Technique: Zola Jesus – ‘Versions’

15.08.13

Avalanche (Slow)

Zola Jesus: JG had suggested performing Avalanche without the beats and slowing it down half speed. We tried it out at rehearsal and it was just beautiful. Recording vocals, however, took some time to figure out. The vocals on this track were some of the first takes. I wasn't pleased with how vulnerable and collapsed they felt. I knew I could sing it better, in a more operatic and supported way. But JG fought for this take. He liked the performance, how delicate it sounded. I think it works with the arrangements, though it took some time to feel comfortable with not singing at 100%. Not having every note feel like the last note I ever sing… it was terrifying, but also it feels so weightless and fragile. It really grew on me.

Fall Back
This song was originally written for a movie. I wrote it in about 30 minutes. I didn’t over-think a damn thing about it. I considered the characters in the film, but truly I was writing about my own pursuit for love. It’s about the tunnel vision you get when you know exactly what you want. The song just fell out of me. I’ve been sitting on it for three years, waiting for an opportunity to allow it to grow to the epic proportions I had in mind for it. The demo was so huge it crashed my computer every time I opened it, so I knew it was meant to live outside the box.

Hikikomori
Hikikomori is one of those songs from 'Conatus' I desperately wanted a second life for. When I heard JG’s arrangements for the song it just felt real. Before that I wasn’t sure it was really even a song. I didn’t want any of the beats or synths involved; it felt total in its purest form. It’s in moments like this song, where it can stand with just vocals and strings. That is what it was all about for me. Skeletal minimalism.

Run Me Out
Right before heading into the studio to record the vocals for 'Versions', I lost my voice. It felt like a return to the form of my past; constantly losing my voice before recitals and competitions back in my days of studying opera. The doctor couldn’t find a diagnosis as usual, but I was hellbent on regaining my voice before stepping into that vocal booth. Run Me Out was one of the last songs recorded, so as to rest my voice. The lyrics never felt more real, more desperate.

"Sea Talk started off as a grungy melancholic dirge recorded on my bed at college, and has slowly transformed into an empowering, orchestral ballad." – Zola Jesus

Seekir
JG’s arrangement for Seekir is so fun. There were some parts where the original vocal melodies weren’t working with the arrangement, but it allowed room to extrapolate on the song, and go forth towards some harmonies, even high As!

Sea Talk
I was excited to be able to use the new beat I made for my live shows in this version. This is currently the third version of this song. It started off as a grungy melancholic dirge recorded on my bed at college, and has slowly transformed into an empowering, orchestral ballad. This album is a testament to songs like this, ones that are given many opportunities to take on different shapes, while never losing the core of their intent.

Night
This is another song that was able to use the updated beats I made for the live show. After performing this song so many times, in so many countries, through so many years, it has stayed relatively the same… though my confidence in expression has really evolved. It was satisfying to hear that cut through in this track.

"I stopped in the street, totally struck.Humans often attempt to fight what makes them human, but it’s an inevitable defeat. In a way that’s sort of a relief though, right?" – Zola Jesus

In Your Nature
I wrote In Your Nature while walking down Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles thinking about the stubbornness of technique and how you’re tied to ancestry. I stopped in the street, totally struck. It was a sudden yielding. Humans often attempt to fight what makes them human, but it’s an inevitable defeat. In a way that’s sort of a relief though, right?

Collapse
Collapse was a really interesting track to re-record; it took longer than I expected. As one of my favourite songs on 'Conatus', and with a newfound sense of blazing nakedness, I was ready to attack with an amount of dynamism and expression I’ve never before allowed myself to do with this song. Though JG and I had differing ideas about what we wanted for the vocal. He wanted it to be very matter-of-fact, like the original, whereas I favored a Whitney-level vocal performance. Putting my faith in his unbending vision for the song, he won out in the end, reining me in. Though I can’t promise the Whitney won’t come out in the live show! 

Sacred Bones will release 'Versions' on the 20th August 2013.