I first came across Nite Jewel relatively recently – at the beginning of summer last year. Discovering new artists might be the most routine, least notable occurrence in the life of a music journalist, but choosing to listen to Nite Jewel was an anomaly in my long, long history of finding new tunes. She may be the first ever artist I was compelled to listen to simply by glancing at an album cover, one that depicted a woman with shoulder length-hair whose face was gone, replaced by a wreath of shadow torn into two perfect halves; one in blinding white, the other in pitch darkness. Needless to say, I was intrigued.
That album was Liquid Cool, a polished set of sparkling synth-pop that was among the more slept-on records of 2016. But to pin Nite Jewel (alias Ramona Gonzalez) down to any one full-length would be a disservice to the sheer amount of work she puts out. Which, if anyone’s counting, has been four full-lengths, five EP’s, an appearance on the Grand Theft Auto V soundtrack and more collaborations and production work than one can count. And all in the span of eight years.
Her latest release is Real High, another slice of her pristine pop sensibilities that arrived back in May. And today she embarks on a European tour in support of the record. Shortly before things kicked off, we caught up with Nite Jewel to discuss her immersive body of work, her ’80s influences and love in the 21st century.
You’re about to embark on a pretty substantial tour… do you find it challenging to translate your music to a live setting?
I used to find it hard when the music was very “studio oriented,” but with this latest album it is more about the singing and instrumentation. So I’ve really embraced that for live [settings].
You’ve had an extremely prolific period these past two years, with 2 full-lengths and 2 EP’s… do you feel like you’re in a particularly productive space of creativity or has it all happened more organically?
I’d been super productive since the One Second of Love cycle ended, so this is more or less a culmination of all that work I put in during those years while somewhat stifled from releasing music due to business matters.
I’ve heard you describe your sound as ‘liquid cool,’ which of course was the name of your album from last year. What does that phrase mean to you? How does it describe you?
Well it’s actually a lyric taken from an obscure ’80s synth/prog record from California. It’s also where the name ‘Nite Jewel’ comes from. The song is about this woman of the night who can steal your heart and leave you cold. She’s like a cool after hours party girl who is maybe a bit morose on the inside. That definitely describes the Nite Jewel sound.
Your work is very much inspired by the ’80s… if you were at this stage of your career back then, who do you think you would be hanging out with/collaborating with?
Haha omg! I can only fantasize. But I’d realistically be like one of those dollar bin records you would find; some home recording funk guru only to be discovered years later.
Can you tell me a bit about making the track “Kiss the Screen?” It is such a cutting quip on love in the 21st century.
Yes, [it is] one of those fully formed songs that just pours out of you in a very short period of time. I wanted to play the role of a yearning teenager and really embody that kind of internal scream that comes with a crush you might have without actually ever interacting with them. So I think I sang louder than I’ve ever sung on any recording! Haha!
What were some of the most important/formative albums or artists you listened to growing up?
I came from a super musical household. My mom had quite unconventional taste; she listened to a lot of world music and jazz. My brother on the other hand was heavy into hip-hop. And then my dad just loved pop divas. So I think that all found its way into my music in different ways.
What’s one of the most difficult aspects of your job? One of the least difficult?
I think one of the most difficult parts is being on display. The easiest is the creative process.
What’s one of the best pieces of advice you’ve heard in the past year?
I started taking singing lessons for the first time since I was a kid. So every kernel of advice [my instructor] gives me is invaluable.
If you were only able to drink one beverage for the rest of your life -with no health implications whatsoever- what would it be and why?
Omg thats so hardddd! I would have to decide whether to be forever caffeinated or forever drunk. I guess being constantly caffeinated is more interesting and you won’t lose as many friends. So, tea.
Catch Nite Jewel on her European tour through September 23, click here for the full list of dates.
For more of our interview features, read our chat with musician and producer Remi Kabaka, the voice of Gorillaz’ Russel, right here.