Best Buy = Indie Fail

Indie Music Greed

I don’t often use the blog to rant about the injustices in the music world, but this piece of news struck me as completely ludicrous:

Recent visitors to the official Best Buy site may have noticed a link targeted to unsigned artists, informing them that they have an opportunity to have their album stocked by local stores, if they’re willing to pay–-ahem$250 to get things rolling.

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Free MP3 Download: Sonmi


This talented Madison-based duo will be opening the upcoming St. Vincent show on October 16th.  Check out a free mp3 download from Sonmi below, and pick up your tickets to Friday’s concert here.  Enjoy!

Sonmi – “Bear’s Castle”

Celebrate The High Noon’s 5th With Crystal Antlers!

High Noon Saloon

Has it really only been 5 years?!  The High Noon Saloon has been such an essential player in the Madison music scene that it’s hard to imagine a time without it!  Well, believe it or not, today marks the venue’s 5th anniversary of hosting phenomenal local, national, and international artists on its stage.

Click here to find out how The High Noon Saloon is celebrating the big five!

Media Roundup: Re-issues, Live Action and Insider Hints

What’s been going on in the world of music lately? Read on to get the scoop on your favorite artists, and start some discussion about current music-related events!


They’re back!  Or at least, they will be…once the new album’s finished.  Singer Julian Casablancas says The Strokes‘ new material sounds like it’s “trapped between the future and the ’70s.”  Interesting…

The Strokes

The Strokes

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Interview: Zola Jesus

Zola Jesus

Larkin Grimm‘s February 17th show at The Frequency will feature not one, but two Madison-based opening artists including the 19 year old SXSW bound Zola Jesus.  Her mysterious, otherworldly sound draws influence from everything from British goth rock and shoegaze to opera and modern pop.  I recently got the opportunity to sit down at the keyboard with Zola (real name: Nika Danilova) to find out more about what makes this talented local star tick.


Tell me about your early memories of music and what sort of an impact it had on you while growing up.
Music has been in my life for an extremely long time. I remember when I was 7 years old I would go to the music store and buy voice-training tapes and opera sheet music. My parents quickly picked up on my desire to be an opera singer, so they got me a vocal coach, whom I trained with for the next ten years. I wanted to be a musician for as long as I can remember. It was my princess dream.

I know you studied opera, which is certainly a unique experience. How did you get involved with that genre of music and what attracted you to it?
I’m not sure what it was. It was intrinsic, immediate. I was so young when I picked up on it. I think maybe it was my love for great vocalists, which naturally drew me to the opera.

Tell me about how Zola Jesus began.
Zola Jesus began a couple years after I stopped singing. During the hiatus I went through a really dark period; very depressed and felt a loss of self-worth. Zola Jesus was my opportunity to bring me back to what I loved. I started singing again and recording, for my own sort of catharsis… thought maybe the reason of my depression was the due to the exclusion of the one thing that was so innately passionate to me.

Do you view this as a strictly solo project or as a collective effort with your live band as well?
It is a solo project in the sense that the songs are those I have written and recorded by myself, but when my band is involved it is more about them than anything. They are the ones that keep it together and make it work. Without them I’m a total mess live.

Where did the name Zola Jesus come from?
In high school I used the name as a means to deter my peers from talking to me. And I thought it sounded poetic.

Are you full-time musician?
I wish! I go to school full-time and work two jobs. I would drop it all to pursue music full-time.

Do you find that elements of your opera training have influenced the music you make now?
Absolutely. It is all I knew for a long time. I connect with music that has really expressive vocals; oh the powerhouse! I have such a history with my voice as an instrument for the opera, it would be so hard to revoke that. I have tried in the past. Now I just embrace it.

Tragedy is a common theme in opera as well as gothic rock–what attracts you to the darker side of art?
Growing up I was introduced to bands like The Swans, Throbbing Gristle, Diamanda Galas, Lydia Lunch… they always affected me in a way that was so much heavier and honest than lighter music. I like the feeling of being disturbed, shifted, unsettled. It challenges your comfort level, which feels productive.

What other groups and artists inspire you?
Everything. The Ronettes, Brigitte Bardot, Alicia Keys, SPK, Kate Bush, Danielle Dax, The Residents, Suicide, Rhianna… I’m hit from all sides.

Even though you’ve said that you struggle with stage fright, what drives you to keep performing?
This is will be a long answer! I love performing. It’s not so much stage fright as much as it is extreme self-criticism. Having studied voice for so long, it makes you awfully self-conscious and aware of your voice. The voice is an interesting instrument because it’s so intimate. You can only do so much to change it, a lot of it you’re just born with.

Opera is so competitive, so you’re forced to criticize and be criticized about every aspect of your voice. That’s what made me give up singing for awhile. I would perform in competitions, but right before I went to the competitions I would lose my voice. I have anxiety disorder, which means my body was constantly being affected by the intensity of my study.

But performing, oh god, I love it. I’ve learned to just let go and not think so much about being right about the technique. It’s all emotion when I sing live. Let it all hang out!

Zola Jesus

I’ve heard people describe the heavy sonic layers in your music as a way for you to hide and deal with anxiety. Is this fair to say?
Yes. It’s funny, you can hear me become more comfortable with every record, because the layers of fuzz are slowly removed with each release. Most of this lo-fi quality, however, is inevitable due to my recording equipment, since it’s all done at home.

How do you go about creating your songs? What’s your process like?
It takes me forever to write songs because of my aforementioned anxieties and self-criticism. So the process can be rather drawn out and frustrating. But by the end I feel… oh, I don’t know… like waking up from a really vivid, beautiful nightmare and then trying to fall back asleep to sink back into that other world… just to feel the magnetic strangeness of it all over again…

You’ve been trained as a singer from an early age, but have you always experimented with songwriting as well or is that a newer development?
I am an awful technical musician as far as songwriting goes. I’m good at coming up with melodies. It’s just hard for me to put them together because I don’t understand the songwriting process as much as I’d like. I’m working on it!

What part of being involved with music do you enjoy the most?
The connection and the catharsis. I love performing and conceptualizing and oh god, I just love it all.

Have you found it difficult to build an audience here in the Midwest, where post-punk and goth-influenced music isn’t always given as much attention as other genres?
The Midwest has made me a very strong person, which is what I appreciate in the other people I have met here. I really admire how musicians and artists come together on levels that don’t always have to do with sharing musical interests or sound. When you’re in a place that has such a little scene, you learn to connect with other people who just have like-minded passion. It makes us all so much more open-minded. I respect that.

When you’re composing songs at home, what sort of instrumentation do you like to use?
Keyboard, voice, drum machine, random household objects. That is all I know how to use!

What do you hope people will experience when they listen to your music?
I hope they will feel what has gone into it. That it’s honest and confrontational and that I mean it all over my insides.

You’re performing at SXSW this year. What’s going through your mind as you prepare for that showcase?
To play as many shows as possible, work hard, make things happen, and don’t freak out and lose my voice.

What’s next? What are you currently working on?
“Tsar Bomba” EP on Troubleman Unlimited (out VERY soon), Split with Burial Hex, “The Spoils” LP on Sacred Bones, and I’m working on my first opera!

-Shelley Peckham


Check out more from Zola Jesus:

Official site


And don’t miss her when she opens up the show for Larkin Grimm’s at The Frequency on the 17th!  Get your tickets now!

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