Nite Jewel - September 12th, 2014 - Interview
After a long bus ride from Columbus to Toronto, Ramona Gonzalez of Nite Jewel gets out of the tour bus visibly shaken but ultimately cheery. “Okay, I need some coffee”, says Ramona before I ask her if she really wants to go to a Starbucks instead of somewhere nice. “You’re right let’s go to a mom and pop store”, adds Ramona before she gets her jolt of afternoon espresso. With caffeine now pumping in her veins, the California glitch-pop songstress enthusiastically mentions of a ramen place she saw from the bus. Unable to hide her affinity for food, Ramona tells me of Korean kim-chi, her dream of opening a restaurant and even dishes a little dirt when I ask her of her unsavory experience serving Rob Schneider during her stint as a waitress. “I’m not a foodie”, she tells me “but it’s really hard to eat well on tour. I have a sensitive stomach there’s and nothing but peanut butter on tour”. However, Ramona isn’t one to complain as she explains to me the freedom of travelling on tour as a soloist especially after her recent stint in China and Japan. There’s also the joy of talking to everyday people Ramona explains, “Now that I’m with myself, it’s just like my intensity as a person is condensed and very ‘present’ - people are just drawn to me because I’m so emotionally intense”. After eating a few slivers of noodles and getting her coffee fix, I soon find it hard to keep up with the energetic and talkative Nite Jewel, so I put down my recorder and we continue our chat in interview format as she talks about her music, growing up and her studies in philosophy.
September 16, 2014
Photo + Words: Peter Quincy Ng
Hey Ramona! What a surprise it is to see you again!
Hey it’s good to see you again!
Talking about surprises… you pulled a Beyonce on us and threw a new album out of nowhere at us. Tell us about your new work MAIA, its dark, minimal, instrument and well… different.
Yeah, I recorded MAIA in two week period at a residency program. Basically the story is that I was doing this Nite Jewel show in Twentynine Palms – it’s basically this beautiful, desolate desert in California. It was lots of sand and dustiness and I got really drunk and blacked out and didn’t remember the rest of the night. Only then I woke up with Cole (her husband) with my car stuck vertically in the sand. Like I had parked my car and I got stuck in the desert in the middle of nowhere.
We were just laying there and it was pitch-black and super scary just figuring out how to get home. We got out in the dawn and we found ourselves in the landscape of Twentynine Palms which is basically just rocks and abandoned shacks. So the next day after being super hungover I packed my gear and headed out to opposite of California to the lush redwood forests to start my residency program. Basically for MAIA I wrote of my entire experience in that 24-hour period in Twentynine Palms because it was so fresh in my mind. I was spontaneously finishing my new Nite Jewel record so I felt like to express myself non-vocally I just wanted to something purely instrumental.
Speaking about different you’ve been involved in a lot of side projects from DamFunk, Julia Holter and well even producing a Russian language track for St. Petersburg band Ifwe and remixing a cumbia song for Super Guachin. What’s it like being thrown these musical curveballs and doing something completely outside your expected realm of work?
It doesn’t like a curveball to me at all! I don’t know I just grew up with a lot of different music. I’m just multicultural in general, my dad is Mexican and my mom’s a Jew. We grew up in Oakland in a Black community where my mom was into “world” music and hippie stuff, while my dad was into pop music and salsa, and then there was also hip-hop everywhere. I was embarrassed by the fact I liked everything at that time because people would say, “You would have to be into rap or into rock, and you can’t be into both! You have to dress your genre and can’t make friends with people from other genres! ” but I refused to listen, as I listened to all types of music. So to me music is expansive and that’s why I’m happy to work with anyone and I can relate to all these different types of music.
You also did some stuff for Droop-E who is E-40’s son. You’re originally from the Oakland so what’s it like finally being Bay Area immortalized.
Oh my God it’s the best! Well only because I love his music and we work so well together it’s insane. We’re working on more songs right now actually, he just sends me beats and I instantly know and I just know what to write. We just have like this Bay Area impulse and instincts and it was funny because he didn’t know I was from Oakland. Then he writes me and I’m like, “Dude! You’re E-40’s son? You kidding me? E-40 was like my favorite rapper from when I was little until basically now and probably still is”. He (E-40) basically contributed to 50% of my slang vocabulary.
Did you ever get that E-40 book?
No (laughs), but it feels good to have that connection because it is a real one for me.
I heard E-40 had a short stint opening a chain of Fat Burgers. What happened to your restaurant idea for “Slow Jamz”?
(Laughs) You know I’m trying to get it off the ground and trying to find people interested. I have a lot of restaurant experience and I know what it takes to run a restaurant. I think it would be just a really cool thing to open after eight years when the whole 90s Sade-thing is going to be over and done with as far as being really popular, so I really need to get this off the ground ASAP. So if you know someone who’s in the know but them in touch with me.
I don’t know if this is for real but I read you said you grew up on a dead end street where they sold ice cream from bulletproof windows and you were always jumping between odd jobs here and there. You’ve always done music and then it took off during the college but when did it realize you could do this as a profession?
