Category: Zola Jesus

Live: Zola Jesus and EMA at the Natural History Museum

Zola Jesus performing at the Natural History Museum March 2, 2012

At last week’s First Fridays series at the Natural History Museum, two young women working at the border of noise and rock music explored how harsh music can tell different kinds of stories.

Zola Jesus and EMA are both rising acts with a powerful visual presence and an interest in using distortion, electronics and vagueness to expand the palette of pop music. They used rock-friendly instruments like guitars, drums and synthesizers, but deployed them in strange and hypnotic ways that tap potent veins of hard-to-articulate emotions.

EMA is the alias of Erika M. Anderson, a tall and punk-severe singer-songwriter with roots in California and South Dakota. She made her early reputation as one half of the experimental folk act Gowns, where she honed her interest in feedback and harrowing vocal performances. Recording under her given initials, her songs grew more focused on her 2011 debut “Past Life Martyred Saints.” But she never lost her fascination with the ways in which repetition and machine-driven distortion can create devastating and strangely hopeful moods.

Performing with a drummer, a bassist-guitarist and an amplified violinist, her live set had a heavy touch of the Velvet Underground to it. That’s always a compliment when describing a rock show, but during tracks like “The Grey Ship” and “Anteroom” she took the Velvets’ specific downtown doom and warped it into a Great Plains horror show of blue-collar desperation.

She closed with her signature track “California,” a compelling breakup letter to the Golden State. While mock-choking herself with the microphone cable, Anderson delivered its opening lines in a brutal deadpan: “… California, you made me boring / I bled all my blood out, but these red pants don’t show that.” It might rank with “Sunset Boulevard” in works of art about how California can break a woman.

Zola Jesus is based in Los Angeles, but the alias of the singer-composer Nika Danilova hews closer to the noirish side of the city’s musical tradition.  Her sound pulls from experimental music, goth acts like Britain's Cocteau Twins and modernist R & B balladry that led to major tours with Fever Ray and a spot at the Hollywood Bowl’s tribute to Serge Gainsbourg.

But her latest album “Conatus” is uncompromising. It’s built on chamber strings, live drums and noisemaking that draws a straight line to midcentury experimental electronic composers like Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire.  

Joined by a standing drummer, keyboardist and an amplified violinist (interestingly, the night’s second), her band took a minimalist approach to a maximalist album, and in doing so returned the focus to Danilova’s voice.  She has a vocal range and skill that could get her through the opening rounds of ‘Idol,’ but she enticingly subverted it with hazy phrasing and a commitment to atmosphere.

For a song like “Vessel,” which on record has a dense churn ala Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor,  her band skimmed off the vocal loop and built an airy if not spooky foundation. The heavy drums of “Hikikomori” were leavened with pining string parts; even her most upbeat tracks like the danceable “Seekir" had an implacable fog of melancholy.

A wood-paneled hall filled with mammal dioramas is a tough room for any artist to play, and the sound of both bands suffered a bit from the space. But Danilova clearly embraced the challenge: “Thanks for coming to this beautiful space," she said, "where we can appreciate where we come from, and maybe where we’ll go back to.”


Zola Jesus: making noise in L.A.

Album review: Zola Jesus, "Conatus"

EMA talks new record, giving middle finger to California

 -August Brown

Photo: Zola Jesus at the Natural History Museum on March 2, 2012. (Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times)

Zola Jesus' 'In Your Nature' gets remixed by David Lynch

Zola Jesus
Los Angeles-based chanteuse Zola Jesus had a banner 2011 with the success of her album, "Conatus," which landed on many tastemakers' year-end lists and set the stage for a potential breakout in 2012. And four days into the year, the singer (born Nika Roza Danilova), has received an impressive co-sign with the release of a David Lynch remix of her song, "In Your Nature."

The original version of the song features tense strings and a rumbling bass, and floats along on the back of Zola's increasingly confident voice. Lynch strips away nearly everything -- the double-time rhythms, the synthetic hand claps, the vast arrangement -- and replaces it with a simpler structure, one that leaves her voice front and center and augments it with a moody guitar strum.

