Nite Jewel: Ramona Gonzalez uses eight-track logic—and a touch of Heidegger—to craft wistful lo-fi disco.
Ramona Gonzalez’s resume overflows with creative projects, but the soft-spoken voice of LA’s three-piece experimental synth-pop group, Nite Jewel, is still just finding her legs musically. Using a self-proclaimed “technically amateur” approach—messing around on a keyboard, singing in her head, mumbling aloud until something sticks, and then hitting the record button on her portable eight-track cassette deck—Gonzalez creates music that alternately evokes doe-eyed innocence and dark sensuality.
“I think that the process is the product for me right now. I don’t really have a sense of how things are going to turn out yet, in terms of writing songs. I’m not that mature in the process, where I have a vision in mind and am able to execute that vision—but I think that’s good. Once you start having in mind the product, you might start to get more self-conscious,” says Gonzalez, who recently added a “really nice” computer with Logic to her set-up, yet still favors her old eight-track ways. “Logic makes you extremely finicky and picky. You start concentrating on things that don’t matter,” she notes. “It’s not equivalent to my emotional or spiritual process in writing a song, so that’s kind of problematic for me.”
As the decidedly muddled words woven through Nite Jewel’s debut album, Good Evening, demonstrate, Gonzalez isn’t exactly aiming for lyrical clarity. The slurred phrases of many songs, such as “Heart Won't Start,” could be mistaken for some language other than English. With her vocal levels mixed to match the surrounding instrumentation, Gonzalez melts songs like “Artificial Intelligence” and “Weak for Me” into blushing, breathing piles of soft coos, synths, and drum-machine beats. She took voice lessons and worshipped microphone diva Lisa Lisa growing up, but, when it comes to her own material, she leaves the dry vocals for “people who can really, really sing—like Maria Callas.” Instead, she treats her voice like a second keyboard, running sweetly atonal modulations through a favorite dark purple Johnson analog delay pedal—a carryover from her days playing in rock bands in the Bay Area. The effect enshrouds her words in a “muddy, crazy, uncontrollable” gauze that Gonzalez loves. “There are people who are very talented with conceptual writing; they can write about a movie or some imaginary universe they’ve created—but me? My lyrics are pretty personal. For this album, there was just a lot of detritus spewed and I didn’t necessarily want to subject anybody to that,” she says.
Gonzalez moved from New York to Los Angeles three years ago to attend the philosophy program at Occidental College, but the change of scenery also marked the start of her ongoing relationship with Tiny Creatures, a now-defunct gallery run by artists Jason Grier and Julia Holter in LA’s Echo Park neighborhood. The gallery was an early home for Gonzalez’s poetry, performance art, and audio and video installations (including a typewriter exhibit based loosely on the philosophy of Martin Heidegger). It was also host to many of Nite Jewel’s first performances.
Gonzalez became ensconced in a small artistic community of people “making music very quietly in the recesses of Los Angeles at their own pace, on their own dime”—Ariel Pink, Geneva Jacuzzi, Gonzalez's husband Cole M.G.N. (also a guitarist in Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti), and current bandmates Emily Jane (formerly of The Bubonic Plague) and Corey Lee Granet. Gonzalez and her friends performed an eight-hour experimental composition on a rooftop, presented impromptu keyboard-accompanied cookbook readings, and crafted art out of words, alcohol, video, song, and dance.
Meanwhile, the danceable lo-fi sound of Gonzalez’s Nite Jewel project has placed her alongside artists such as Deerhunter, Telepathe, and members of the Italians Do It Better family in larger clubs and venues. Gonzalez would just as soon stick to the small art spaces where Nite Jewel first dipped its musical paintbrush. “Galleries are smaller, have books or art on the walls, and absorb more of the sound—it sounds a bit more muffled, which I like,” she says.
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