Under the moniker Zola Jesus, the singer-songwriter Nika Roza Danilova has cut a harrowing figure in indie-rock. Cloaked in mood and mystique, her songs beat with a dark heart and straddle the fringes of industrial and electronic music.
It was surprising, then, to hear Zola Jesus’ new album, “Versions,” which reinterprets her earlier work in a classical context resonant with strings and softer shades of her voice.
The album is a revelation, notably for the ways it forced Danilova to stretch as a singer. Ahead of her performance at the ICA this weekend, we asked her to reflect on five songs from “Versions” that challenged her as a vocalist.
1. “Seekir.” “There’s a part in the song that JG [Thirlwell, who coproduced the album with Danilova] arranged that was harmonically very different. It led me to create a different vocal melody. It was exciting because I was able to work on harmonies at the very top of my voice.”
2. “Avalanche (Slow).” “The different arrangement took so much restraint, and I had to learn restraint. I’m not the most restrained human being.”
3. “Hikikomori.” “I realized for the first time that I was singing very pretty and nice. I’ve been so afraid of singing like that because I feel like a good voice can only go so far. You need to be conveying something very cathartic, but I liked the challenge of just having a vocal that was beautiful.”
4. “Collapse.” “The first couple of takes were so indulgent. I was so excited by that point that I had this newfound voice. It was like Whitney and Mariah and Maria Callas [all in one]. But JG wasn’t such a fan and said, ‘Could you please just sing it the way that you did on the original record?’”
5. “Fall Back.” “That song is a belter, so I could finally be me again. I was in my old home territory.”
Zola Jesus, backed by JG Thirlwell and the string ensemble Mivos Quartet, performs at the Institute of Contemporary on Friday, 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $20, $18 for students and members. 617-478-3103, www.icaboston.org