Zola Jesus - In Your Nature (David Lynch Remix) by sacredbones

The track will be released as a 7-inch single and digital download on February 21, when Zola will be in the middle of an American tour that ends up in Southern California at the beginning of March. She'll perform at the Natural History Museum on March 2 on a bill with kindred spirit EMA. See all the tour dates below.

Continue reading »

Album review: Zola Jesus' 'Conatus'

Album review: Zola Jesus' 'Conatus'

“Shivers.” “Avalanche.” “Lick the Palm of the Burning Handshake.” From her severe, zombie-in-Hollywood look to the titles of songs on her second album as Zola Jesus, Nika Roza Danilova appears dedicated to the art of the first impression. The Wisconsin native, now based in L.A., has certainly made one, rocketing from the online electro-goth underground to a forbidding style-mag omnipresence in just two years.

Dig below the bleak, seasick surfaces of “Conatus,” though, and you’ll uncover a deeply romantic streak that complicates the idea of who or what Zola Jesus is. (It’s this disarming sensuality that allowed Danilova to fit in alongside Beck and Mike Patton at a recent Serge Gainsbourg tribute at the Hollywood Bowl.)

Continue reading »

Review: Serge Gainsbourg Tribute at Hollywood Bowl

Beck in a tuxedo with Mike Patton taking a drink in the background.
Dear good people of France: Give singer Mike Patton a permanent residency at the most disreputable lounge in Paris, posthaste. Dressed like one of the lowliest hit men of the “Sopranos” crew, the former Faith No More and Mr. Bungle shredder brought a louche elegance to Serge Gainsbourg’s “Requiem pour un Con” at the Hollywood Bowl.

There was no shortage of singers pleased to slip into Gainsbourg’s white Repetto shoes at Sunday night’s Beck-produced Gainsbourg tribute, including his progeny, Lulu — but Patton, possessed of a slithery outlaw charm, was the evening’s breakaway lead. As the bass slinked around beatnik conga drums, he half spit and half savagely whispered in French his regards to life lived as a jerk. Occasionally he wriggled his eyebrows or widened his eyes, as if he’d just spotted a cold-blooded femme across the room.

With the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra conducted by Scott Dunn and Gainsbourg collaborator Jean-Claude Vannier and a crack live band reunited from Beck’s 2002 album, “Sea Change,” the true star of the evening was Gainsbourg’s towering songbook, a four-decade flirtation with every style of music that caught his eye — from chanson to ye-ye pop to Afro-Cuban jazz, American folk and reggae. A re-creation of the “Lolita”-like concept album written by Vannier and Gainsbourg, 1971’s “Histoire de Melody Nelson” was performed in its entirety for the evening’s sweeping finale.

When dealing with material that demands so much personality, perhaps more than it does technical skill, the singers who brought their own style to Gainsbourg fared the best. The diminutive goth singer Zola Jesus brought a throaty swagger to her version of “Harley Davidson,” but she also knew when to downplay her Joplin-at-the-opera tones, as evidenced by her gentle backup vocals on the breezy meringue, “Sea, Sex and Sun.”

Continue reading »

This weekend: Make Music Pasadena festival on Saturday, featuring Best Coast, Ra Ra Riot and more

Best coast

Those venturing into the well-manicured wilds of downtown Pasadena this Saturday will inevitably encounter what may be the city’s loudest day of the year. Designed as a community celebration for music of all pedigrees, the fourth annual Make Music Pasadena festival unfurls a full day of musicians ranging from platinum recording artists to scrappy up-and-comers performing on street corners, art galleries, outdoor stages and theaters near the area of Colorado Boulevard.

Months after the lineup was announced, the festival presented by 89.9 KCRW  is finally upon us. Headliners at the 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. event include Best Coast, Ra Ra Riot, Hello Seahorse!, Ben L’Oncle Soul, Zola Jesus and the Morning Benders. All for the low, low price of $0.

Notable headliners aside, the spirit of the pop-up concert remains an integral part of the festival’s DNA. Ducking into an air conditioned art gallery or local shop is liable to turn your sweltering trek through Old Town Pasadena into an intimate, unlikely local gig with artists playing throughout the day. Over 500 professional and amateur musicians are set to perform in more than 30 unconventional performance spaces.

