene on Thursday, May 5, with Naked on the Vague, Pete Swanson and DJ Nightschool. 8:30 pm. $12. 21+.