Radar Band Of The Week – No 8: Zola Jesus

Zola Jesus – lifting the veil on the new dawn of goth

So, you think you know all about the dark side because you’ve seen New Moon and are packing a True Blood boxset? You’re not even close.


Zola Jesus is. Much more than just another Valley Girl with a ludicrous crush on a beefcake vamp, when she was just 14, the already gothically monikered Nika Roza Danilova began laying down her classically trained vocals under the name Zola Jesus. Now 21, she makes music for kismet-swaddled outsiders and the legions of loners who inhabit a bizarre backwater of doom, apocalyptica and fucked-up no-mance. Or North Wisconsin, as it’s also known.

Growing up bang in the middle of Fuckknowsville, nearer to the crystal meth capital of the American Midwest than a decent gig venue, was never going to be easy. “I resented it a lot because I felt like I was in a stupor,” she declares. Raised in forested purgatory, miles from culture, Nika’s childhood company wasn’t other kids, but corpses. Well, animal ones. “There would be deer’s heads and carcasses hanging around – it’s typical of rural Wisconsin life,” explains Nika on regularly confronting her father’s kills.

Like a Tim Burton heroine with an eight-track or a trailer park Edith Piaf singing the songs of Gary Numan, Nika makes destruction disco of the kind Florence Welch might craft if she really was weird.

As you’d expect from a joint philosophy and French scholar, there’s a sombre but bohemian quality to Zola Jesus. Her EP ‘Stridulum’ is one of the most terrifyingly immense things you’ll hear all year. Named after a 1970s Italian sci-fi horror flick, the title track boasts drums like a spurned medieval lover hammering on fortress gates, while the harrowing ‘Night’ is an operatic, Lynchian peek into sonic armageddon.

There is, though, a sweet side to Zola Jesus; the cover of ‘Stridulum’ sees a monster-like Nika smothered in thick chocolate syrup. “It was terrifying, but at the same time it felt like a fantasy coming true,” she giggles. “It sticks into all of your orifices.” Expect the sounds of Zola Jesus to delve just as forcefully into yours.

Need To Know
• Her parents bought her opera lessons because they thought the mail order teach-yourself cassette tapes that the nine-year-old Nika requested were a scam
• Nika’s dream is to have one of her songs used on a film – preferably directed by David Cronenberg
• Nika’s favourite film is the cult 1974 arthouse flick Sweet Movie