Why did you choose Zola Jesus as a stage name?

I came up with the name when I was 14 after discovering Nana by Emile Zola at a bookstore. I started my music project when I was 19, and since I knew I didn’t want to go under my own name, I chose Zola Jesus. I guess it stuck. It’s prevented me from getting some things (I guess people don’t love sacrilege, haha.) But it is what it is! I have an innately provocative nature. When I was younger I liked a lot of bands that had Jesus in the name (Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Jesus and Mary Chain, Jesus Lizard) so I figured I was in good company.

Architectural digest featured your amazing living room in an article. Does being surrounded by a stunning backdrop of nature inspire your music?
The natural world is so soothing to me. I’ve lived in cities - Los Angeles, Seattle, and spend a lot of time in NYC. But when I’m home, I want to fully unplug and feel as grounded to the earth as possible. Living in accordance to nature is such a deeply important part of my mental health and spiritual awareness. It’s how I was raised and what I’m used to.
What other things influence your music at the moment?
I’m interested in so many things! I love to study opera and sing for hours a day. I also study a lot of critical theory and philosophy which informs my outlook. My meditation and magical practices are also very inspiring to me. I’m a student of Rinzai Zen buddhism. My goal is always to feel as balanced as possible — to allow space for the unknown to emerge. When you’re listening, there’s so much to hear.

Why did you decide to move back to your home town of Wisconsin?
I was looking to buy a house in the Seattle area, but all the real estate was so expensive and competitive. I couldn’t afford anything out there. I knew that anything I would buy I would inevitably have to gut in order to accommodate my very specific vision. So I moved back home to the land where I was raised and built a little house. My uncle is a contractor, my other uncle is an electrician, my dad is a woodworker… my whole family is very DIY, so it felt like the best and most affordable option. It’s also nice to be near family when I’m home, and have someone close by to watch my dog and cat. Sometimes I miss being in a city, but the isolation really suits me. I’m a hermit.
What are your daily rituals?
Meditation is so crucial when I’m able to be consistent. I also try to run every day, do yoga, stretch. I have suffered from chronic pain for years, so taking care of my mental and physical health is non-negotiable. I’ve had to curb how much I travel and tour, and make better accommodations for myself so I don’t get a flare-up. My body gets so thrashed on stage and in travel that when I’m home I make sure to really care for myself. I take a bath almost every day because it helps calm and reset my over-active nervous system. Sometimes being an artist feels like a curse - the toll it takes on your mind and body can be really intense. But the more I seek balance the more sustainable it can be. I find it much easier when I live my life in tune to my own natural flow.

What projects are you working on at the moment?
I just finished up a film score. I’m currently preparing for some shows - both with full band and solo piano, so there’s a lot of preparation that happens there. I’m also working on a side project called NIKA, which is more noise/experimental. There’s a lot brewing, all quite varied, which I like! I need a lot of diverse projects to keep me from feeling stagnant.

Any plans on a trip to Australia?
Ugh, I wish. I’m desperate to come back. My dear friend and touring violist Louise Woodward is from Melbourne. In fact I met her when I performed at the Melbourne Recital Centre. So going to Australia sort of feels like a homecoming, especially when I’m with her. I’d love to return as soon as possible! But the trip out there is quite full-on, so I’ve been waiting for the right invitation.
What is your favourite and least favourite part about being a musician?
My favorite part about being a musician is that I am able to devote my life to music. It is such an honor. I’ve been making and living a life of music ever since I was a young child, so it really feels like making my dreams come true to be able to do this for a living. The hardest part is the pressure. I put a lot of pressure on myself, and sometimes I am called to perform or work in a way that is very high-pressure. I actually like the pressure, but it needs to be the right kind. I have spent years beating myself up unnecessarily. It can be very hard to make a living doing this. It requires a ton of work, much of which is invisible on the outside. But I’m grateful to have a Patreon and get consistent support from those who believe in me. It really takes so much of that pressure away. I was really born for this life though. The music is in my bones, and I’m willing to work for it.

How would you describe your sound?
The hardest question! When I try to describe it to someone who has never heard, I say things like “it’s dark… emotional… soulful… melodic… sad… slow… intense…” haha. I have no idea. What emerges when I write is its own beast that I’m still trying to get to know for myself.

When are you most comfortable?
In my bed. I love my bed. I do my best work in bed. I have written so much of my music in my bed. It’s when I'm the most comfortable and disarmed, and also the most inspired. It’s like a portal to the dreamworld. I love my dreams and want to get as close to them as possible.

What are you listening to at the moment?
Somei Satoh, Tzusing, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Himukalt, the new Khanate record, lots of operas and art songs, and minimal techno when I run.

 If you could be an animal what would you be and why?
This may sound cliche but I love wolves. I love my dog. I would love to understand her better. I think wolves are beautiful creatures - they’re solitary to an extent but also quite dependent on their pack. They are stealth and graceful but also very powerful if provoked. I feel that.

Favourite alpha60 purchase?
WOW! Hardest question, because I have so many treasured Alpha60 pieces from over the years. I’ve been wearing Alpha60 since 2012! I have a long quilted jacket that I’ve worn to death, but now these new crinkled cotton pieces might be my new favorite. I’m such an Alpha60 fan girl, especially the way texture is used in pieces. Also I live in my Sana Knits… they are travel essentials.


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