Zola Jesus Biography
Zola Jesus Biography
Nika Roza Danilova was raised in Merrill, Wisconsin, on over 100 acres of forest. “I was delusional as a kid; I never spent a lot of time around other people my own age except for my brother, who’s a year older,” she remembered. Speaking of her childhood’s harsh realities, she remembered the climate (“The cold is unbelievable. I try not to complain”) and general wilderness, the lack of TV or internet. “When you live around a lot of people in a city and that synthesized stimulation, you can get lost in that’s the hustle and bustle.
When you grow up in the country you have nothing to stimulate you but what you seek,” she said. Some of Danilova’s later goth sensibilities might have come from the impressions of her early childhood when she was exposed to a hunter’s environment and a survivalist’s worldview. “My dad was a hunter so there would constantly be animal parts all over the place.
He’d be out in the forest and bring back deer heads hoping that animals would eat the flesh and leave a skull. But it wouldn’t happen. There would just be a deer head hanging from a tree branch you could literally bump into,” she remembered. “Our milk was from the neighbor’s cow. I am not a country bumpkin but this is how we live. We ate deer and pheasant and venison and all this meat that my dad would go out and kill,” she added.
Danilova started singing early on, buying voice lesson tapes and opera sheet music at the age of 7; soon she began working with a vocal coach. It was not her parents’ idea: “I begged them to do it. For some reason, I really wanted to sing opera even though I wasn’t really exposed to it as a kid. I think my little baby toddler mind heard some opera song and then became fixated on how powerful it sounded,” she later remembered. Danilova started performing opera when she was 10 years old, but experienced serious psychological difficulties.
“I would too often lose my voice before performances due to anxiety, and was so hard on myself. I would beat myself up about any imperfections or flaws in my voice. I was such a perfectionist, and my voice was still so young so it couldn’t do everything I wanted it to, and I resented myself for that. But since performing as Zola Jesus it’s been getting easier,” she later recalled. For a couple of years she had to stop singing due to anxiety and the competitive nature of opera. “I studied opera on and off for about 10 years. I wasn’t in any operas, though, it was always really private and individual…I kept stopping because I was like, I’m not good enough, I suck, this is awful, and then I’d start again.
I could never practice singing if anyone was home,” she explained in a Pitchfork interview. In her teens Danilova started to experiment in a more rock-orientated format. By naming her alter ego after Jesus Christ and the French writer Émile Zola she said she consciously wanted to alienate peers. “It worked perfectly – a lot of people wouldn’t even say Zola Jesus because they thought it was sacrilegious”, she said in an interview. “Using Jesus in my name isn’t necessarily supposed to be a strong statement. I respect religion and I know people do need it, but it’s a weird phenomenon in our world. It’s so weird,” she later commented. Inspired by favorites like Diamanda Galás, Lydia Lunch, Throbbing Gristle and Swans (but also bubblegum pop and classical aria), she started to record at home, using keyboards, drum machines and “anything else she had on hand”. In 2008 she debuted with singles “Poor Sons” on Die Stasi and “Soeur Sewer” on Sacred Bones Records.
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