Photos of Dirty Fences show at Shacklewell Arms, London. The Brooklyn's band combines the meaty riffs of Redd Kross and Johnny Thunders with the catchy melodies of The Ramones, giving it their own twist. Her third album, Goodbye Love is out on 27th October via Greenway Records.
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Known for her futuristic look and for combining noise-punk with alternative pop, often adding electronical, classical, industrial and goth to the mix, Zola Jesus has been one of the most creative and experimental musicians of the last decade.
After the more polished textures and the almost poppy melodies of 2014’s Taiga, for her 6th album Okovi, the American singer-songwriter goes back to the fierce immediacy and the gothic atmospheres of her early work. Written in her native Wisconsin forests, where she recently moved back to, the album is a beautiful, and profound meditation on loss and reconciliation, following a number of personal tragedies in Zola’s life over the years.
I caught up with her to discuss the making of the new album, going back to her first label Sacred Bones, David Lynch and returning to the woods.
Stylistically, Okovi is quite a departure from your previous record Taiga as it represents a return to your early work, but at the same time it is also a step forward. Was that a conscious decision?
I didn’t really think about that, I just intuitively felt that I needed to make a record that was cathartic, more atmospheric and had different shapes of the difficult journey I had been doing for the last couple of years.
What was the biggest difference in terms of writing and recording with Taiga and your other previous albums?
This time, I really tried not to second-guess myself like I had done for my past couple of records, just letting the songs fall out and not trying to change them too much. With Taiga, I just wanted more to do the things the right way, I wanted it to feel like an established process, but with Okovi, it was much more intuitive and much more based on feelings than on the brain. This time, I just tried to turn the brain off.
You used the guitar for the first time on this record. Are there any other particular instruments featuring on the record that you hadn’t used before?
No, the biggest difference is the guitar, which appears throughout the whole record, and then string quartets, but I had used those before.
Did your long-time collaborator Alex DeGroot produce this album too?
We co-produced it. I produced the bulk of the record, as I produced and wrote at the same time, and then at the end I brought Alex in to tidy it up and make it feel cohesive. He is very technical and just brings a different side to the music.
The new record also features contributions from WIFE, cellist Shannon Kennedy and percussionist Ted Byrnes. Will any of them be touring with you as well?
No, they just helped me for the record. For this tour, Alex [DeGroot] will be playing guitar, and Louise Woodward viola.
Lyrically, Okovi is a dark album that explores the themes of death and the loss of your loved ones. Did that come from a personal experience?
Yes, it did. The songs were written during a very difficult period for myself and those around me, and I was selfishly using the songs for myself, to work through things. I also used some of the songs to communicate with the people I care about, as I felt that was the only way to reach them. For that reason, a lot of the songs on the record feel very fragile.
The new video for “Exhumed” reflects those dark thoughts too. How involved did you get in the making? I always get very involved. It was just me and the director Jacqueline Castel together. We established the concept together, then she came out to my land in Wisconsin and we just ran around and shot it.
“Okovi” is a Slavic word for “shakles”. In general, do you think you are chained more to material things or impalpable things like death and love? If anything, I think I am more chained to emotional things and my mind, rather than material things. It is more inner things that I sometimes feel I am imprisoned by.
What prompted you to go back to your original label Sacred Bones?
Just before this record came out I missed working with them, so I felt it was the right thing to do. Mute Records [who released Taiga] was fantastic, but for this record I just wanted to work with people I knew very well.
On the 8th September, Sacred Bones will also release a Stridulum LP, which collects the previously released Stridulum and Valusia EPs (both from 2010) together as one volume. What made you decide to re-release them at the same time as the new album?
I think it just worked that way. We wanted to re-release Stridulum because it has been quite a few years now and it is still an important record to a lot of people.
You've talked about your musical and literary influences many times before, but when was the last time that visual art had a strong impact on your work?
When I was making this record I was very inspired by the work of the visual artist Jesse Draxler, and I would print out his images and place them on my wall in the studio. So when I came to the album art, I contacted him and asked him to do it. So that is a full circle.
You have collaborated with David Lynch and John Carpenter in the past. What influence have they had on your music?
think their vision is individually very singular and very environmental, because when you watch their movies you feel immersed in them and that is very inspiring to me. I like the idea of allowing people to dip into something they normally wouldn't.
