Zola Jesus tells us about the influences behind new album ‘Arkhon’
Zola Jesus just released Arkhon, her sixth album and first in five years, which is a pleasing refinement of Nika Roza Danilova's style of operatic art pop. From our Notable Releases review: "Arkhon finds her doing what she does best, and it's also one of the most streamlined albums she's released, falling comfortably between her poppiest tendencies and her darkest, weirdest ones." You can listen to the whole album below.
We asked Nika to tell us about the inspirations behind Arkhon, which include mystical traditions, meditation, music, marijuana, and more. Read her list with commentary below.
Zola Jesus will be on tour this summer with The Cult and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and the NYC stop is at The Rooftop at Pier 17 on July 20. All tour dates are listed below.
Zola Jesus - 10 Influences Behind Arkhon
While making Arkhon, I became really interested in mystical traditions such as Gnosticism. The Gnostics believed that the world was made by a flawed god, and that the malevolent forces of the archons have led humanity astray. I feel like we’re really living in Gnostic times.
I’m fascinated by Shamanism, and think that Shamanic healing is a lost art. I think contemporary people are really suffering without it. Shamans straddle the boundary between worlds. They’re able to provide communities with a deeper healing modality that we just don’t have in the Western medical fields. Music is a major tool used by Shamans in order to help induce trance states, or even promote healing in sick patients. As a musician, I don’t take this lightly. I think of my own music as a Shamanic practice… to reach into the otherworlds in order to bring something back that can nourish and heal others. Shamans live on the outskirts of society, both a necessary part of the community while also not being able to fully function within it. I definitely resonate with that feeling.
3. Rinzai Zen
After I finished recording Arkhon, I spent some time at a Rinzai Zen monastery a couple hours from where I live. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time and figured there was no better time to deepen my practice. It was transformative to say the least, and if I wasn’t so busy I would’ve probably been back there already for even longer periods. Meditation is a doorway to divine understanding. It’s been so helpful for me as a means to calm my senses and access a universal node. Monastic life suits me. I hope to return there again soon.
On my 30th birthday I got myself a copy of The Red Book. From that day on I couldn’t go back. Jung is more of a mystic than a psychologist. He understood the impact of the unconscious as a quasi-spiritual realm that exists simultaneously and apart from our conscious self. Since I was a child I have been obsessed with dreaming. For me, dreams have always given me as much nourishment as my waking life. It’s like a whole other life I get to live while I’m asleep. Jung’s fascination with the wisdom of the dream world and altered states is so inspiring to me.
5. Eastern European Folk Music
I didn’t really listen to much music while writing Arkhon. Listening to other people’s music would just stress me out — even more so if it was contemporary. I was really intent on Arkhon being birthed out of itself, in response to nothing else. So I had to really cleanse my ears. The only thing I liked to listen to was Eastern European folk music. I think it’s some of the most powerful music out there. I love how old babushkas sing to themselves while doing random chores. Singing is really such a fundamental act. It’s what I do when I’m in a flow state - whether I’m in the studio or cleaning or pulling weeds. These folk songs provide entertainment and camaraderie, and the sound of so many strong voices together could blow a house down. I can’t get enough.
6. Dion Fortune
I was reading a lot of Dion Fortune at the time, both her fiction and non-fiction. She has a way of communicating occult ideas in such a way that is both so clear and so potent. Whether it’s in her story-telling or instructive manuals, she contains profound wisdom in her works. Much respect.
7. Egyptian Myth and Magic
The more overwhelmed I felt with the contemporary state of the world, the more I would dig into the past to remind myself of the resilience of humankind. Ancient Egypt was such a different society than ours today, but it maintained a sense of magic and reverence for something much deeper than what we can even comprehend. I became attached to the goddess Sekhmet, who is a deity of both destruction and healing. The duality of the dark and light contained within her is so magnificent. She is a totem to remind me of my own capacity for war and peace.
There have been many times throughout the past couple years where I didn’t even know how I’d make it through the day. Tarot provided a guide to help navigate my own swirling chaos. I was particularly pulled towards the Lust card in the Thoth deck. This card was an unusual choice for me, but it kept appearing time and time again, until I finally learned the lessons she was trying to teach me. Tarot is such a beautiful means of reflection and self-analysis, and when you treat your deck well it will give you so much wisdom.
After an incredibly stressful year of my life, my body began to reject itself. I was waking up with horrible chronic pain, fibromyalgia, migraines, rashes and bad stomach issues. I started smoking weed to help mitigate the pain, which it did miraculously. Cannabis healed so many of my emotional and physical ailments. It also gave me permission to let go and access a childlike version of myself that I was pushing down for so long. I do think it helped me break open a lot of resistance I was holding onto. This is definitely a weed-induced record, whatever that means. Jah bless.
Maybe we live in a Gnostic world, but it will take an Animist one in order to survive it. Animism is the belief that all living things are interrelated and alive. Living in the woods, I began to develop a personal relationship with the land. I feel like I’m a part of it as much as the trees and fungus and animals and bugs. We are all working together to sustain ourselves collectively. The magic of life emerges when you pay attention to all the spirit around you. We need to exit our human supremacy and embrace the truth, that we are simply one part of a greater ecosystem that requires our participation to maintain the delicate balance of inhabitability.
ZOLA JESUS TOUR DATES:
7/8/2022 - St. Paul, MN - The Palace Theater*
7/9/2022 - Milwaukee, WI - Summerfest
7/10/2022 - Chesterfield, MO - The Factory*
7/12/2022 - Chicago, IL - Riviera Theatre*
7/14/2022 - Cincinnati, OH - PNC Pavilion*
7/15/2022 - Huber Heights, OH - Rose Music Center at The Heights*
7/16/2022 - Pittsburgh, PA - Stage AE*
7/19/2022 - Washington DC - The Anthem*
7/20/2022 - New York, NY - Pier 17*
7/22/2022 - Philadelphia, PA - The Met Philadelphia*
7/23/2022 - Boston, MA - Leader Bank Pavilion*
7/24/2022 - New Haven, CT - College Street Music Hall*
7/26/2022 - Syracuse, NY - Cooper Crouse-Hinds*
7/27/2022 - Rochester Mills, MI - Meadow Brook Amphitheatre*
8/6/2022 - Los Angeles, CA - The Lodge Room
8/26/2022 - Leiria, Portugal - Extramuralhas
*With The Cult & Black Rebel Motorcycle Club