INTERVIEW: Zola Jesus Talks Creative Processes and New Album 'Okovi'
    • FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 08, 2017

    • Posted by: Larisha Paul

    If you didn't already know, the genre of dark electro-pop is dominated by women, and evidently they're the ones who do it best. One vocalist/songwriter currently taking over the scene goes by the name of Zola Jesus. Zola has been releasing music since 2008 and growing immensely as an artist with each project. On September 8th, Zola's sixth studio album Okovi will finally be available to grace the ears of everyone listening, and it's one of her most personal projects to date. Recently, I was able to chat with the Okovi creator herself to delve into the creative process she goes through when creating such a personal project.

    LARISHA PAUL: I wanted to start by getting straight into Okovi, your new album which is arriving in about three weeks. That's exciting, how are you feeling?

    ZOLA JESUS: I'm trying not think about it really.

    LP: Of course your music is your own before it's anyone else's, but do you ever worry about the way your audience will respond to what you put out?

    ZJ: With this record I can't really think about reaction or feedback, just because it's so personal. So, yeah, I just really have not been thinking about that at all. I'm consciously trying not to.

    LP: Sharing something so personal with your fans is already a deeply opening experience, so what is it like having to communicate those feelings on a more direct level with the team who helped you create it?

    ZJ: I think it was cathartic to bring people in, just because it allowed the songs to open up. Before, when I worked as a producer on my own, they were very, very personal but bringing other people in made the songs grow into something more universal, or more applicable to other people outside of just myself.

    LP: In the statement that you released about the album, I read about Alex Degroot–What role did he play in the creation of Okovi?


    ZJ: Right when I was done with writing and producing everything, I rented a house up in northern Minnesota. We went up there and set up a kind of travel studio, and there I recorded all of the vocals and we swatched out some of the songs that were a little bit more bare. He contributed production to songs that I felt like needed something outside of myself and together we mixed the album there. He was kind of like the last stop, and I think that's where the music became kind of cohesive and where it all came together as one album.

    LP: How does the process of finishing an album like Okovi work? Does it ever feel complete?

    ZJ: Not always. Sometimes I have a nagging feeling that something should have been different, like maybe a certain sound or a vocal should've been quieter, little minute things. But for this one I think that it feels done–in a weird way.


    LP: Does the album tell any one story in the sense that you would have to listen to each track in a specific order to understand it as a whole?

    ZJ: It's definitely all very personal and all very biographical. All of the songs were written throughout the past couple of years, so each song is about a different aspect of what I was going through, what people around me were going through. It's not chronological, so it's not truly narrative in that sense but all of the songs have a story. They're all apart of a greater experience of what I was going through for a couple of years.

    LP: If you could leave everyone you encounter, whether it be directly or indirectly, with one piece of advice what would it be?

    ZJ: General advice would be to not take life so seriously. Not in a humorous way, but not to be so overwhelmed with life, which I think I touch on in my music.

    LP: Is there anything that you wish someone would have told you when you first began creating music and exploring your own sound that you had to learn on your own?

    ZJ: I think one thing I had to go through organically was just letting go of control. I think in the beginning I was so obsessed with maintaining control that the music wasn't able to go to places that it could have if I would've let go and let other people in. That's just something I had to learn.

    LP: So, you grew up in Wisconsin and returned to the woods there for the creation of Okovi. Which, for me being in the city–I could never. Would you say that that's where you connect to yourself the most?

    ZJ: Definitely. When I'm in the city I feel very overwhelmed and anxious. When I'm in the woods I feel very at peace as a person. When I'm around too many people or too much of society I feel very overwhelmed with being a person. When I'm in the woods I don't think about it, I feel more like an animal and less like a person.

    LP: You're setting out of a 50 date tour just weeks after the release of the album, so how is that connection affected while you're traveling all over? How does that affect your creative process, or does it just come to a halt until you're able to come back into yourself?


    ZJ: I never write on the road because it's not conducive to how I write. I need isolation, you know. Writing is very solitary, still as a musician you don't work in a vacuum. So much about making music is about letting it touch other people's lives, so touring is my way of trying to physically or directly connect to the people that are listening to the music.

    LP: This tour includes cities throughout the US, as well as quite a few shows in Europe. With everything going on in the states and throughout the world do you feel at all obligated to use your growing platform as an artist to speak out about what's happening?


    ZJ: I usually try to keep my political opinions to myself, because what I do isn't political. I think my music is universal, but at the same time it's extremely hard to not say anything about what's going on currently in the political climate. It's just so loud that it's hard to be a standby.


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