When Nika Roza Danilova picks up the phone and we start the usual introductory chit-chat, this writer starts off with something like "I am really good thanks... OMG there's a double rainbow outside my window. What about you?." Nika laughs before replying "Pretty good thanks, no double rainbows though." This was the kick-start of my chat with Zola Jesus about her new album, Versions.

"Versions is all about allowing myself to actually reinterpret the songs, and approach them in a more intimate way, it's like approaching them from a different perceptive - they've been growing with me for quite a few years now." The record is all about breaking walls and overcoming fears. Nika remarks that there is no progression without destruction, as stripped-down tracks are exposed in all their minimal vulnerability: "I always felt like quite vulnerable in front of the crowd, but being very strong about it, really aggressive, and here it feels almost naked, by being really honest. It was liberating in a way of trying to move forward."

The album also allowed her to come back to her opera origins, an experience both scary and cathartic: "a couple of years ago I wasn't ready to come back to it, that I tried to escape from it. Lately I have been embracing it, and with it the expression of opera singing. I guess the focal of Versions is the beginning of that." Classical and pop mingle and clash in a never-ending waltz, influencing each other by the use of strings and synths, proving that pop and classical are closer that what we'd expect: "orchestral music used to be pop music, as it used to be what everybody used to listen to and culture-forward. Now that they have become so separate I feel like, now it is common to find orchestral and classical in pop."

Last year's performance at New York's Guggenheim Museum gave her the opportunity to do something she wanted to do for a long time. The string accompaniment was the result of a selection of an instrument that would benefit the most from the museum setting. Shortly after the performance, Nika worked hand-in-hand with experimental pioneer JG Thirlwell on new versions of selected tracks from Conatus and Stridulum II: "I was working with JG on making arrangement, and there were some songs that I really really wanted to adapt for strings, so it kind of happened organically."

When I ask her if the choice of not including songs from The Spoilt was a conscious one, she points out how that record stood out from the rest: "I think that at the end I would have put songs from the Spoilt, as it would have felt much more comprehensive. It seemed to me like it was at the same time existing in a specific place and time, and I should just leave it like that. It feel more like a really deep deep contact record, one that I can't put apart easily unless I really want to."

Despite being strongly rooted in classical music the tracks tiptoe on the avant-garde side of the genre, by engaging with multi-faceted vocals. 'Seekir' is a really good example of polyphony with a tribal kick in it: "In the original arrangement, JG arranged it in a way it'd change the melody, so we were struggling to decide what to do. Finally I just decided to adapt my voice based on the new idea, and then we built it from there by creating a melody that would work for that arrangement. It's fun because it expanded the idea of a song, and that's how the song evolved."

At the same time 'Avalanche' was given a new life, as JG had the idea of slowing down the track: "he said 'let's try to slow it down, really really slow.' First it was so slow that it was even hard to sing along to it, but then we found a compromise that worked and it just felt instantly so much heavier, so much more powerful that it really grew on me." By growing on her, the song felt the most exemplary of the record, "I was so much scared of the vocal take, because it was so heavy and rock, and when I was there in front of the microphone just thought 'oh, it's so much better' for me it felt so innate. It was something so emotional that I just wanted to keep it and the song felt very much like...it's everything I wanted the record to be."

Versions is a breath of fresh air, for both classical and pop music, taking the listener to a journey towards overcoming of fears and obstacles through deconstruction. "It was more about deconstructing them and finding the foundation, and letting that foundation breathe on its own and just proving that the songs have life. I wanted to prove myself that the songs are alive and they can stand out on their own."


Versions is released on August 19th via Sacred Bones.