Published Oct 04, 2011For Nika Roza Danilova, the past two years feel as though they were all about this third Zola Jesus album. After establishing a name for herself in 2009 with her gritty, lo-fi, industrial-tinged debut, The Spoils, the then-brunette not only went blonde, but also opened up her sound with a much wider lens. Her 2010 EPs, Stridulum and Valusia, which were compiled as an album in Europe, under the name Stridulum II, found Zola Jesus developing into a confident producer and songwriter of compelling, intricately layered electro pop. Conatus feels like a pivotal moment for the 22-year-old Wisconsin native, especially after having both her sound and style bitten by a recent internationally acclaimed Polaris Music Prize shortlister. Danilova admitted that this album was intended to be a pop record, but the result is much darker and denser. Bringing in Brian Foote (Lotus Plaza, Cloudland Canyon) to help produce, she found a companion to flesh out ideas, like bringing in session musicians, replacing the synthetic drums and strings of previous recordings. And while Conatus is built upon grandiose arrangements and a serious tone, Danilova's message is one of being lovesick, confessing her devotion in "Lick the Palm of the Burning Handshake" with as much force as the crashing drums. And yet it's "Skin," a stripped down ballad with only Danilova, a piano and echoes, which is her most devastating moment to date. Conatus undoubtedly lives up to its dignified title: an effort of natural impulse, striving to enhance itself. It's hard to argue Zola Jesus hasn't done just that.
You've said this was a difficult album to make. How so?
After I finished touring Stridulum and Valusia, I became impassioned by this need to push myself in way I felt I wasn't with those records. Just listening to those songs on tour every night, I felt the need to grow and avoid making the same music again. I felt I needed to invert the process of making the previous records and help myself discover a new way of making music and challenge myself in different ways. I think that it liberated me in order to push myself further. I really needed to make Conatus in order to make more records. With Stridulum, I got a strange reception that I didn't expect. I hear so many flaws in that record and there is still so much I had to prove to people and myself. Conatus was a way of doing that, hunkering down and just becoming better.
Conatus was originally planned as a pop album. What happened?
I think some of the songs are very pop, and some aren't, but I think I thought it would be way more of a compressed, modern pop record. Then I realized that I don't have that in me. It would be funny, but it would be too much of a compromise. (Sacred Bones)