The Tulane Hullabaloo

Zola Jesus explores fate of human nature in new album

Bess Turner, Staff Reporter

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Zola Jesus will play 8 p.m. Sunday at Republic New Orleans. The goth-pop singer is on tour promoting her fifth album, “Taiga.”

Singer-songwriter Angel Deradoorian, who performs simply under the moniker Deradoorian, is joining her on the tour. Deradoorian previously performed as part of the experimental rock group Dirty Projectors. She is now known for her solo performances.

Zola Jesus, the stage name of Nika Danilova, has transformed her musical style over the course of her career. What started as an experimental noise project with her release, “New Amsterdam,” has morphed into the stripped-down, vocally-rich product, “Taiga.”

“It had been about three years since I had put out my last record, and in that time I had grown a lot and … wanted to take a new direction,” Danilova said. “My music had just matured naturally through playing so much over the past three years. It didn’t seem like I needed all that noise for this album. I wasn’t seeking it out.”

Though some might consider “Taiga” to be a big jump from Zola Jesus’ usual sound, Danilova disagrees.

“People expect me to continue doing one thing, but this is just the nature of my career. Otherwise it’s boring … you watch yourself in this sort of corner of what you can do,” Danilova said. “You really limit yourself in creativity and so it’s important to constantly challenge yourself and challenge what music can be for you as an artist.”

Danilova also plans to return to opera, something she studied until she was 18 years old. She has never performed in this style publicly.

In writing “Taiga,” Danilova isolated herself on Vashon Island in Washington, which reminded her of the rural setting she grew up in as a child.

“I feel more comfortable when I’m by myself,” Danilova said. “I feel more liberated. I just felt like I could explore without any distractions.”

Philosophy is a heavy influence on Danilova, who cites metaphysician and antinatalist Peter Wessel Zapffe as a large influence on the record. Danilova even chose the first half of her stage name for the naturalist Émile Zola.

“I think I’ve always been a very curious person,” Danilova said. “A lot of philosophy is just about trying to propose solutions to these bigger questions that we’ll never really know, and so I was just naturally drawn to philosophers.”

Danilova found that, through music, she could explore some of the questions that plagued her curious mind. She primarily focused on those raised by human nature, and human nature in relation to animals.

“The biggest question was why humans feel so alienated from their animal past, and why it feels like a past,” Danilova said. “Why don’t we feel more like mammals, when we so clearly are?”

She filtered the many questions she has about human nature through “Taiga.”

“[I questioned] the shape of humanity in the context of the world,” Danilova said. “Why are we trying to destroy the world? You know, we kind of are.”

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Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans
Zola Jesus explores fate of human nature in new album