Will Zola Jesus herald the second coming of goth?

Meet the prodigious, chocolate-covered Stridulum II singer-songwriter who "dived head first into weird stuff" from her first day in high school

Goth has played the long game. After 25 years of lurking patiently in suburban graveyards, suddenly it's all black lipstick and dry ice again. Witness the emergence of hipster goth siren Zola Jesus, AKA 21-year-old Nika Rosa Danilova – an imperious ice queen in the Siouxsie/Diamanda mould who's currently making music bloggers go weak at the knees.

Though swathed in eldritch atmospherics, Zola Jesus's songs pack a brutal, emotional punch, rendering the genteel witchery-woo of Florence + The Machine and Bat For Lashes a tad twee by comparison. Danilova worships David Cronenberg and 1970s Italian horror, but says her plangent gloom-pop is influenced as much as by Rihanna as it is by Bauhaus.

Raised in rural Wisconsin, Danilova agitated for opera lessons as a child, although she soon discovered she wasn't cut out to be the next Dame Kiri. "It was tough to have people constantly judge and criticise you for something you were born with," says Danilova of her training. "I'd scream for hours just because they told me that was the worst thing I could do to my voice."

Her older brother brought home records by the Residents and Throbbing Gristle and she dove "head first into all the weird stuff", rechristening herself Zola Jesus on her first day of high school. "I wasn't looking forward to the whole game of having to make friends, so I decided to alienate myself right off the bat and force people to call me something they were uncomfortable saying."

Having successfully shunned potential bandmates, Danilova began writing music by herself, initially on her parents' piano, then by using cheap software to multitrack her own voice over a choir of corroded synths. Last year's The Spoils seemed to align her with the ultra-hip witch house scene. However, unlike the likes of Salem, oOoOO or Mater Suspiria Vision, who prefer to remain faceless, splicing together creepy YouTube clips to enhance their mystery, Danilova has no desire to remain an enigma. "I feel like I've got a lot to say and I want to have a dialogue with the world," she says, eyes gleaming. New album Stridulum II (an expanded version of an earlier EP) underlines her fierce ambition, eschewing quasi-occultist mumbo jumbo for simple, universal lyrics about love, longing and loss.

There's a still a temptation to shock, though, as seen in Stridulum II's ghoulish cover image. In homage to the final scene of one of her favourite films, Dušan Makavejev's lurid sexploitation caper Sweet Movie, Danilova was photographed with a gallon of chocolate syrup being poured over her head. "As soon as the chocolate hit my face it got sucked into all of my orifices so I couldn't breathe. It was very uncomfortable," she admits with a hint of pride, "but it looked perfect."


Sam Richards

The GuardianTramp

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