Continue reading »

John Wiese and the new L.A. noise

In Sunday's Calendar, I profiled three young noise-aligned composers and songwriters in L.A., Zola Jesus, Sun Araw and Infinite Body. Each made his or her reputation playing difficult yet uncannily pretty music in off-the-grid venues, and each is shaping the scene in a meditative new direction from the more violent, guitar-oriented bands such as No Age and HEALTH that have ruled in recent years.

But for a broader perspective on avant-garde noise music in L.A., I talked with composer John Wiese, a singular voice in local composition. Across scads of formats and a plethora of labels and projects, his howling electronic works recall both mind-bending suites from Xenakis and Ligeti, and the trashy, antagonistic punk of the Smell scene. Below is our full interview, conducted by e-mail. He just wrapped up tours with Liars and No Age in Europe and played a couple L.A. dates earlier this month.

There seems to be a growing audience for explicitly "difficult" music. What do think younger fans are getting from noise and avant-garde genres that might be missing in more straightforward pop or indie music?

Extremes in the spectrum exist in everything -- that's what makes the middle the middle. I think most people venture far out at least once in a while -- life is complex and has many faces, feelings, experiences, etc.

Continue reading »

Zola Jesus: New resident of Los Angeles; owner of fearsome wildcat voice

Zola Zola Jesus, a.k.a. Nika Roza Danilova, has a voice like a savage animal. You can’t help but want it to get close to you, but to let it creep near might also guarantee that you get shredded from limb to limb. Now we understand, just a little better, the kind of paradox that must’ve enthralled “Grizzly Man” Timothy Treadwell.

Over the last couple of years, Danilova, 21, has churned out an impressive body of work with her raging stentorian vocals as the star, including 2009's full-length debut, “The Spoils,” and “Stridulum,” an EP that came out earlier this year that marked a shift from distortion-laden experimentation to a more direct songwriting style.

Opening her midnight crypt to a little dance-friendly air gained her some new fans, such as Swedish dark heart Karin Dreijer Andersson, better known as Fever Ray, who invited Danilova to open for her in Europe, as well as accolades from the New York Times and Pitchfork.

Danilova’s already back with another EP, “Valusia,” released Tuesday, that builds on her brooding but classically informed style, something like the goddess of death performing at the opera. Zola Jesus is right on time to ride the latest wave of goth proffered by Mercury Prize winners the xx, who gave Zola an opening spot on their latest U.S. tour. Thankfully, the xx and ZJ do not sully their goth with horror-show theatrics. Instead, call it minimalist bleak, with an oversize heart beating wildly underneath it all. The song below, “Lightsick,” is one of Zola Jesus’ most profound works: not much more than the thinnest damask of synth and a piano thumping around Danilova’s wounded yet strong vocals.


04 Lightsick


But for all the force of her light-smothering alto, Danilova is really a nice Midwestern girl from northern Wisconsin who values hard work and humility. Settling in Los Angeles only a month ago, Danilova is rightfully freaked out by Hollywood. “The obsession with fame and celebrity and other people,” she mused. “I just can’t wrap my head around it.” She’ll be playing tonight at the Echo, mercifully off-path for the paparazzo, with Obstacle Corpse and Broken Spindles.

May Zola's presence in Los Angeles usher in the gray-sky fall we’ve all been waiting for. Hopefully, the city won't do anything dreadful -- like make her happy.

--Margaret Wappler

You just graduated this summer from UW-Madison, where you studied French and philosophy. How do either of those influence Zola Jesus, if it all?

Everything influences my music subconsciously, because Zola Jesus is very personal and intimate. It pulls out who I am as a person. And especially studying philosophy has really made a huge impact on how I think, how I feel, how I live my life. It penetrates the music through the lyrics because it’s a lot about how I view the world.

Who are some of your favorite philosophers?

Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Dosteyevsky. I like bleak philosophy. I like Kierkegaard. I like philosophers who are realistic, and who approach humanity as a very animal or mammal concept, giving us humans the same kind of discretion as an animal. We are animals. I like reading about humans in that context. It comes out in my lyrics. I feel like when I’m writing music it’s very aggressive and very personal. I only write when I feel like I have something to say. In a sense, philosophy has inspired me and influenced me to feel like I have something to say.

Continue reading »

Recommended on Facebook

In Case You Missed It...


Recent Posts

Tweets and retweets from L.A. Times staff writers.



Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: