Nite Jewel's Ramona Gonzalez: "You Can Create Your Own Era"
Ramona Gonzalez is simply a musical paradox. Operating under the moniker Nite Jewel, the Echo Park-based musician weaves synth-driven pop that's as much a product of the Casiotone era as it is '90s R&B.
Where one might expect instrumentation to be lo-fi, Gonzalez shines such production to a polish, layering seasoned and restrained vocal lines over minimalist tracks. It's hard to paint her work into a corner, but that's kind of the point -- where you expect her to go left, she goes right -- and the results are exceptional, from fan response to critical acclaim.
Even by phone, Gonzalez is affable and well-spoken, speaking with a excited cadence that belies the minimal, electronic-affected R&B she crafts. Maybe it's a product of her time at L.A.'s Occidental College, where Nite Jewel came to be, or her field of study that imparts a depth to her work, but there's no denying that she possesses a voice that fits well into many mediums. We spoke to her ahead of her set at the Viva Phoenix music festival on Friday, March 7.
You've spoken before about how you came out of college and didn't want to just make some pop record, yet what was it you were trying to achieve with your music at that stage in your life?
When I was working on my first record, I was in school at the time, and music was sort of the contrast to that, meaning that I was in music in order to not do schoolwork. It was my way of getting out of my head as far as what I was doing in school. In that sense it was like a contrast, but at the same time what necessarily happens, at least with doing philosophy, is that philosophy becomes this lens that you see your entire life through, whether you like it or not.
That sort of critical thinking found its way into not only my lyrics, but how I approach being an artist, almost like more conceptual than I even knew it was at the time. I think that a lot of my artist friends share that kind of thinking because a lot of my artist friends in L.A. went to art school, actually -- Ariel Pink went to CalArts, Julia Holter went to CalArts, even my husband, Cole, went to art school. I think that we have a sense in which we think on multiple levels at once when we're working.
It's no secret that you're a huge fan of '90s R&B and seem to draw from a deep catalog of those influences. How did that come to be such a big part of your upbringing?
The only reason I know anything about that era is just because I just went to Target at that time and just got so many CDs. We had this thing called The Box in the Bay, it was short for Jukebox, and it was like a Channel 9, cable access kind of thing where they just played R&B and rap videos, and it was always playing videos right after school. We got a lot of information beyond mainstream radio, so I heard songs that I really loved and I would just go buy these EPs or whatever.
It wasn't intentional, and I don't even think my knowledge is that good, but I had so many of these CDs that I listened to them constantly, so now when I'm writing tunes, I don't listen to that music still -- maybe if I'm having a party and I'm super-wasted, I'll play those songs so we can dance, but it's not like I'm referencing them to write music. They're so ingrained in my consciousness that I just make those melodies and I don't even know that I'm doing it. I think that that's something about having a true personal music history -- there are just certain things that definitely come from when I used to listen those CDs, and there's nothing I can do about it, you know what I mean [laughs]?