While living in Seattle, Zola Jesus (known off-stage as Nika Danilova) experienced one of her most challenging periods of depression and anxiety, which she has lived with most of her life. Aware that something in her life needed to change to remedy her mental state, she decided to return to her hometown of Wisconsin.

She took on the task of building her own home in its woodlands and found comfort in being surrounded by her family again. However, as her own suffering began to lift she discovered that the people she loved were suffering too, and in some cases, contemplating death. "Death, in all of its masks, has been encircling everyone I love, and with it the questions of legacy, worth, and will," she admits.

Her only response to what she found in herself and those she loved was to write new music. Okovi, meaning 'shackles' in Slavic, is an album containing intensely personal and emotionally urgent songs, in which we hear the artist examine the experience, resistance and acceptance of loss.

Two ideas you wanted to get across with the title and this music is how we are bound to certain things or ideas in life, as well as how people often have a debt to pay in their lifetime. Has this always been your outlook on life or is it related to what has happened for you in recent years?

I think it's something that I was raised to feel, especially the latter where you're here and you have a duty. I grew up with a really strong sense of work ethic from my parents. Life is so much more about sacrifice than it is about anything. I've also struggled with depression and anxiety my entire life. I've felt chained to something in one way or another. I've never really felt free from myself or from illness. I've always to some degree felt this way but I haven't put a word to it until recently.

Was the music on this album a way of coping with what was happening?

I was using music as a catharsis, more than any other time that I've written because I had so much that I needed to digest emotionally so the songs were utilities in some ways.

It's interesting how the threat of illness, or in more extreme cases, death itself, can kickstart people's fight-or-flight response. Did what was happening for you personally make you re-evaluate things in your own life?

Definitely. I was going through my own very difficult period while making this album. As I started to get better, I noticed that people around me were suffering in their own ways. In helping them deal with their demons, it allowed me to come to terms with my own. When someone that you care about is depressed and you're trying to convince them to stay alive, you're also convincing yourself to stay alive. It felt very universal. What I was going through was the same thing the people around me were too simultaneously.

Why did you move back into the woods in Wisconsin?

I was living in Washington in Seattle for several years and it during that time I was sad. I wasn't sad because I was living in Washington but I was very far away from the things that ground me. I decided to move back to Wisconsin because this is where my family is – it is the last place where I felt free. The innocent form of connection to the world. I feel more connected to the world being away from society than I do being in it. When I'm in a big city I'm overwhelmed and confused. Moving back to the woods was a nice way to stabilise.

Was this your way of finding comfort during your difficult time?

I felt like something needed to change in my life. I needed to firmly plant roots somewhere and I needed to do it in a place where I had a support system and people around me that I love and that was Wisconsin.

You worked with Alex DeGroot who mixed Stridulum II and has been a part of your live band for many years and returned to Sacred Bones to release the album. Was it important to work with people you trusted to delve into these issues and emotions?

I had a bunch of people who I could've worked with but I didn't want to get to know somebody because the music was such an emergency for me. I needed to get it out and make it honest and I didn't want to have battles with people that I didn't know. Alex is an incredibly skilled and talented mixer, producer and engineer. I also know that he respects me and knows exactly what I want. Sometimes I have to go through war just to feel like the people I'm working with understand that this is a vision. I couldn't have made this record without him.

Sacred Bones is my home – it's my family. Again, with this record and the way that I'm feeling about my music, I didn't want to feel unsupported. I know that no matter what I do, I could make a total noise record or an opera and Sacred Bones will always love and support it. That's really important, especially in 2017 when it's becoming harder and harder to be supported. You need to find the people that support you and stick by them forever.

Since Alex worked with you on Stridulum II, was it ever an idea to capture the essence related to that record?

I didn't want to go back to Stridulum II because I feel like I'm so much better as producer, songwriter and musician but I miss the very early days of when I made music. The less I knew about music, the freer I felt when writing it because everything felt new. I wanted to have that sense of discovery and liberation. Letting songs trail off and transform without feeling like they needed to be a certain thing. Sometimes the more clever you are, the less clever you are!

The first song you released from the album was 'Exhumed'. It's a brash, industrial-sounding introduction to the album. Was this a song born out of frustration?

Definitely! It came from a feeling of frustration, anger and resentment.

