Since making her debut as Nite Jewel in 2009, Los Angeles’s Ramona Gonzalez has gone from lo-fi success story to fully realized musical vision. On last year’s One Second of Love, Nite Jewel’s second LP and first for Indiana-based label Secretly Canadian, Gonzalez ditched the bedroom recording setup and came away with a record that pays homage to early ’90s R&B grooves, funk-imbued rhythms, and heaps of punched-up synths. The growth, she asserts, was a longtime goal for Nite Jewel, nudged along by her husband, music collaborator, and notable L.A. producer, Cole M. Greif-Neill (Beck, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti).
“Once I met Cole, I was able to channel [my jazz and classical training] into a more contemporary music environment,” said Gonzalez in a recent phone interview. “He’s been making beats and working with software since he was really young, and I didn’t really learn how to use computers to make music until later. … He just implicitly knows where I’m trying to take something.”
On Thursday, August 15, Nite Jewel headlines the second installment of the Ojai Rancho Inn’s Summer Concert Series. Below, we chat with Gonzalez about the L.A. music scene, her S.B. roots, and the forthcoming third Nite Jewel record.
What are some of Nite Jewel’s musical influences? You know, I have a pretty wide taste in music and a pretty big collection of music, but I also don’t believe in purity of expression — there’s just so much that we’re taking in everyday. It’s not easy for me to always identify the influences, because I don’t set out to write a song that sounds like any other song, but I think that’s why it helps to have Cole around. Sometimes he’s better at identifying my influences than I am. For instance, I was really moved by that Ciara song “Body Party,” and I listened to it like 20 times a day. That doesn’t mean I set out to write a song like it, but when you listen to something that many times, it starts to just penetrate your subconscious.
How does Cole fit into the Nite Jewel music? A lot of it is me writing and demo-ing out a song or an idea, but it isn’t really produced in the way that I want it to sound. I want to get my songs to a certain place, and [Cole and I] have such psychic communication that I don’t even really need to tell him very much. He just already kind of implicitly knows where I’m trying to take something. Some of the songs on my first record that were a little “slight” in my opinion, that doesn’t really happen anymore because I bring everything to him.
What did you grow up listening to? One of the biggest influences on me growing up was my great aunt, who actually lives in Santa Barbara. Her name is Florence Katz, and she’s a classical pianist. She really tried to get me to play piano seriously, so I was influenced by certain romantic classical composers, just in terms of chords and stuff. On the other hand, my mother listened to a lot of world music; she was really into the hippie-folk, world-folk stuff. My dad liked more mainstream music. He was into Gloria Estefan and Whitney Houston, the divas. And the Bay Area where I grew up is extremely musical — there’s just a lot happening because of the amount of racial diversity up there.
How does the Los Angeles music scene compare? You know, you think of L.A. as being this very stereotypically competitive environment where musicians are working against each other instead of with each other — and I think that’s true in some parts of the city — but there’s also this artistic community that’s formed around the idea of creating a supportive environment that fosters creative growth. You’ve got dublab, which is this indispensable organization that has all of these events and blends all these styles and pays artists. Then there are all these scenes of people — Ariel Pink and Julia Holter, the Stones Throw scene, the Brainfeeder scene — and they all come together for these dublab events. They create these magical moments in time, and I’m really appreciative of it. I feel really lucky to have that.
How’s the next Nite Jewel album coming along? It’s just coming together now. I’m performing solo these days, so I have this whole set that I’m rehearsing, which is just all of my songs restructured with Ableton and synthesizers. Stripping down the songs and rearranging them, you start to see the through lines. It’s a little mysterious; it feels like nighttime, which is totally cliché, but it’s sexy music, too.
Nite Jewel plays an all-ages show at the Ojai Rancho Inn (615 W. Ojai Ave., Ojai) on Thursday, August 15 with SFV Acid. Doors open at 4 p.m., music starts at 8 p.m. Call (805) 646-1434 or visit coolsummerpresents.com for tickets and info.