Known by her stage name Zola Jesus, Nika Roza Danilova will make her second appearance at Pitchfork Music Festival this summer.

Danilova made her Pitchfork debut in 2011 and has since gone on to produce four more studio albums. Her recent release, Okovi: Additions, features remixes of songs from her 2017 album, Okovi, as well as B-side tracks that didn’t make the original album.

Rated as “Best New Music” with an 8.3 on Pitchfork, Danilova said Okovi is what drove Pitchfork to invite her back. The album captures dark emotions while inviting listeners to connect with Danilova. 

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“I would like people to feel connected in one way or another,” Danilova said. “It’s important for me that music is emotional and that it’s cathartic, not only for me to make but for the listener as well. That’s something that I hope for.”

When performing on stage, Danilova feeds off the energy the crowd gives her. She said it’s like a mirror — what they give her, she gives back. Danilova said the audience is a very important contributor to her performance, so it’s hard when an audience doesn’t give her much energy.

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The University of Wisconsin graduate pursued music while studying French. During her time at UW, she performed at various festivals and said her experiences gave her freedom to explore her passions. Though she grew up taking lessons for voice, piano, guitar and violin, Danilova shied away from studying music in college because she didn’t like the academic setting and wanted to try something completely different.

Danilova, who grew up studying opera, finds inspiration in classical music. The famous opera singer Maria Callas influenced her as a musician, but her inspiration doesn’t stop there. Unlike most artists, Danilova finds inspiration in architects, visual artists and writers. It’s the integrity of their personalities that’s inspirational, she said.

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Though her music has been described as classical, pop and goth, Danilova prefers to not categorize herself as a genre.

“I try to work outside of genre, so it’s hard to classify myself,” Danilova said. “That’s something that I think a lot of musicians strive to work outside of.”

Danilova hopes her listeners feel connected to her music and enjoy listening to her work.

Zola Jesus and is set to perform at Pitchfork Music Festival at Union Park in Chicago Saturday, July 21.