It wasn’t a Christopher Robin childhood, exactly. But Nika Roza Danilova did grow up on a 100-acre wood in Merrill, Wis., surrounded by deer, bears and even wolves.
“There was a lot of space, obviously, and the forest was just an extension of my home,” says the 22-year-old, who now performs as the ethereal electronic artist Zola Jesus.
“So I would always go there to play and explore, without the distractions of pop culture — I’d just use my imagination instead. Which is why I liked to sing so much, because it was something I could do anywhere.”
From her game-hunting father, the country girl also learned what to do if the grid goes down. “The mentality of my family has always been one of being self-sufficient, and survivalist in a very animalistic way,” says Danilova, who appears Tuesday at the Independent backing her new sophomore set, “Conatus.”
Her training didn’t concern simple camping, either. “It was more about how you can survive if anything bad does happen — these were just the things I was raised to know,” she says.
Naturally, Danilova fears nothing. But Zola Jesus (named for Emile Zola) is a different matter.
“The most terrifying thing that I could face is an audience,” she says. “Because when you’re put on a stage, the audience expects to receive something. I grew up singing to myself and writing music for myself, and it was very personal and intimate.”
But sharing these private thoughts in concert? “That expectation is just overwhelming,” she says.
Danilova — whose deep, operatic trill echoes vintage Siouxsie Sioux — ran into some existential difficulty composing Gothic new confessionals like “Seekir,” “Skin” and “Collapse.”
The process proved so overwhelming, she penned the cut “Hikikomori” about its one upside — being safely ensconced in her Los Angeles home-studio fortress. “I felt like nothing I did was good enough, but at least I could be at home and feel that sense of peace,” she says.
Eventually, the ex-philosophy student realized that she had been overly self-critical.
“But you ask yourself, ‘What is your impulse, your release, and is it worth contributing to the world?’” she says. “Having faith in that impulse took a long time for me.”
Once ebony-garbed, she sees “Conatus” as gray/ivory in tone, so Zola Jesus often wears white these days. Recording in her apartment did have certain drawbacks, though: “My neighbors could hear everything I was doing,” Danilova says. “I’d go down to get the mail, and they’d say, ‘Are you in a band?’ or ‘That song sounded really good.’ It made me realize how much I miss living in the country!”
IF YOU GO
Where: The Independent, 628 Divisadero St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Contact: (415) 771-1421; www.ticketfly.com