Illuminations prides itself on connecting the right artists with the right venues.
A London-centric event, the team behind Illuminations have truly excelled themselves this year. A host of shows are taking place across the capital, featuring everyone from Josh T Pearson to Micachu & The Shapes.
This Saturday (November 7th) Zola Jesus is set to perform in Islington Assembly Hall, joined by revered producer Blanck Mass. It's an appropriate pairing, and the ideal opportunity to soak up Zola Jesus' brooding yet always inquisitive music.
Beginning to see beyond recent album 'Taiga', the American artist has completed a number of international dates alongside remixing legendary film director/synth auteur John Carpenter.
Clash couldn't resist the opportunity to pose a few questions ahead of her Illuminations date.
- - -
- - -
'Taiga' emerged almost a year ago – what do you feel you've learned as an artist in that time?
It occurred to me recently, that every artist or musician operates from a different drive. I asked myself what drives me to create, and I realized that it stems from a place of weakness, inferiority... the anxiety of being purposeless. When I made Taiga, I was big-eyed and full of hope, and I thought this would finally be the record that would prove my worth. But in the end, I never felt that moment of rejoice at the finish line. I just felt empty.
Now, I get it. There is no awakening. There is no moment of exhale where you go "I did it. I made the perfect record. I earned my meaning." The whole thing that keeps you going is that masochistic voice in your head that tells you you're not good enough, that you are a debt to Earth. It's a drive with no reward, yet it's the only thing that gives you any hope of feeling useful.
Has the time between now and the release given you space to look afresh at the material? Do you feel you approach the songs in a slightly different manner now, say, than you did when you first began touring 'Taiga'?
The songs have become thicker after performing them live so much... they're older now, and have been played over and over so many times, that they've started to take on a different life.
Have you found time to pen fresh songs? Are you an artist capable of working on the road, or do you need time and space apart from others to truly express yourself?
I've started working on new material, mostly in the forms of collaborations or other excuses to write. Writing on the road doesn't work. It's too jarring. And when I'm touring one record, it's hard to sit down and write another one in the hotel room. They need to exist separately.
Are you beginning to think about your next step? Are you the sort of artist who can work to a timetable, or is it more about vibe/feeling... ie when the time is right?
It's a little bit of both. A timetable helps to provide structure, which is something that is very hard to come by in the writing process. But first, I need to feel ready. For awhile I was still very stuck in the Taiga world and its ideas... but now I'm starting to venture into new concepts which will fuel the upcoming work.
You always treat live performance as something quite theatrical, as something almost distinct from the studio. How have the 'Taiga' shows emphasised this? What do you have in store for the Illuminations set?
I think the Taiga songs on stage are pretty different from the record. Not necessarily sonically, but in approach. The stage is crude... no matter how well prepared or rehearsed we are, as soon as I walk on stage I feel an electrocution, and at that point anything could happen. So, where the record was mulled over and very carefully constructed, the live show is where I can rip it apart and really let nature take over.
The supporting cast has been hand-picked – did you have a say in this?
Yes. I'm a big fan of Blanck Mass's new record 'Dumb Flesh', and was lucky to perform with him in Brooklyn several months ago. I can't wait to see him play again.
You and Dean Hurley recently remixed a John Carpenter track – how did this come about? Are you a big fan? And do you think Carpenter's work has influenced your own, in some way?
Sacred Bones put out his new record 'Lost Themes', so there was a direct connection there. Remixing John Carpenter almost feels a little sacrilegious, so at first I was very nervous about it. But I tried to put myself in the mind of an imaginary lost Carpenter film, about a human game hunter. Carpenter is very inspiring as a filmmaker and musician... his work is visceral, yet elemental. He seems to tap into the purest form of an expression, cutting all the fat.
You've often spoke of being inspired by visual arts and cinema, is there an innately visual quality to your music? Do you describe music in visual terms, say, when in the studio?
It's hard to separate the music from the visual, because ideally the music is part of this bigger, more tangible world. Being a musician is kind of like being a blind film maker... you're forced to have to express narrative, emotion, and sweeping landscapes only through sound. Of course, I'm not making film music, but sometimes that's where the inspiration is born. Or, being inside a magnificent building, and wondering what sound would it make. Music will always exist in tandem to the world around you, you can't experience it in a vacuum. At least with a visual component, you can control the sensorial parameters that help set the reality for the music.
Are you attracted to film score work? Is this something you would consider?
Very much. I listen to a lot of film music. If the project is right, then it would be very exciting to try.
How will you be seeing out the year? Will the focus be on live shows, or are you hoping to work on something fresh?
I'm doing this short tour, and then I will begin to submerge into the unknown.
- - -
- - -
Catch Zola Jesus at Islington Assembly Hall, London, this Saturday (November 6th) - tickets.