For our new SPEX series artists give an insight into their personal playlists. Today: Zola Jesus – with nine songs that served as an inspiration for the sounds of her new album Okovi.

On occasion of her new album Okovi Zola Jesus shares nine songs: Some of them, Zola Jesus discovered through her opera studies, some others have longer been a source of inspiration to her. As part of our new online series artists will give an insight into their favorite tunes and videos.


Maria Tanase
„Cand O Fi La Moartea Mea“

Maria Tanase is considered the „Romanian Edith Piaf“. Her voice is very deep and extremely emotional and beautiful. In this particular song, the lyrics go like this: „When I’m buried six feet under / will you be smiling?“ It’s just stuff like that: heart-wrenching and so macabre. I’m just really interested in Eastern European music of that style.


Le Mysteres Des Voix Bulgares
„Kalimankou Denkou“

It’s a Bulgarian female choir piece. I’m so obsessed with it and it is always inspiring me and my new record as well. „Kalimankou Denkou“ has such beautiful harmonies and the singing is very stimulating: the voices are bright, but at the same time big and projecting. It’s a truly forceful song. I love the intensity of it. Some songs I wrote tend to be quite in the spirit of this, where I’d layer a bunch of my voices all stack together to imitate the quality of a Bulgarian female choir.


Olivera Katarina
„Djelem Djelem“

Katarina is a Serbian actress and singer. “Djelem Djelem” is a famous Romani song that is about the plight of the gypsies. It’s really sad, but extremely beautiful. I was interested in a lot of this type of music lately, as it’s so dark, but still so wonderful. I don’t want so say it’s folk music, I’d rather say it’s music indigenous to those parts of the world. “Djelem Djelem” is just bracing.


„Free From The Bondage You Are In“

I’ve been listening to a lot of Biosphere and ambient music for the past couple of years. What inspires me is how environmental and textural it is. This song is on the album Departed Glories and is inspired by Polish folklore and so got that same thread of Slavic folkloric musicality. It has such a broad sound that it feels more like a dream. The song itself is pretty short, but if you listen to the whole album, it becomes part of the journey of Departed Glories, it travels in and out of that sound, going into bigger and smaller moments of it. To me, this Biosphere album links to all the things I’ve been inspired by. 


Henry Purcell
„Dido’s Lament“

This baroque aria is from one of Purcell’s operas – and it’s just so heartbreaking. It’s all about dying. The alternate title of it is „When I Am Laid In Earth“. The thing I like about that song is that it’s just a lament. It’s very melancholic, very sad. A lot of the songs on my new album are laments in their own way, I think. They’re grieving, maybe not necessarily addressing physical death, but other types of death. I love it since it has been inspiring me so much. It’s one of the songs I sing, because I still study Opera. That’s where I learned it.