Zola Jesus: 5 Albums That Changed My Life

Zola Jesus: 5 Albums That Changed My Life

The idea of an artist retreating to the woods to craft an album is a well-worn one, but not everyone actually builds their own getaway cabin. Unless you’re Zola Jesus (Nika Roza Danilova), of course.

“I moved back to where I grew up in Wisconsin; I have a bunch of land and so I built a house up here,” Danilova tells TIDAL regarding the creation of her upcoming album Okovi (out September 8 on Sacred Bones). “I mostly wrote at my parent’s house, on the road, and in cabins,” she adds.  “I would rent cabins and I would go away and isolate myself and write; I wrote a lot of the songs there.”

A characteristically dark record tinged with loss and tragedy, Okovi (a Slavic word for “shackles”) features standout tracks like “Soak” (written from the perspective of a serial killer’s victim) and the gorgeously bombastic orchestral assault, “Exhumed.”

“I was going through a really rough period internally; I was going through my own depression and at that point I couldn’t write at all,” she says. “But then as I got better; that’s when I use music as a tool to communicate. I was able to be more of a conduit at that point.”

TIDAL caught up with the musician before the album’s release to talk about some of the albums that served as a conduit to her at certain points in her life:

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Autechre, Tri Repetae

The first time that I heard Autechre, it kind of went over my head. Autechre is such a hard group to nail down, because what they do is so unique. And that’s what drew me to them: the feeling like what they were doing was beyond music in a way. It just felt alien. To this day, they are one of the most important musical acts in my life.

Diamanda Galás, The Litanies of Satan

The first time I heard Diamanda Galás was extremely important and informative. I grew up studying opera; I wanted to be an opera singer when I was younger. And when I heard Diamanda Galás, I felt like she showed me how much the voice can do outside of opera and how much more it could communicate and convey. Especially the darker sides of humanity. And that’s something that I feel like opera touches on, but always in a way that’s more theatrical. But with Diamanda, it feels so raw and real and visceral. And that’s something that I was missing from opera. So she just totally opened my world.

SPK, Information Overload Unit

That one is an older industrial record — it’s one of my favorite industrial records because it’s so primal. It was one of the first records of this kind that I heard and I was really fascinated by it — because it reminded me so much of the things that I love about music. And also the things I love about industrial music.

[I found that one] just from doing research. A lot of this music that I found, I found just because I dig around; I love music and I love to try to find it.

Maria Callas, La Divina

I fell out with opera when I was 18 because I felt like it was really constricting. I had my own anxiety and my own sort of roadblocks with opera that prevented me from being able to sing, period, for many years. Recently I rediscovered Maria Callas, who I thought before was overrated, but upon listening to her and listening to this collection of her arias, it really occurred to me that she is a true artist and her voice is truly unique — even within operatic standards.

She was able to convey pure emotion — not just the theatrics of the arias — the pure emotion behind the arias more than any other opera singer I’ve ever heard. And she is truly one of a kind. And she reinvigorated my love for opera.

The Residents, Eskimo

It’s not the most indicative of the Residents’ work, but it introduced me to the idea of a concept album. I had listened to ambient music before, but this is truly an all-encompassing record. Like an atmosphere. And the atmosphere is so specific and I loved listening to it in the dark and feeling like I was transported to another world.

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