Have you watched the new Twin Peaks series by the way?
Yes, and it is very good.
How does your strong visual presentation and your somehow futuristic style relate to your music?
It is all part of the same impulse. The music that I make is coming from an idea, a world that I want to explore, and also the clothes that I wear, the way I move, the house I live in, everything is part of that. I am very sensitive to environments, so I like having control on them as much as possible
You recently moved back to the North Wisconsin woods where you are originally from. Where do you see yourself in 10 years, still living there or back in a city?
I will be there forever. I see myself isolating more and more probably.
Last year you headlined the Melbourne Music Week singing along a string quartet, as you had previously done at the Guggenheim. Is it something you think you are going to explore any further in the future?
Yes, I love strings, I love classical instruments and I am really inspired by the idea of maybe one day writing up something. I just like to explore the classical world and take the bits that I like from it and leave the rest, but it feels like my world as well, just a different part of it.
I think this was the longest gap you had had in between records. What were you up to over the past 3 years, apart from working on Okovi?
I was pretty depressed at the beginning, so I wasn’t writing very much. I was watching movies, reading books, then I moved back to Wisconsin, started building my house, but mostly I was just trying to give myself time to live, because you write an album, then you tour and you forget you are a human being, you become a gipsy in a way, so it has been important to me to give myself more time to live outside of the music.
Okovi is out on 8th September via Sacred Bones Originally published on London in Stereo
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Every time someone mentions Tommy Stinson, I can’t help but immediately think of The Replacements, one of the most iconic bands of the ‘80s alternative rock, and definitely one of my all-time favourites. But there is so much more in the curriculum vitae of this talented American musician, who after the break-up of The "Mats" in 1991, went on forming Bash & Pop for just one record (Friday Night Is Killing Me) and subsequently Perfect, then among other things, played bass in Guns N Roses for almost two decades and Soul Asylum for seven years, as well as releasing two fantastic solo albums in between.
Following the 2013-2015’s Replacements reunion tours, when Stinson realised that he and the band’s frontman Paul Westerberg weren’t going to make another record together as they (and we) were hoping, he decided to revive the short-lived (but well-loved) Bash & Pop, and put out the brilliant Anything could Happen. While the line-up has completely changed from the original, the new album is just about as good, and every bit as much rock n roll fun, as their minor classic from the '90s.
Stinson and I caught up before the band's London show at the Garage and we discussed the making of the record, the new line-up, Johnny Thunders, and the comparison between The Replacements, Guns N Roses and Soul Asylum.
What made you decide to resurrect Bash & Pop more than twenty years later?
I was going to make another solo album and I had initially recorded some songs with Cat Popper [Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Jack White] on bass, Frank Ferrer [Guns N’ Roses] on drums and Luther Dickinson [The Black Crowes, North Mississippi Allstars] on guitar, but then I realised that it was becoming a band record more than a solo record. And when I played some of the songs to some friends, they all thought that it sounded similar to the first Bash & Pop album, so I decided to call it that.
But now Cat, Frank and Luther are not in the band anymore and you recruited new members, right?
Yeah, the current line-up is Justin Perkins on bass, Joe Kid [Sirois] on drums and Steve Selvidge [The Hold Steady] on guitar. They actually all helped make two thirds of the record.
So, was the writing process a collective effort or were you still the main songwriter?
I wrote the core of the songs and that freed me up from having to work with many apps. When you make a solo record you are playing different instruments, producing, doing everything by yourself and it gets a bit tedious, so my idea to get a band was to free me and be able to just play guitar, sing and write.
Was the album recorded live, like the way it used to be in the ‘80s?
Yes, as much as we could do live without losing the fidelity. You miss a little bit of that in doing it that way, but in the home studio that I have in Hudson, NY it seemed like the best way to do it.
And you recorded it entirely in your studio?
Yes, with the full band. Everyone crammed in a 15 x 80 square feet room.
You launched a PledgeMusic campaign to fund the album, so I am assuming the deal with Fat Possum Records came about later?
No, it came about before actually. I had essentially invested my own money in making the record when I started it, paying the musicians out of my pocket, so the Pledge campaign was mainly to help offset the costs that I put, but also to promote it, as Pledge is good for that too.
