Nika Roza Danilova: When I was living in Seattle a couple of years ago, I was really depressed and I couldn’t write. I couldn’t really do anything. I was on tour, and how I interacted with my music became very masochistic to the point where everything felt destructive in my life. I just wasn’t feeling balanced. Intuitively, I felt like I needed to move home, to find stability and actually physically find roots, because I was feeling like I didn’t have that for so long.
So I came to Wisconsin and everything started coming together. I started feeling more whole and working through the things that I was going through the past few years. But while I moved back home and was becoming healthier, I noticed that so many people who are very close to me were struggling in their own ways. It just felt like this mirror: Everybody around me was going through a shared existential trauma. So for the first time in a long time, I used music to work through all of that—as a means to let go, rather than a means to regain control.
Everything feels very new, but at the same time, it feels kind of like an ouroboros; it’s new, but it’s also very old. As you grow up, you go through life feeling like you don’t have the answers, so you’re trying all these different things to find them—and you end up feeling very lost and derailed. In the end, you realize that you knew the answer all along. You were just refusing to acknowledge the fact that it was within you since birth.
What answers have you found?
I guess “answer” is the wrong word because I don’t think I have the answers for anything, actually. But in a sense, there is a realization that in life, you don’t become anything, you just are. I grew up with such a strong work ethic—feeling like you can always be better and achieve more. My parents pushed me to be driven and determined. I’m from the Midwest, and that’s our MO here. There was always this feeling of evolution: You’re not something now, but you'll evolve to the thing you want to be in the end. But that was unhealthy for me, because it made me feel like I’ll never be able to achieve that. In a way, I am coming to terms with the fact that there is no fully-realized self. You are who you are, and that power is always within you.
Your music always feels kind of life-or-death. Did the stakes feel higher this time around?
The opposite. I feel like I have nothing to lose. What I went through with this record—I felt like everything finally opened up, having that empowerment by not caring at all [what people think]. So much of how I work as a musician is masochistic because I do feel like I need to prove something to myself, and I need to prove something to the world. I feel like I am born to fail, because I constantly feel like everything I do is failing. At this point, I’d rather fail than do nothing.
Someone very close to me attempted suicide last summer, and I was away. I was actually stranded because I was doing these writing retreats where I would have someone drop me off at a cabin and I couldn’t leave for a week. I got a call saying that this had happened and I felt powerless. I really connected with this person and I wanted to be there. That’s when I wrote “Witness” and “Half Life.” Then they attempted again, and that’s when I wrote “Siphon.” It was my way to speak to this person, because it was one of the few ways I could communicate to them. It was very hard. Thankfully they’re still here.
Did you play the songs for this person?
Yeah, they heard them last year. I wanted them to hear them. But to have the songs on the record is a different thing, because it’s so public. That person has heard the record, and they’re OK with it. They really loved the songs, but it feels very vulnerable to me. But it’s something that needs to be talked about. I don’t just want to say those words to this one person, I want to say them to everyone that’s going through this.
The title of the record is the Slavic word for shackles. What moved you towards that?
I was thinking a lot about how the person close to me who attempted suicide several times last year felt like they were stuck here—like they were a prisoner on earth, and circumstances wouldn’t let them leave. On the flip side, someone else very close to me has terminal cancer, and that person feels like they’re a prisoner to the inevitability of potentially dying very soon. They feel like they’re trying everything they can to stay here. And personally, I felt in my own way like I was chained to my mind, like I couldn’t reconcile so many things within myself, and that’s what was making me so sick inside. “Okovi” means shackles in almost every Slavic language, and I liked that because it brought so many people, and a lot of parts of me, together. My family is from Ukraine—my mother’s side is Slovenian—but it’s something that Russia and Ukraine have in common.
To me, Okovi sounds like all of these styles you’ve worked in have coalesced: noise, pop, orchestral, goth. Did you sense that happening when you were working on it?
Yeah, in a sense. So much about my past records has been trying to nail something specific. With Taiga, it was about nailing production and songwriting and making everything really slick, and knowing that I have what it takes. It was so much more about a crash course for me. I feel like I’ve never been able to fully make a statement because I’m always using my records as an opportunity to try and get better in certain areas. But now I feel like I’m getting to the point where I am fluent in all of these things, and I can finally use music as a means to communicate what I want to communicate. I produce everything—I don’t have that much help—so it takes a long time to figure it out.
Your new single “Soak” was written from the perspective of a serial killer’s victim—she knows she is going to die, so she flips the situation in her mind, and chooses to die. The context made me think of your interests in horror movies and philosophy. Where did that song come from?
Since moving back to Wisconsin, I got really into true crime. We’ve got Dahmer and Ed Gein [serial killer and body snatcher from Wisconsin] and I felt interested in their stories. I started reading about a lot of serial killers, and it insidiously made its way into me and my music. It fed my anxiety—pretty masochistically. Like, “Do you have extreme anxiety? How about you read about serial killers nonstop?”
But in reading these stories, I started thinking a lot about the victim and what it must feel like—those moments when you know you’re not going to come out of a situation alive, and that someone has just blindly decided to take your life without even having a valid reason. I just started putting myself in the mind of those—I’m going to say women, because they mostly are women—and thinking about what you would have to do psychologically to allow yourself to have peace in that moment.
In the verses, it goes, “Born into debt, line and no request/I pay what I can, but the rest I have no chance/So I pay nothing instead.” It’s like: I have an opportunity to do something, but I can’t fulfill it, so I might as well do nothing. And there’s that biting resentment and bitterness that I’m sure someone would be going through. I was feeling those same things, but towards my life—trying to find peace before I realize there’s nothing left. That’s been the turning point in my life: really trying to train myself to go, “I don’t need to have a purpose. Nothing needs to matter.” That’s what I’m working through.
Do you feel like the natural environment out in the woods has taught you anything lately?
Oh, fuck yeah. It’s so cool because you watch the forest transform. Every day I’ll go out to the same part of the woods and it’ll look different. There’ll be a new plant that comes up, or another plant will die, because everything is very seasonal. It feels like this living, breathing organism and ecosystem. At the same time, it reminds you that things die, but they come back again. And maybe they die in one way, but they’ll come back in another way. That taught me a lot about not taking things for granted, but also letting things go, because they’ll come back in different ways.
02 – Exhumed
03 – Soak
04 – Ash to Bone
05 – Witness
06 – Siphon
07 – Veka
08 – Wiseblood
09 – NMO
10 – Remains
11 – Half Life