Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Zola Jesus is Nika Roza Danilova

Zola Jesus is the moniker of 22-year-old Nika Danilova. "From age 10, Danilova studied opera. It was that training that gave her voice its muscle, but it’s the vocal imperfections that training was unable to cure that give it its color and bite. 'Those imperfections are something that I’ve always struggled with....I’d have to teach myself to get a brighter sound to take those away. It’s very scientific when you’re singing opera—that’s why I
had to stop singing it for so long, since I had so much anxiety about getting my voice perfect. So when I started Zola Jesus, I championed those imperfections. Sometimes I get off tone or I strain or I do other things that would be frowned upon in the operatic world, and it’s my way of saying, ‘Fuck you, this is the way my voice sounds.' I’ve always talked about writing an opera of my own,' she says. 'I actually wrote a plot a couple years ago, and it’s a really far-out sci-fi, Philip K. Dick-styled opera, with a lot of acid baths and some sort of witch trial. It might be a little too out there.'"


Do you sing differently as Zola Jesus than performing an opera, other than not singing in Italian?
NRD: I use a different voice to sing opera. I’m a soprano so I use my soprano head voice, and when I do Zola Jesus I use my chest voice. Growing up I always had a problem with how I sang and I couldn’t really get over it. I don’t know if I’ve just learned to sing differently, but it was always a roadblock in developing and adapting that voice. When you are learning opera, they want to teach you to sing in one voice. It’s very uniform and very scientific, and if you don’t have that voice then you are not successful as an opera singer. When I was learning opera, I didn’t have that voice so I had to kind of go around the block to learn how to sing. Everyone has a different voice and a lot of it is just what you are born with. I always had a distinctive voice that wasn’t necessarily fit for opera, but I tried and I worked and did the best that I could and I succeeded regardless.

Is the opera something that you pursue at all anymore?
NRD: I haven’t studied opera in awhile. I gave up on it when I was about 16 because I was really frustrated about having to criticize everything about my voice. It gives you a lot of anxiety because it’s a skill, but if you are playing an instrument, you can practice until you die and can become, say, the best guitar player. But with your voice, you’re born a certain way and to criticize it... it gave me a lot of anxiety and I became depressed so I had to give it up. But I’d love to sing opera again and take up my studies.

It’s kind of a silly question, but do you see rock opera as a viable form?
NRD: I don’t think so. The most successful modern opera I’ve seen is that one the Knife did, Tomorrow, In a Year. That is something that I really respect. It’s not necessarily rock opera, but growing up I always wanted to be that blue chick in The Fifth Element.

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