Photography: Carissa Gallo
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Ramona Gonzalez, known as Nite Jewel, is a rare gem in music, with a prolific output and relentlessly determined and positive attitude to creating. She’s recently emerged from the cocoon that was her home studio with the lush aural treat that is Liquid Cool. With a creative background, grounded in studying philosophy and holism, her experience makes her a uniquely insightful artist. We caught up with her and learned why Janet and Mariah will always be the ultimate divas, what female musicians are kicking ass right now and discovered that cats are an unlikely barometer for ambient music.
Let’s start with Liquid Cool, I read that you retreated to an extent and making it was quite a private experience. As a woman in music, that feels like a bold, impressive step and making an empowered choice after stepping away from your label?
I was trying to turn it into a positive experience, what I thought about when I first started making music under Night Jewel and, you know, it’s a mix of pleasure and pain – like any creative project where you have successes and failures. But for the most part, when I worked on my records initially, I was having a lot of fun. Doing it on my own and getting into my weird world, it was a very positive and fun time. I just thought I always need to be making records in this way, where I’m having fun and I felt on the records previous to Liquid Cool I did that, but after I had these business interests – for the most part my label but also other people. This external influence was making it into something negative and it was important to me, before I started writing, to figure out how to release myself from that negativity and that was to go very much internally, into why am I making music in the first place.
There’s often the notion of the suffering artist and creativity being a painful process, do you find that?
No! It’s so fun, it’s a joy to work on music! Yes, if you spend 10 hours in front of a screen because you’re frustrated with a drum sound that’s not gelling and it’s really annoying, yes that happens, but for the most part, writing songs is a pleasure.
You made a studio in your closet, what was it like?
It was so weird and so funny, I just was in this place where I needed stuff to be so small and humbling. I had a studio at home and we have one downtown which is very nice with lots of gear but maybe this is where the suffering comes in. I literally had two large walk in closets and I just stuffed myself in there. I felt like I needed to be in a box and just cut off from the outside world, immersed in myself and in an uncomfortable way. It gave me the ability to focus. Sometimes in LA you can be in a huge recording studio, with giant boards, snacks, air con and sometimes you get very little work done so I was reacting to that. I was like, “I don’t need anything! I don’t even need a window! Space to move my arms! I can do this”.
When Puss Puss spoke to Run the Jewels, they told us how EL-P’s cat invaded their studio and made it on almost all their records. Is that true for you too?
Oh yes! There’s lots of of cats on all of the records, they’re very present. They’re kind of like my only connection to reality. Especially with Liquid Cool, no one was home so I talked to them and they also really related to certain aspects of it. My cats, or maybe all cats really like ambient music, sort of mid-rangey sounds so when I’d see their ears go backward and their eyes get like slits I was like, “Oh, I think I’m doing something good right now.”
They were like a barometer for you then?
Yes, I do find that for some songs, where I’m going for a particular vibe, I look to see if that’s how they react.
What if they don’t like it?
They run away, some songs they won’t understand or get into. Typically, the ones that are a little harsher or have frequencies that are just not for them. One of the cats loves to sit on the speakers or turntables and she just leaves if she doesn’t like it. But that’s ok, we can’t make all the songs about the cats.
We read that you cite Janet Jackson as a big influence – can you tell me a little more about that?
The Janet period album was so influential for me as a kid, I don’t necessarily write songs like her but I definitely take a lot from her style of singing. I find it powerful but soft. Mariah Carey was a huge singer for me, I wasn’t necessarily influenced by her style because you can’t really do that, although Grimes does replay good parts like her, but for me it’s way out of my range. It was more an attitude thing. I was very inspired by women not trying to be straight up sex objects and who wrote a lot of their own music. Autotune has changed what that looks like today, Mariah and Janet were never told, “Oh, we can fix your vocal,” they had to work and train at singing really really well. Even Aaliyah, if you listen to her acapella’s, they’re shaky at times – there is a vulnerability in that. So what happens is you have to train so hard, your live shows are above and beyond! If you listen to Janet or Mariah, there is not one bum note, now with autotune we have to churn out songs so quick. It’s more the indie singers like Kelela who are putting the work in these days. We want these pop stars to look up to, but they don’t exist, now I look up to my peers instead.
What’s on your playlist right now?
I’ve been DJ-ing a lot lately but doing a more retro playlist like funk and disco. I also like a lot of stuff like Abra – she’s really cool, I love her attitude, the production is awesome. That album The Rose, I thought that was really cool. The Internet’s album is great and I love Jessy Lanza and I loved her other stuff, but it was very trappy, the new one blends with disco and house from previous eras which is great. I try to be up on my fellow female singers because I’m proud of us all – we’re doing it!
Catch Nite Jewel on her her first European tour in 4 years starting on the 15th of September in Dublin and tune in to listen to her playing some tunes on NTS Radio on the 18th of September, 1 – 2pm BST