Three Pointers with Industrial Goth Maven Zola Jesus
Industrial goth maven Nika Danilova has been making dark art pop under the moniker Zola Jesus for nearly a decade. The Wisconsin-bred musician, known for making atmospheric, abrasive orchestral sounds, took a break from working on some new collaborations in Los Angeles to chat with us about her favorite local hangs, where to start your dive into Neo-classical listening and why rusted sheet metal can be your best friend in the booth.
Be sure to check out her recent collaboration with Italians Do It Better’s Johnny Jewel — a 7-song collection of remixes of her songs, “Ash To Bone” and “Wiseblood.”
Death Metal pedal — the DOD Death Metal pedal is one of the wildest and least predictable pedals I’ve ever used. It’s perfect for creating mayhem and totally decimating any sound you run through it.
Scrap metal -— My father has a collection of scrap metal and steel in his shop, which I love to bang on and sample. I’ve used so many samples of his scrap metal as drums on my last record, Okovi. When you’re looking for a good thwack there’s nothing better than a metal pipe on a rusted piece of sheet metal.
Feedback — Generally, anything can be a noisemaker if you turn it in on itself. Feedback has always been my go-to for creating layers of madness in a song. I like being able to use the thing itself as the source of the chaos — it’s like using the negative of the sound to see darkness where beforehand there was light.
Neo-classical or opera tracks & composers for folks who like dark, textural sounds:
Janacek’s Glagolitic Mass — I saw this performed at the Philharmoniker in Berlin recently. It was one of the heaviest shows I’ve been to. There’s double choir and pipe organ in the thing. The pipe organist even gets a solo which is as maniacal as you’d expect.
Mahler’s “Um Mitternacht” from Ruckert Lieder — Hands down my favorite art song, ever. Jessye Norman does a beautiful interpretation of this piece. It’s so heartbreaking and epic.
Viktoria Poleva’s “Gagaku” — This is an incredible piece written about the short story “Hell Screen” by Ryunoske. It’s an accompaniment for butoh. Really dark and textural and so, so beautiful!
Best hangs in LA:
Brian Foote’s studio — Brian Foote, who helped me produce and mix Conatus, has a home studio that he rents out. It’s insane. I’ve never seen anyone with a more lusty synth collection. All the synths are hooked up so you can drop your midi into Ableton and route to whatever you want, whether it’s an MS-20 or Prophet 5, etc. Whenever I’m there I just gawk and don’t even know where to begin. If you’re into synths, it’s the best place to record in Los Angeles.
New Beverly Cinema — When I lived in Los Angeles, I spent a lot of time at the New Beverly. The best programming in the city, if not in the country. The people involved in New Beverly are truly passionate about not just film, but the 35mm film material itself, as well as the experience of cinema. Very special place.
Ace Hotel Rooftop — Haha, but really though. So many of my friends are always DJ’ing on the roof, and more often than not when I’m in LA, no matter where I’m staying, I end up at the rooftop to see a friend spin records by the pool. It’s nice.
Favorite Audio Production Plugins:
Valhalla Shimmer — This is the best reverb plugin, period. It’s not versatile, and it’s not practical. But it is beautiful. You can turn any sound in a lush soundscape that could last for minutes! I used the demo to death until I decided to bite the bullet and buy it, and haven’t been disappointed.
Sound Toys — Sound Toys has made themselves absolutely essential to my studio life. Echoboy, Decapitator, Crystallizer, Pan Man… I use these all over my production. They are indispensable as sonic shapeshifters as well as basic, technical mixing utilities!
Native Instruments — Kontakt, FM8, Absynth and Massive have been my most used soft synths since I started making electronic music. There are some songs that have been made using almost all NI plugins. The breadth of what they offer is so diverse, that using something like Komplete could be all you need in order to make electronic music!