Gimme Your Answers: An Interview w/ Zola Jesus

Zola Jesus
Photo by Julia Comita

Blending a mix of electronica, synthpop, and R&B, singer-songwriter Zola Jesus created an exotic sound for herself on her fifth studio album Taiga (released October 2014). In support of the album, Zola Jesus kicked off a North American tour last week and will play Toronto’s The Drake Underground on January 22nd. A Music Blog, Yea? recently had the opportunity of giving her a call beforehand to discuss recording on an island, selling out shows, video games, and her new fragrance. Here’s what she had to say:

AMBY: Hi Nika, thanks for speaking with me today. I really enjoy your record Taiga and can’t wait to discuss it.

Zola Jesus: Thank you!

AMBY: It’s my pleasure. You dropped this album in late 2014, so tell me a bit about the experience you had recording your fifth album.

Zola Jesus: I moved from Los Angeles to Vashon Island — which is this little island in Washington – and I kind of set up camp in this short term rental and started to work on the record. Moving there really evoked a lot of new ideas and emotions that ended up on the record.

AMBY: Removing yourself seemed to have made the entire process very natural for you. Did you have a go-to place for writing and brainstorming while you were away?

Zola Jesus: There was this little set up I would go to and just do some walking around or go on a hike in the woods.

AMBY: Do you feel you’ll continue to use this same recording method of isolation on forthcoming releases?

Zola Jesus: I think so. I feel it’s very important because I can feel this sense of freedom. I feel it’s important that artists give themselves space so they’re free and can create.

AMBY: When I found out the record was called Taiga, I was unfamiliar with the word and, of course, Google’d it to find out that Taiga is the Russian word for boreal forests. Did you decide to call the album Taiga to tie-in this whole idea of being secluded?

Zola Jesus: Absolutely, yea. I felt like I was able to explore by myself and it was a whole new world for me.

AMBY: In support of the album’s release, you started a North American Tour last week. The response to this tour has been phenomenal as you’ve had to add addition dates. Did you expect the initial response to be so great? Shows are selling out within hours.

Zola Jesus: It’s been really good! I’ve been playing shows, working on stage production, and this band is the best band I’ve had. I’ve been working really hard and I hope people enjoy it.

AMBY: When it comes to packing for a tour, what are some quintessential items you must bring along with you?

Zola Jesus: As I walk into a venue, I like to light some incense and burn a candle; I always feel like I’m back at home and I like how the places feel familiar [laughs]. I like to play video games and bring my computer to play.

AMBY: Are there any in specific that you enjoy?

Zola Jesus: I’ve been playing this game called Portal, and Portal 2.

AMBY: Well, I wanted to say congrats on your recent Blackbird collaboration with the new fragrance inspired by Taiga. You’ll be selling the fragrance on the tour and I think it’s such a great merch idea. Do you have any other neat merch ideas that you’d like to create one day?

Zola Jesus: Yea! Let me think… The fragrance was a big one. I want to make a zine which is totally possibly in the future and maybe a chocolate? [laughs] It’s cool because it’s merch and when you think outside of a shirt or poster, it’s a cool way to brainstorm other things that you like or can tie-in to the record. That’s why I love the fragrance; fans can burn it and listen to the record.

AMBY: This time around, you’re touring with a new live set up and new band. I read that you wanted to create a great environment which your fans can live in for ninety straight minutes. Which shows have you been to where you love the artists’ stage set up or presence?

Zola Jesus: I saw Fever Ray and her live show is just so encompassing and I really respected that a lot; it was really inspiring. I also toured with The XX who put on a great show which feels very transformative. There are also those big tours like Beyonce, where when you step into those arenas, they can become transformed into this other world where the music becomes physical. I like experimenting with that as much as I can.

AMBY: What are some hobbies that you have outside of music?

Zola Jesus: I like to watch movies, read, and do nothing.

AMBY and Zola Jesus: [laughs]

Zola Jesus: I love to just do nothing.

AMBY: To wrap things up, what’s something about Zola Jesus that most of your fans don’t know yet?

Zola Jesus: That’s a tough one [laughs]. I feel personally like nothing is ever finished; I always feel like the music can be better and build.

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Thank you Zola Jesus, for giving us your answers!

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Interview by Alicia Atout | @AliciaAtout

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