KEXP @ CMJ 2011, Day 1: Zola Jesus

photos by Brittney Bush Bollay and Victoria VanBruinisse

After releasing her debut album, The Spoils, in 2009, Zola Jesus, also known as Madison, Wisconsin’s Nika Roza Danilova, quickly became known for her deep, operatic vocals that served as the perfect compliment to her darkened, gloomy beats. Two EPs followed a year later, and in 2011 Danilova released her second full-length album, Conatus on Sacred Bones Records. While The Spoils was more noise-oriented, Zola Jesus’s recent work has been more clean-clean, bringing Danilova’s one-of-a-kind voice out from behind the distortion and into the limelight. This is a good thing. Zola Jesus stopped by KEXP earlier this year to record an in-studio performance, and “Vessel,” the first single from Conatus was one of our Songs of the Day in August – download it for free here. In addition to her KEXP performance from the Ace Hotel, presented by Toyota Free Yr Radio, Zola Jesus will be playing TONIGHT at Le Poisson Rouge in New York.

The lobby of the Ace Hotel was buzzing in anticipation of Zola Jesus kicking off KEXP’s three-day series of CMJ performances. At 10:30 am, eastern time, the diminutive, bleach-blonde Nika Roza Danilova took the stage wearing a pastel pink dress. Contrasted against a three-piece band of dark-haired males all wearing black tee-shirts, the 5’9″ Russian-American glowed like an angel throughout the powerful four-song set. The band – a stand-up drummer and two effects men – churned out Zola Jesus’s brooding, industrial beats with their heads down and bobbing rhythmically as Danilova’s soaring, throaty vocals had no trouble filling up the Ace’s cavernous lobby. They played “Vessel” to close out the set, and after Danilova finished it off with an impassioned fit of cymbal-banging, the lobby erupted in applause. “I think it’s time to eat breakfast now,” she said before leaving the stage.

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