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Friday, December 26, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 33.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
The Daily
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Zola Jesus has the buzz
Local goth star is Wisconsin's next big thing
Jesus: 'My confidence is always humbly low.'
Jesus: 'My confidence is always humbly low.'
Credit:Indra Dunis

Before last week, I'd never sent an email to a national publicist to line up an interview with a Madison musician.

But that's what I had to do to ask a few questions of Nika Danilova, who performs as Zola Jesus. The 20-year-old goth singer-songwriter has become a phenomenon in the national alternative music press. Danilova is so frequently on tour out of state or overseas, I wasn't even sure if she still considered Madison home.

She does, sort of.

"I am currently living in Madison, but am constantly traveling, so home is in the airports," says Danilova.

She'll be making a Madison appearance this Saturday, June 26, when she brings the somber melodrama of her industrial music to the Frequency.

Danilova grew up in the solitude of the rural Wisconsin woods, outside of Wausau. She was trained to sing opera. She started college at UW-Milwaukee and later transferred here. "It was nice because Madison is so small it allowed me to focus on what I had to do with no distractions," she says. "It helped reinforce my own values and what was important to me."

Danilova's musical path took a national turn following the release of her 2009 album, The Spoils. Her follow-up EP, Stridulum, was released this spring and reviewed by all the major national online indie rock outlets, including Pitchfork, Stereogum and Brooklyn Vegan. This September she is scheduled to support Fever Ray's tour in London, Paris and Glasgow.

Besides Eau Claire's Bon Iver, there's arguably no other Wisconsin-based musician currently garnering more national attention.

Danilova says she considers Stridulum "definitely cleaner" in its sonic approach than The Spoils. "It was more challenging because it was still home-recorded," she says of the new release.

The disc is dark and brooding, even when professing love. "Don't be alarmed - in the end of the night, you're in my arms," sings Danilova on the EP's opening track.  Despite the warm words, the droning music and monotone echo make for a haunting, chilly vibe.

I asked Danilova if she's felt connected to the larger Madison music scene during her time here. "The music scene in Madison is so varied and small that it is hard to create much of a network of people," she says. "But I have met some very talented artists, such as Peaking Lights, Sonmi, Julian Lynch and Burial Hex."

Danilova, who has previously confessed to having stage fright, says none of the positive national reviews has had much impact on her self-confidence.

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