It is one of the most abrasive singles of your career, yet the album is more diverse than that, with some of your most ethereal songs to date. How do you hear the record?

I think it's more sad than harsh. I'm covering a lot of ground on this album emotionally. It's not so much that I wanted to make an abrasive record, I just wanted to make a cathartic record. Every song served a purpose for me emotionally which came out in different ways. For me, it's a very sad record but it was also very cleansing to make it.

Did you want to move away from the more pop-driven songwriting of your previous album Taiga?

I didn't really think about perception. I just didn't have the capacity or freedom of being in a place where I could think about that. It's just not part of the conversation for this album. It was purely catharsis.

It was just about getting through. Were there any specific reference points in writing the music?

There was this movie Begotten that I really, really attached myself to when making this album. I had it on repeat when I was writing. Also, the movie Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky. There was a slew of movies that I had on repeat which were my visual escape. I was listening to a lot of Eastern European folk music and feeling drawn to primitive musical expression but nothing was blatantly inspiring.

Can you tell me about the song 'Soak' which you also released ahead of the album?

I had written the music and as I was writing the lyrics I wasn't really thinking about a concept. While I was writing the words, I was thinking of the mindset of the victim of a serial killer. Putting myself in the mind of that person and what they're going through and what it must be like to have your life stolen from you. Truly stolen from you; you don't get to choose how it ends or why it ends this way. Everything flashes before you and that feeling of frustration and hatred. When I put myself in this position that hatred was transforming into guilt and sadness for the killer. You're simultaneously trying to take control of the situation but also connecting with the killer in a way that you're letting them kill you. You're trying to have agency over those last moments of your life and letting them make the decision to take your life from you, instead of dying in complete restraint.

It is the ultimate moment of being out of control of your own body and mind.

Totally. What do you do in that situation? Sometimes I play mind games to try to think about how I would react in that situation. At some point, you just have to let it happen because there's no other way out.

The album's artwork was designed by Jess Draxler. How did you want the music to be physically embodied?

When you asked me earlier what was inspiring to me, Jesse Draxler was hugely inspiring to me when I was writing. I would look at his artwork and I'd print it out and put it up in my studio. There was something about it that felt so abstracted and perverse but also really beautiful. Every time I looked at a piece of his work, it felt like it changed or evolved. I just knew I wanted him to do the artwork because I felt that was the language. He was an unspoken collaborator. When I met him, we discovered we were both from Wisconsin, which is really bizarre. When you meet someone from your own area, you feel like you know them forever and have shared memories and grew up the same way. I wanted the music to be presented in this visceral, monochromatic and emotional way. I knew it could look primal and aggressive but still cerebral. I love this record cover because it feels like the inside coming out. It looks like the chaos around me and the chaos inside of me. It's constantly swirling around. With only the eyes visible, it feels like the eyes are the window to the soul.

'Half Life' is one of my favourites from the record. What way did you want to close this record?

Thank you because that's one of my favourite songs too. I liked the idea of closing with that song because it feels like a bath in a way after going through this whole journey. I mean it's still a very sad song written during an extremely sad moment in my life but it feels like transcendence. I thought that was a good way to leave people.

Having come through your recent experiences, do you view death any differently?

My whole life, I've constantly tried to come to terms with death and be okay with it. I am to some extent. That impending ending that is inevitable and could happen at any moment is still something that completely debilitates me at times. I think it's getting after working through everything I worked through on this album. I think it's something that will take a lifetime for me to comes to terms with – if I have that long! However long my lifetime will be.

Hopefully very long! Speaking of time, what was the timespan of writing Okovi?

A lot of the songs were written last year but there was a couple written when I was still living in Seattle.

The reason why I ask is that it sounds quite concentrated as though it could have been written in one block of time.

It's interesting because a lot of the songs were written based on different events. They were my way of working through them. Some of them are concentrated. 'Witness' and 'Half-Life' were written together and 'Siphon' was written during a very specific time.

On some songs, it sounds like you're talking directly to someone about their outlook on life.

There were certain songs that were that was my opportunity to communicate to somebody. I wrote the songs and sent them to the person because I felt like I couldn't communicate with him verbally or I didn't know how. This was my way to speak to someone. It's raw having them on the record.

Did it help?

I hope so. I think I impacted the person, I hope.

Okovi is out on September 8th on Sacred Bones.