Zola Jesus Talks Okovi, Family and Fashion

Zola Jesus wearing Barbara i Gongini

Zola Jesus is a full-fledged artist in every aspect of her life. Her daily life consists of music, mental health, family and fashion. All of which, are fueled by her dedication to leading a thoughtful, holistic lifestyle. From the beginning, she has put her innermost thoughts out for the world to see even when it was difficult, as a way to work through the hardships she was experiencing. Her wardrobe follows suit; which she also uses as an outlet to project who she truly is and what she believes in. This calm cohesion she surrounds herself with is what truly brings life to her work.

Since the release of your previous album Taiga, you’ve moved back into the woods of your home state Wisconsin. How has that influenced Okovi?

Moving back home had a profound influence on my sense of calm and place in the world. It allowed me to settle down and focus on the aspects of life that are truly important to me. Before, when I was living in cities and far away from family, I would easily lose touch of what my own priorities were. Instead, I’d get sucked into a vortex of societal pressures and anxiety. The woods make me feel very connected, not only to myself but to the world at large. I also spend a lot of time with my family now, and because of that, I ended up taking on a lot of their pain and struggles for my own. All of this distilled into the music I was writing for Okovi.

Zola Jesus wearing Sharon Brunsher
Zola Jesus wearing Sharon Brunsher

The name of this album – Okovi – is a Slavic word translating to shackles. Is there anything you feel shackled to? 

Personally, I feel shackled to my mind. I easily get in the way of myself, and become my own worst enemy. I also tend to feel shackled to the fate of the world. I have a tendency to try to control outcomes, and it becomes dangerous and heartbreaking when I realize I am ultimately powerless to the path that unfolds before me. Every day I have to actively fight against letting my own demons get the best of me.

I feel like the lyrics of Okovi are your heaviest yet, covering subjects such as depression and suicide. How did it affect you writing about these subjects? Was it therapeutic for you, or more of a combative experience to go through?

It was definitely a therapeutic experience, even though I would cringe at times realizing what I had just written, haha. Oftentimes I write automatically and then only after do I look back and try to make sense of what I’m trying to work through emotionally. It makes the writing process very healing but extremely difficult.

I was personally very taken by the songs Exhumed, Witness and Siphon. What inspired these songs?

Exhumed was initiated by my own depression. I had written it as I was working through a lot of rage. Witness and Siphon were written about my uncle who attempted suicide multiple times last summer.

How was it to share these intimate songs live on stage?

It’s more challenging than I thought. It kind of feels like an exorcism on loop… every night I go through the same pain and sadness and emotional catharsis… in the end I’ve found it to be very healing, though. For better or for worse, I am very sensitive to my environment. So I try to live my life in a holistic nature; down to the food I eat and the clothing I wear and the bed I sleep in. So, my music project is an extension of that, and everything surrounding it has to feel in tandem. It’s very hard for me when things feel incongruous.

 

Zola Jesus wearing Lyleu
Zola Jesus wearing Lyleu

Does your work influence your personal style? Or perhaps the other way around?

It’s all coming from the same muscle!

What do you try to communicate with your choice of clothing? 

Really, the goal is to seamlessly connect all the discordant aspects of my inner self and use clothing as an externalization of that. Not to get too heady or philosophical! But clothing is so important to me, because we are lucky to have the choice to choose what we put on our bodies. I take that seriously. I want what I wear to strengthen my inner self, and to project that power outward. There is nothing worse than feeling like what you are wearing is weakening you, or doesn’t match who you feel you are on the inside.

 

Zola Jesus wearing Sharon Brunsher
Zola Jesus wearing Sharon Brunsher

Okovi: Additions, the brand new Zola Jesus LP, features four previously unreleased songs intended initially for Okovi, paired with four remixes by various artists. The LP drops everywhere on April 6th and is currently available for pre-order via Bandcamp.

Additionally, Zola Jesus is on tour with Alice Glass this spring, with dates and tickets available at zolajesus.com.

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