To commemorate the resurrection of Bash & Pop, your old label Sire/Reprise also released your first record Friday Night Is Killing Me on vinyl for the first time ever. How does it feel to go back to those songs so many years later?
It is actually not that strange as since I made that record, I have done lots of those songs live when I was touring solo, but it is good to go back and it is good that people like the songs on that album.
Most of the new songs are very upbeat musically, but the lyrics are more about feeling down and getting fucked up. How does that contrast between music and lyrics work for you?
I try to take uncomfortable situations and have fun with them, and that is what this record does. There is a lot of fun in the sadness of these songs. But that is how I have always written, from different perspectives, I am not first, or second or third person, I am a bunch of people, and I put them together like a composite kind of thing.
Is it true that some of the material that ended up on Anything Could Happen was originally written to be included on a possible new Replacements album that never came into fruition?
We tried to record a couple of times, but we just couldn’t figure it out, we couldn’t get it right. I had only recorded a couple of tracks of this album with Paul [Westerberg] in them, but when it became apparent that we weren’t going to make a record, I started cutting tracks. But yeah, I began working on Anything Could Happen while I was still touring with The Replacements.
Are you and Paul still in touch?
We send each other texts once in a while, and we speak on the phone, but it has always been like that. We call each other when we need a goofy chat about something stupid.
What is your fondest memory of playing in Guns N Roses?
It probably doesn’t have anything to do with the gigs as much as it does with what happened around it. The first time I went to Greece with them it was pretty awesome. I only had one hour of time to see the things I wanted to see like the Acropolis, so I just went on a taxi and got to see them all.
You have been in three huge bands, Guns and Roses, The Replacements and Soul Asylum. How would you compare the dynamic between band members in all three of them. To me they have always seemed bands centered around a frontman with a very strong personality.
To be honest with you all three singers were geniuses in a different way and they also had the same troubles as one another. They are very comparable in many ways, both good and bad. It’s hard for me to compare them without calling them out and I don’t want to do that.
I wouldn’t want you to do that either…. I was more talking about your role in those bands, the dynamic between band members and somehow how it felt for you not be the frontman.
It made me not want to be a frontman in a band! Seriously, to do that you need to be a role player. It helps everyone if you do the job that you are supposed to do as a musician, which is playing music, and everybody has to keep their heads down to do that. I have been good to be the team captain in a way in my past life, and I think that is probably the best thing I can do.
You are going to be very busy this summer, as you are also starting your tour with Cowboys in the Campfire soon.
Yes, I am going home, then I am starting with Cowboys in the Campfire, then I am going out with the Psychedelic Furs in September and October. I am going to be busy as long as I can be busy. I had a bump in the road and because of some personal things going on with my ex-wife, I had to take myself off work to take care of my kid for a while. But now mum is back in action and taking care of the kid, so I am going to work a lot to catch up.
You moved from Los Angeles to New York in 2011. Where do you think you fit in more?
I like where I live. Manhattan I can’t take, there are way too many people, and L.A. is a little too spread-out. I have the best friends in the world in L.A. from living there for twenty years, but I think I now found my home in Hudson, NY.
Last year you played that Johnny Thunders' L.A.M.F. show. What influence do you think he has had on your music?
Paul [Westenberg] was a huge Johnny Thunders and the New York Dolls fan, so I became one as I was learning about them. And I think there is a part of Johnny in all of us and I don’t mean that figuratively. Most of the punk rockers and the musicians I know have been his fan at some point or another. There is a sort of intrinsic beauty to Johnny that everyone takes away, as fucked up as the guy was.
What is the weirdest thing you have in your house?
A fortuneteller machine. You put a corner in it, push a button, and it tells you your future and it is different every time. Based on your algorithm of the day [laughs]
Where did you get it from?
I got it from a place called Out of the Closet, which is a nonprofit secondhand store selling items whose proceeds are used to buy Aids patients food and things like that.
What is the most embarrassing record you have ever bought?
I don’t have many guilty pleasures that I bought…. Actually maybe Dexys Midnight Runners!
"Anything Could Happen" is out now on Fat Possum Records Originally published on London in Stereo
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