Zola Jesus – Conatus: exclusive album stream

Nika Roza Danilova talks us through her new album, which you can listen to for free

Stridulum II by Zola Jesus was one of our favourite records of last year – a slice of cinematic, gothic-inspired pop with tunes as big as the arrangements. You can listen to the follow-up, Conatus, using the SoundCloud player below, and read Nika's track-by-track guide to the album …


There was a period in making this album where I thought it would be all instrumental, and I was obsessively churning out songs such as this one. It was so exciting to explore these soundscapes that felt like a score to all the bizarre dreams I was having.


The oldest song on this record, I reworked an old demo from the Stridulum-era. It came together really easily. It feels like walking through a snowstorm, the wind getting in your eyes and you're trying to keep walking forward but you have this invisible force pushing you back. Like running in your sleep.


This song was written in less than 30 minutes, and is one of the last songs I wrote. It feels the most vivid to me, as if finally I was able to communicate this universe that is my prison.


Written after complete emotional exhaustion. The only thing keeping me together at this point was a terrible bliss I felt from being alone. It was a way of telling myself that no matter how frustrated I was, I had this perspective of happiness knowing that at least I was in my home, away from the rest of the world I would otherwise be forced to confront.


This was born on an impulse to create a song that could be expressive without using lyrics … to create a landscape with figures that are in the distance, out of focus … but they have arms long enough to reach out and grab you with their little fingers.


I'm always on the hunt to make a perfect pop song, which you can dance to but also feel visceral emotion. Lyrically it's about the anxiety we all feel but are too afraid to confront concerning end times, like a sharp pain in our stomach when we know we're doing something wrong but we do it anyway. And then in the end, the ice shelf comes in and tries to quiet us, but we break through … or do we?

In Your Nature

I thought of the chorus while doing my daily walk from my house to the drugstore, the only chore that brought me outside. Listening to a bunch of demos while walking, I realised no matter how hard I try to break my habits in what I do, or to grow beyond my capacity, there is always this unbreakable sense about my songwriting that I will never be able to shake. No matter what I do it is never what I want to do … "If it's in your nature, you'll never win."

Lick the Palm of the Burning Handshake

Initially this song was much thicker with a lot of synths and pads, but it evolved. I ended up stripping it down because I thought it would be interesting to take a song that was built on such a grandiose scale, where everything is pushed to 11, but to starve it of it's immediate power. It still sounds pretty huge but I think at least now it has the space to create its own environment rather than suffocate.


I still don't know what I'm saying in the chorus. I love this beat, though. I wanted to create an uptempo song that had a lot of movement. I never liked hi-hats until I made this beat.


One of the first songs I wrote for the record. In the beginning I was ready to go into the studio and make a giant upbeat pop record, but really quickly I realised that's not what was in me. The only thing coming out was this kind of raw introspection, something I had no control over, but it was apparent I needed to work through it. I let the album take its own shape based on this, not forcing myself to create something that I wasn't ready to make. Writing Skin was the beginning of this catharsis, of realising what I needed to do in order to liberate myself from myself.


A song, much in the vein of Skin, that is like throwing my arms up, surrendering myself to this passion, to this record, to the people that will hear it. In the end, I have no control over anything, I have nothing. All I have is the release it allows me, and the madness it gives me in return. "And I would be nothing without your fear, because I've got no war the day it grows thin, I've got no war the day you go away. It hurts to let you in." Pretty literal. I used both synth and pump organ in this song to make a hybrid of organic and synthetic texture … flirting with both the modern and ancient expression of trance.

• Conatus is due on 26 September via Souterrain Transmissions. Zola Jesus tours the UK in November, for more details visit zolajesus.com.


The GuardianTramp

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