I don’t know much about Ramona Gonzalez, the woman behind the sort of solo act/sort of band called Nite Jewel, and I kind of like it that way. The most appealing thing about her music is the mystery of it. Nite Jewel songs are kind of like looking into a foggy window: There’s clearly something worth seeing but, as an outsider, you’re never privy to the full picture, thanks to a seductively muffled sound which keeps the listener at a distance even as it reels you in with catchy grooves and gorgeous singing. Gonzalez is not coy or secretive in this interview — she’s not too cool for school — but she doesn’t give too much away, either. Perfect.
Where are you from? Introduce yourself to our readers.
I’m Nite Jewel. I was born in Oakland, CA.
You make your own beats mostly on keyboards, right?
My music making process has changed drastically over the past two years. For my first album I recorded everything on 8-track cassette and shared beat making duties with Cole M. Greif-Neill, though most everything was written and recorded on my own. On that album, I used old drum machines, samples, one microphone, a few old synths, and an SP404. It sounds pretty degraded because I also shared production duties with Cole. Now I have more equipment and am recording in a professional yet unconventional studio in Berkeley, CA on 2-inch tape. On the current recordings, Cole and I are writing and performing in tandem.
‘Weak For Me’
And you also do sound and visual type art? Talk about that a bit. Do you incorporate that into your live shows? I don’t do visual art regularly but I have done 3 sound installations and 2 video installations since moving to Los Angeles. The most cohesive piece was called “The Question Concerning Technology” and involves an old typewriter and an 8-track recording.
What about 8-track recording do you think works with what you do?
I just like tape. I like the process. I really would like 5 reels of 2 inch. Right now I’m splitting one reel and I only get 12 tracks per song.
How did that “Weak For Me” 7” come about? Why a 45? Are you into vinyl?
PB Wolf told me he needed two songs from the album for his 7″ sets. I said he could have whatever he wanted and he chose those. I am into vinyl. I’m also into downloading stuff too though. You have so much at your fingertips. I’m not separatist. I like to DJ with mp3s and vinyl.
How was your recent tour of Europe? What was the reaction overall? How is it different from American reactions?
The tour in Europe was pretty nice. Great turnouts and support in the larger cities. Very sweet people everywhere we went. We haven’t had a headlining slot on an American tour yet so it’s hard to compare.
Talk about the role(s) your band members play.
Emily plays keys and sampler. Corey plays bass. They are my live support system. They are starting to contribute little by little to the recordings, which up until this point have been mainly Cole and I.
Much of your lyrics aren’t discernable. What are your lyrics usually about? Do you care much about lyrics or is it more an addition to the soundscape?
I care a lot about language. My lyrics are about a lot of different things: personal experiences, stories about others, plays on words, philosophical dilemmas. Sooner or later you’ll be able to hear them more clearly, but never entirely. I’m not into vocals sitting on top of a mix. At least not mine, maybe Patrice Rushen’s.
How did you hook up with PB Wolf and Stones Throw?
Dam Funk introduced us after he heard “Good Evening”. PB Wolf and I became fast friends.
What’s your favorite track or tracks off that podcast you put together?
They’re all amazing, but must say I’ve been waiting to put Ed N Sted and Jeff Phelps on a mix for the public to hear for a long time.
Who you currently listening to?
Past week I’ve been listening to Roy Montgomery, Stellar OM Source, Royal House, and Regional Garland.
Have you heard that Chandra record?
That Chandra record is so good. She sounds real mature for her age. I like all the new wave females. Recently got turned onto Anna Domino. That stuff speaks to me more because it’s more elegant but still playful.
You releases have a real minimalist sound to the recording as well as the arrangements. Do you see yourself taking your music in a different, more layered direction?
I think that minimalism will become more of a choice in the future, the better I get at songwriting. I appreciate making a statement with a few elements, but I also like arrangements to be developed and not just a careless loop. I appreciate the insistent loop that created the paradigm shift for pop music (i.e. hip hop), but the current loop-dee-loop nature of indie rock is just lazy to me.
A lot of hip-hops heads are listening to your stuff and many are, in general, starting to dig for no-wave records. What do you think it is about this aesthetic that is gripping rap fans?
It’s funny, I was just discussing this because of the minimal wave obsession going on right now among my record collector friends. I can’t say for sure, but the music is beat driven, electronic and can be pretty funky at times. It has dark humor. It is often recorded with a DIY sensibility. That’s my guess.
What are some recent tracks / records our readers should check out?
I really like the song “Fortune” by Little Dragon. Pearl Harbor is killing it with all their new recordings.
Talk a bit about that upcoming Nite Funk album? How did you link up with Dam Funk? How’s the process for that album coming along?
Well, we just set a deadline over margaritas, but that’s all I’ll say for now!
Interview by David Ma, Intro by Jesse Serwer