The bulletproof windows thing is true, the part that I lived in was pretty ghetto but has cleaned up since then. Yeah, the gas station around my house where I got push-pops and popsicles from had a bulletproof glass window because there were shootings in the area. You know it’s around the corner from a pawn shop and a lot drugs and stuff like that. Yeah I just worked because my family never had money, never has, especially when my dad went bankrupt, my mom had to support us with this really tiny salary. I’ve always had jobs, but I’ve never been averse to having jobs until recently. So I guess for the past four years, I’ve just been doing music exclusively. Once you realize that you can make a living off of making art it seems ridiculous to do anything else and then you become really motivated to support yourself while making art. All day, every day you just make music, so that’s what I’m trying to do now but also multimedia stuff, visual art and not just commercially-produce music.
Well during that time you met Cole MGN and I guess it sealed the deal. Was it true that when you met him you broke up with your boyfriend on the spot?
Yeah (laughs), well not a day but maybe three or four days, actually it’s three days. I sort of thought about it, I didn’t really think Cole was going to go out with me right away because we had just met. I just knew the current relationship I was in was going to impede my possibilities to connect with this person. No matter how long it would take, it just knew I wanted to start with this clean slate and I knew that we’d be together eventually. It took a while actually; I think our connection was so strong that Cole was really freaked-out by it. I mean admittedly so that it was so intense and we were 18 and 19, and that you would be entering a relationship with the rest of your life with someone and knowing that, it’s really crazy and scary.
You mentioned that “One Second of Love” was about really short and intense moments. Do you find that you’re an emotionally intense person?’
Yeah, I was just talking about this to Cole the other day where it’s just funny being on tour and now that I’m going by myself for the most part, that my whole personality isn’t being diluted by my band. I don’t even mean that in a bad way it just means that your energy spreads around the people you’re with. Now that I’m with myself, it’s just like my intensity as a person is condensed and very “present”. People just like talk to me, like government people, taxis, coffee shops and people in the (other) band. People are just drawn to me because I’m so emotionally intense. It’s just like I got everything out for everyone it’s like I just want to give everything to everyone and not even feel vulnerable about that. I think people are too guarded in general and then lay your cards on the table and let people take it or leave it, and then you know who to hang with. Yeah, but I’m like super emotionally intense, like super-duper intense but to me that’s a good thing (smiles) I think that’s what’s made Cole and I’s relationship last so long. I think that we’re different in a sense but that we both have a really high emotional intelligence. I think that it’s because both our parents are therapists.
Well you got a degree in philosophy after some hard years at Columbia and Occidental. Inspire us if you may.
… Which is less emotional than I am (interrupting)! That’s the funny thing about philosophy, I have a very philosophical, logical thinking capacity and I think it’s constantly at war with my emotional side. Music is tapping into my emotional side, philosophy taps into my left brain. I think philosophy actually fucks people up and that philosophy is bad, because it ruins you. It makes it so you can’t see the emotion in what people are saying, all you’re seeing is structure in what they’re saying and whether it makes sense or not. There’s just more to life than that. I do feel that philosophy in the sense that (Bourdieu?) helped talk about the ideology behind everyday practices and that it’s important not to become a consumer and to take heed of what people are giving you – not being susceptible to that powers that be, that’s important in philosophy. It’s just you don’t need philosophy to know that, you just need to see between the lines of every day. That’s something that anyone could do, but philosophy is really, really bad for your brain and that people shouldn’t study it.
That’s interesting how you think that way considering all they put you through in school.
I know! It’s just now I think it’s toxic, it’s a toxic study and Wittgenstein totally agrees. He always mentioned how philosophy is something we use to get outside of making sense of every day, like creating an alternative way of talking about it and that language itself makes no sense. Like we have these everyday practices like we’re talking, we’re eating soup, we’re doing certain mannerisms, we exchange… blah, blah, blah. Philosophy is that other thing that tries to talk about those interactions, but those interactions are fine the way they are, they don’t need investigation. We get along fine just hanging out and talking to each other, we don’t need this other unrelated realm of thought to dissect what we’re doing. I just think that it’s true in many ways.
Okay, let me just take that all in. Anyway here’s something for you to think about. I heard when you recorded your first album it was classified as Italo and you didn’t even know what it was, and people called you lo-fi because you recorded it on cassettes in your home. People hate being told what they are so, think about it carefully. What is Nite Jewel?
I think unfortunately or fortunately I have made it impossible to categorize my music because I’ve released so many things and so many different collaborations that no one can really pin me down. In the (music) industry that’s a bad thing because you can’t be marketed but to me it’s good thing. It’s about ascribing to the genre-classification that pin people down to a certain style. With me that would be very suffocating. If I was looking for a business plan to make music certainly I would find that very useful because then it would be very useful to put me in a rock or rap genre in a store to be sold, I could be put on a certain Spotify playlist, but I’m not in it for the money. If I were in it for the money, I would be a lawyer not a freaking musician. So that’s fine with me.
Now, how I react to genre-classification upon my music? Honestly, I do not care, it is fine. Whether it’s italo, lo-fi or whatever people need to understand it, I don’t think it’s a problem but it was what I was talking about in engaging in ideology and being susceptible to consumerism. Like just like what people want to call my music, they also want to call people certain things. I think it’s a certain capitalist way that our minds are broken that confines ourselves to classification specification. It’s a very narrow world view and I just feel sorry for people who have to think that way, but overall it doesn’t bother me.
I’ll think about it more when I get home. Thanks for the interview.
Check out Nite Jewel’s latest cover for below Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love”. More music can be found on her Soundcloud.