Nika Roza Danilova, a.k.a. Zola Jesus, made her last album, 2017's triumphant Okovi, galvanized by traumatic events. A friend attempted suicide twice. Someone else close to the singer was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Danilova struggled with depression. She moved back home to Wisconsin from Seattle, where she had been living, to reconnect with her roots and re-find a sense of stability. Okovi took shape there, as Danilova twined together the various strains of her sound — goth, pop, industrial, orchestral — and grappled with her personal turmoil. Indeed, three of the album's songs, "Witness," "Siphon" and "Half Life," drew directly on her experience trying to deal with her friend's suicide attempts.
Since the issue of mental health is so close to her heart, we asked Danilova to participate in our continuing "Songs for Black Days" series, presented in partnership with Hope for the Day, in which artists share some of the music that has helped them through dark times. Below is what she offered up.
Last winter, I went through a horrible depression spurred by a major life change. As I felt like my entire world was falling apart, I couldn't really listen to any challenging/dark music because I was already so triggered with despair and anxiety. I listened to pop radio a lot. Somehow it helped ground me and keep me out of my thoughts. This song came on a lot. At first I hated it, but then I grew to become obsessed by it. Whenever it came on I felt like I could cry through the pain, but not be consumed by it. The effect it had on me was very strange. I started putting it on whenever I was feeling my worst. I would turn it up and cry and dance and sing and scream. Of course, totally alone, haha. God forbid anyone saw that. I eventually felt compelled enough to remix the song. It has a weird, very special place in my heart.
When I was younger, this was my ultimate depression anthem. To this day I put it on when I'm feeling low and want to dig into those feelings. It's exquisite.
I love listening to opera no matter how I feel, but there's something extra full-on about listening to a tragic aria when you're feeling tragic yourself. It's the height of indulgence! Maria's voice is so deeply expressive and pained, that often hearing her sing is all I need in order to feel understood in my woes.
Sometimes, I get into this level of depression that turns into a stupor. When that happens I listen to a lot of rap. I love this record because it feels kind of maniacal.
In that classic stupor, I listen to a lot of black metal, too. This Moloch record was played so much when I was feeling really lost and vacant. Sometimes I grow so numb from sadness I walk around cities at night listening to black metal on my headphones, fantasizing about finding some train tracks and following them just to see where they'll lead.
Drake, of course, is the ultimate sad boy to turn to. "Summer Games" came out at a time when I needed the song more than anything. I was experiencing something so similar to the lyrics, and the song itself was so melancholic and bittersweet. Lots of crying to this song, haha.
My depression can lead to anger, and when that happens, I'll listen to a lot of breakcore. This is a frequently played song when I'm feeling like kicking a door down.
When I'm trying to get through more difficult periods, instead of indulging in them (!!!) I'll put on Buddhist chants. The droning hums help to center my mind. Meditation really helps counteract a restless, anxious mind. And listening to singing bowls, Tibetan horns or chanting, is a really helpful tool to ground my thoughts.
Power electronics, industrial and harsh noise is all really effective music to listen to when I'm upset, angry or depressed beyond repair. The intensity and focus of aggression within this type of music is so cathartic. The Rita is great because it's so relentless.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of resources.