INTERVIEW: Nite Jewel finds real high confidence

Photo courtesy of Motormouth Media
Photo courtesy of Motormouth Media

This Friday, July 7th, Los Angeles-based electronic pop artist Ramona Gonzalez, aka Nite Jewel, kicks off her Queenz Tour in support of her latest fourth album Real High. Both the tour and album, which she released last May on her own Gloriette Records, are culminations of the confidence she has possessed since an early age and that she has further developed through regularly collaborating with artists including Julia Holter and Dâm-Funk.

Nite Jewel explored aloneness in a crowded and disconnected world on her previous album, 2016’s Liquid Cool. Despite the easy assumption, she does not collaborate as an antidote to feeling alone. “I don’t know that collaborating with people on certain songs necessarily fills some sort of void one might feel or completely cure the angst that is very deeply felt by humans,” she contends. “If that was the case, then I could just go and make a song with someone, and then all of my woes would be cured.” Collaborating distracts her from aloneness, she admits, but she qualifies: “I think that the problem with aloneness in today’s climate and in our society and the paradigm that we live in, I think that that’s just all-pervasive, and I would be surprised if anybody didn’t feel that from time to time.”

Although working with other artists does not cure all of her woes, it has significantly boosted her confidence. “When I first moved out to Los Angeles, and I decided to go more full-out with the idea of being Nite Jewel, my confidence in my own abilities was developed in response to jamming with other artists and getting to know other artists and them giving me props for my abilities or my voice.” Getting to know people through music – working with people who encouraged her to improvise and who played to her specific skills, be it her lyricism, voice, or background in classical and jazz – “definitely helped” shape her confidence to go out on her own as Nite Jewel and to establish Gloriette Records.

YouTube Preview Image
One particular collaboration built her confidence as a songwriter more than any other: Nite-Funk, her dance project with Dâm-Funk. “The bulk of that record [the Nite-Funk EP] was written in like a week? And I think that that bolt of inspiration and the quality of the product influenced Real High.” Gonzalez elaborates: “I allowed myself to build songs more immediately and more quickly on part of the record. Some of the record was written a really long time ago, but then the other part of the record was written within a month. I think that the collaboration with Dâm sort of just boosted my confidence to be like, ’You know what? I can finish this set of songs. I can write 10 songs in a month and choose the best ones, and they’re gonna be great.’”

Even before Gonzalez released her first album, 2009’s Good Evening, she already displayed confidence. “I’ve always had some sense of pretty strong bossage confidence in my life. I mean, I came from sort of a lower-middle class background, [but] I wanted to go to Columbia University, and I did. I wanted to leave New York and go to L.A. on my own, and I did. I wanted to start a label, and I did.” She attributes those accomplishments to a natural business sense. “I think that’s why I didn’t really work well with a label,” she says reflecting on her one-album stint with Secretly Canadian in 2012. “I just felt like I was struggling with the ability to give over control.”

Gonzalez is also confident enough in her artistry to admit she is steeped in “relentless nostalgia.” “Every single artist is steeped in nostalgia whether they like to consider it or not. There’s no original music that is ever being made. Everybody is just pulling from things that have been done before. It’s a conversation with history, music is. And art is in general. Nobody’s getting some sort of divine inspiration from God; it’s just coming from the past.” She concludes her thoughts on this thread firmly: “I have no problem with talking about that being a part of my music.”

YouTube Preview Image

Listening to any of the 10 tracks on Real High feels like a private experience, akin to dancing in one’s bedroom. Grooves exist everywhere on the album, but so does an underlying sense of intimacy. Nite Jewel is dance music for introverts. “I have a very rhythmic sensibility. I played bass for a really long time, and I’m very interested in the way that bass and voice and drums all mix together, and that’s most pointedly expressed in dance music and funk,” she explains. “But at the same time, it is me, and I’m a relaxed, chill, and introverted human being.”

Nite Jewel is such a large part of who Ramona Gonzalez is that she could never write songs that are club-ready for the sake of being club-ready under that moniker. “It’s gotta be personal,” she says of her work as Nite Jewel. “it’s gotta be heartfelt, and it has to be real.” This is where projects like Nite-Funk come in. Nite-Funk makes such explicit dance music, she calls the band “an imitation of a style.”

In addition to Nite-Funk, she has another outlet for her explicit dance proclivity: as a club and wedding DJ in Los Angeles. “I love DJing, and I’m actually really, really good at it.” Knowing that her role when DJing is to play “club-ready” hits allows her to more easily step a bit outside of herself and play the types of songs she would feel disingenuous writing as Nite Jewel. “I could write pop fucking dance hits for days, but I’m not gonna do that with Nite Jewel. Maybe I’d do that for somebody else.”

On the Queenz Tour, Nite Jewel headlines across the U.S. for the first time in five years. Why the gap? The answer comes back to confidence. “I’ve dropped my intense amount of fear about performing.” Moreover, “I have my buddy from high school playing with me; it’s just like my family.” Overall, Gonzalez says, “It’s just a really good time for me musically as a performer, and I felt like I was ready to do this and excited to do it whereas in the past maybe I felt like I wasn’t fully prepared. It’s just fun for me now.”

Nite Jewel, more confident than ever, performs at the Fox Cabaret on Tuesday, July 11th with openers Geneva Jacuzzi, Harriet Brown, and Niña Mendoza. Tickets are $13 + s/c adv, available in stores at Red Cat Records (both locations) and Zulu Records and online at www.ticketweb.ca.

Leslie Ken Chu

Leslie Ken Chu

Contributor