Our Artist Discovery Series is nearing its end! Check out this next-to-last installment from BrooklynVegan‘s Andrew Sacher to learn a bit more about the innovative sounds of LA-based Niki Roza Danilova — aka Zola Jesus.
Zola Jesus (aka Russian-American Los Angeles resident Nika Roza Danilova) got her start a few years back in the experimental and goth scenes with singles on a few boutique labels, including Sacred Bones (for which she still records). She was known for collaborations with fellow goth Xiu Xiu and her lo-fi sound indebted to ’80s darkwave and post-punk bands like Joy Division and Throbbing Gristle. In 2010 she began to break out with the Stridulum and Valusia EPs, for which she cleaned up her sound and began giving more attention to a strong Kate Bush influence on her howling voice. The sound conceived on those EPs culminated in her latest full length album, 2011’s Conatus, which over at BrooklynVegan was one of our favorites of that year. You also may have heard Nika’s voice on the incredible opening track of M83’s 2011 LP, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (another favorite of ours).
Zola Jesus has a few peers creating similar music (notably Austra and Chelsea Wolfe), but all three of those artists are operating in a world which is almost entirely their own. Those aforementioned influences are prevalent, but they come together in a way that none of Zola Jesus’ forerunners ever really attempted. Her music is a great reminder that innovation can come just as remarkably from combining old sounds as it can from discovering new ones. The Beach Boys didn’t invent vocal harmonies anymore than the Ramones invented power chords, but the way those bands fused those elements with others is how the bands became so original. Likewise, Zola Jesus’ Kate Bush-meets-Joy Division sound may have been seeded three decades ago, but with Zola and her contemporaries, it’s only just beginning to sprout.
On the heels of success of Conatus, Zola Jesus began gaining a larger audience and bringing her once-obscure sound to headlining shows to the biggest clubs she’d ever played worldwide. Nika plays live with a four-piece band who craft the dark and brooding atmospheres of her songs as she takes command over the stage, standing just about five feet tall, but wailing with a voice that could fill an opera house.
While some of her contemporaries would prefer to stay within the confines of the underground, Nika has expressed multiple times that she loves pop music and could see herself projecting over even larger stages than she has already. By no means does she cheapen her sound to become more accessible, so it’s rather refreshing to see someone with real artistic merit striving to reach the masses. If this is all sounding good to you (and if you’ve made it this far, hopefully it is), check Zola Jesus out at this year’s ACL Festival on day 2 at the Honda stage at 1:15.