Nite Jewel
New Sensations
by Stephen Slaybaugh

When we first spoke to Ramona Gonzalez, the California native responsible for Nite Jewel, she was one of a vanguard exploring the hazy territory wherein electro-pop aspirations grapple with the lo-fi realties of home recording. Nonetheless, such cross-purposes contributed to the appeal of her debut, 2008’s Good Evening, a record that despite its limitations wondrously explored the intersections between strains of pop and R&B, as well as electronic forms further afield. However, even as Nite Jewel has progressed over several EPs released in the nearly four years since her debut, we’ve received little warning for her startling new album, One Second of Love. Made with her husband, Cole Marsden Greif-Neill, among others, the new record throws Gonzalez into a bright spotlight. She reveals herself as a singer, while the obfuscating white noise fog of her previous effort has been swept away so that her songs are now cast in high-definition. Speaking to Gonzalez on the phone the week of the album’s release, she disclosed how she got from there to here.

I was curious how you define Nite Jewel, if you see it as your personal stage name or a band.

Ramona Gonzalez: I’d say it is more my name just because there are people that call me by that name, friends who were around when I started the project. It definitely feels like it is my other name, but I will also use it to refer to the band because it’s easier. I’m not going to be “Nite Jewel and the Harmonics” or something.

In the sense that you use it personally, do you see a separation between Nite Jewel and yourself? Is there a persona?

RG: Because some of my close friends call me Nite Jewel, it makes it kind of blurry, but the life that I lead and the life that Nite Jewel leads are pretty different in many ways. I’m living now in Topanga Canyon, so I’m on the outskirts of the industry. When I’m performing, it is definitely more urban.

When you talked to Kevin Elliott in 2009, you referred to having just completed another record...

RG: That had to have been the EP or I was finished with the “Want You Back” single. When you don’t have a label, you are recording constantly and the stuff that comes out was recorded prior to what’s already come out and it becomes a confusing timeline.

Has all the stuff that’s come out in between the two records been home-recorded or did you start experimenting in the studio before One Second of Love?

RG: Home recording is such a weird concept. I’d say everything has been home-recorded. The only stuff that wasn’t recorded at a house were the drums and the vocals for One Second of Love. Those were recorded in a studio—a very modestly priced studio—in Los Angeles simply because we didn’t have the gear to record the vocals and we didn’t have a room in which to record the drums.

So even on the new album the other portions have been done at home...

RG: We recorded a bunch of stuff here in Topanga, and then about two and a half years ago, we started recording the bits and pieces that were the starting points for One Second of Love at a friend’s homespun studio in Berkeley. They had a live room and a control room, but the studio was pretty unconventional and had a lot of self-built gear. They were really into Neubauten, so there was a lot of found material and instruments lying around, so it wasn’t the kind of studio that’s been getting associated with the record. Getting that sheen was a trick because it was recorded in a pretty unconventional way.

And you had your live band collaborating with you?

RG: Sort of because we’ve been through a few line-ups. I collaborate with a lot of people here in LA and so it was just the people I was collaborating with at the time. I was playing with Linda Perhacs and her guitarist Aaron Robinson played on some things, and Julia Holter sang on some things. My bass player, Cory (Lee Granet), played guitar on some songs. Cole and this guy Harland (Burkhart), who is in The Samps with Cole, did some work on the record. Our drummer, Gavin Salmon, who is great jazz drummer, played on some things. We worked on the record over such a long period of time, whoever we were working with at the time, if they had a talent to give, we tried to absorb it. We were working in Berkeley with these guys who are in pretty obscure bands like the Vienna Noise Choir, and they contributed a lot to the record.

You mentioned the period of time, was there a particular reason that it took so long to do a follow-up?

RG: Definitely. First of all, we didn’t have any money. When we started One Second of Love, the idea was to record an instrumental electronic record. I was listening to a lot of Krautrock and New Age music. I’ve never really gone with the flow of the game per se, so I was just thinking about music and what I wanted to do, and I was really into this kind of music. Cole and I bought a reel of two-inch tape for our friends in Berkeley to record us. That reel of tape set us back—that was a lot of money for us at the time. Going back and forth to the Bay area, it took us a long time just to do those sessions because of monetary reasons. I think that’s why a lot of people’s work takes a long time to come out nowadays—at least my friends in LA. I mean, we’re all just sort of bums. But we were also releasing other stuff like the Am I Real? EP and we were touring, so it took awhile for it all to come together. It’s like Lewis and Clarke: it takes a really long time to walk across the United States when you don’t have the technology to do otherwise.

Do you feel like this record encompasses your vision of Nite Jewel any better than the other one? How do the two records stack up to one another for you?

RG: They’re both an expression of me at different times. Good Evening was a really pure expression of the identity I was developing, and this one is similar. Listening to music is a big part of my life, and I get really influenced by what I’m listening to. I don’t really have an overall vision of what I’m going for or anything conceptual. It is more of a pure expression of what I’m feeling at the time. So all I can say about it is that it’s me and the identity I’m creating with this group.

You mentioned listening to a lot of instrumental music, but the thing that sticks out on this record is the vocals. Is there something that made you want to sing or did you feel more confident about singing?

RG: Yeah, I don’t know what happened! We were working on these instrumental songs, and we brought them back to LA and I was sort of singing with them. I realized that they could be really good normal songs, normal for me being songs with vocals and quasi-pop structures. As I was developing these songs, I was listening to a lot of classic music. At the time of Good Evening, I was listening to pretty obscure dollar-bin finds, and from Good Evening to Am I Real, I was listening purely to ambient music. Halfway through One Second of Love, I was listening to pop music, like Prince and Steely Dan, golden-era, classic R&B and pop. That is the kind of stuff that you are more likely to listen to over the course of your entire life and might make you cry when you’re 60 years old. I thought to myself that I should try to make something that is a little more classic so I can look back on this time and say the emotion I’m communicating is more timeless than what I was doing before. I love singing and I’m a good singer. I just didn’t have the confidence before to showcase that.

Taking the new record as a whole, one could get the impression that it is more emotionally revealing just because we can discern what you’re saying this time. Do you feel like you have more emotionally invested in this record?

RG: No, I feel like they are equal. I feel emotionally invested in both records, and I think that both records are similar in many ways, like the themes and the types of songs. I can trace the overarching emotional themes in both, and they are pretty similar. The disenchantment with culture and the value of certain personal relationships are common to both.

Obviously, the tools available to you had an effect on the sound of the record, but did you feel like you had a different set of aesthetics?

RG: I think so. I was living in such an insular little community during Good Evening that my sense of what music is was pretty small and the boundaries were the scene of musicians with which I was working. When you start collaborating with more people and people start investing in your music—really talented people—you start to realize the possibilities for your music. You realize that you don’t have to sequester it to a limited format because there are people here who are willing to help you make your record sound as great as possible for free. So, it was like why not?

There’s all those little parts on the record, like the acoustic guitar on “In the Dark.” Were you writing all those parts or are they indicative of the collaborative aspect of the record?

RG: With that particular part, I asked my bandmates and Cole if someone could play acoustic guitar. That’s kind of what happens usually. I will be thinking that I want a particular sound for a part and so where can I get it? With “Mind & Eyes” and “In the Dark,” those were songs that I wrote alone and the demo was like a finalized product from the beginning. It was like creating a demo that sounded like a real band should be playing and then finding those ideal people to do it.

Did you feel any pressure going into making this record? Did you have that making the difficult second album thing hanging over your head?

RG: No, I wasn’t thinking like that because I didn’t know there was a timeline thing. I wasn’t even thinking of a sophomore Nite Jewel record. I was just going to record music.