Zola Jesus goes to war

On ‘Conatus,’ Nika Roza Danilova is fighting the ‘war of just being alive’

One word that comes up a lot on the most recent Zola Jesus album is “war.” In songs with titles like, “Shiver,” and “In Your Nature,” singer Nika Roza Danilova delivers heavy lines about humanity and struggle.

“I just feel like everything is a war,” she says. “It’s always felt like that for me.”

Though her speaking voice is lighter than the throaty warble she sings with, what she has to say often has an air of gravitas. Her third full-length album, which came out in September, is called “Conatus,” which in Latin means a big undertaking. And true to its title, the album sounds like a long journey through a cold landscape. Singing lyrics of isolation and struggle, her voice is often layered against icy synths and tribal drums.

“You have all of these choices and all of these opportunities,” she says. “[It’s] the war of just being alive in the world and trying to make the most of it.”

Danilova does certainly try to make the most of it. Within the darkness of her music are brief glimpses of hopeful melodies and a strong dedication to trying to find meaning.

“Writing words doesn’t come easy to me,” she says, “but writing music and singing — because I’ve been singing my whole life — that’s what feels innate. … Whenever I try to express something, I feel like I can do it easiest through my voice, actually, but not through saying words. Whenever I’m singing a melody, whatever comes out is kind of the initial expression. Sometimes I can’t find the words that will match or augment that expression. I would rather have that instinctual kind of phrasing of my voice rather than have to change it in order to find a literal translation.”

Zola Jesus will always love Whitney

When Nika Roza Danilova heard about Whitney Houston’s death last week, she was in her dressing room in Alabama. Though their musical styles aren’t easy to draw comparisons to, Danilova says Houston was influential to her.

“I was nearly in tears when I found out,” she says. “I spent the next couple of hours watching the music videos and mourning. … Whitney Houston and Diamanda Galás — there’s two polar opposites — [but both made me] feel like the voice is capable of doing so much and carrying so much power and it’s so formidable. Oh my gosh, ‘I Will Always Love You’ is one of the biggest songs I’ve ever heard vocally, and so moving.”


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