Rural Wisconsin is full of freaks. I can attest to this because I grew up one state west and interacted with similarly entertaining crazies on a pretty regular basis. This brand of strange usually keeps to small town shenanigans, but Nika Roza Danilova translated her weirdness into artistic independence and rose to become Zola Jesus.
As a young child and teen, Danilova became comfortable with the isolation of her surroundings and learned early on that one must seek their own stimulation. She became obsessed with learning to sing opera, but only in the confines of her own home. She listened to instructional tapes, practiced songwriting on her parents' piano and decided to separate herself from the world before it decided to do so first. As a self-proclaimed freak, Danilova was free to revel in her uniqueness without guilt or remorse. In high school she took on the moniker Zola Jesus, which she called a conscious effort to alienate her peers.
As a student of French and Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Zola Jesus officially released her first full-length record, The Spoils [Sacred Bones, 2009], earning instant comparisons to rock legends like Siouxsie and placement in the goth rock genre. Her songs are gorgeously epic, ballads of dark rock that haven't lost their soft parts. Backed by a roaring synth choir, Danilova sings with fierce confidence in an unpretentious, humanized manner. I could write terrible letters to past lovers with Zola Jesus as my muse, or I could happily entwine myself in optimistic dreams with the same soundtrack.
As of late 2010, Zola Jesus had put out four records and played 97 shows. She's playing her music around the world and getting just as much attention for her songs as her wardrobe. She's being portrayed as a gothic hottie, getting mentions in Vogue and fashion magazines for her bewitching look. Yet she's still totally reveling in her bizarre foundations. My favorite Zola Jesus quote to date, as said during an interview with The Quietus:
Everyone’s a goth now. It blows my mind. I don’t like to comment on this whole trend because I’ve come to resent myself being associated with it. If goth is trendy then I’m buying fucking polo shirts. They’ll still be black, though.
If only all the Midwest townies could became wonderful creeps like Zola.
w/Naked on the Vague
Fri/6, 9:00 p.m., $14
155 Fell, SF