Ramona Gonzalez, the face of Nite Jewel.

OK Confucius may have suffered from a period of inactivity as of late, but we’re coming back with a bang. For the first time in our young history (two months come Sunday) we’re proud to present an original interview to the internet. And for our first subject, we stuck with familiar territory. Marc has been on here once before to evangelize Nite Jewel, a Los Angeles act largely the brainchild of Ramona Gonzalez. 2009’s self-released LP, “Good Evening”, was a synthesized low-fi gem. But July’s release of the EP “Am I Real” saw a noticeable increase in fidelity and the prospect of new territory. Marc had an extensive conversation with Gonzalez, covering even more changes in her upcoming LP, the trouble of live shows, and where degrees in Philosophy are landing one nowadays.

OK Confucius: Your new EP kind of defines this year for you.  When you say it reflects a continued development, what were you doing that you never thought of doing with “Good Evening”?

Ramona Gonzalez: Actually the EP defines earlier years.  this year was spent doing the next album.  that’s how it works with releases.  right when the public gets the material, it’s already way behind the artist’s schedule. However, the title track “Am I Real” was done more recently with my friends Teen Inc. and that was really an incredible collaboration. So I suppose I never expected to collaborate with such special artists during the recording of  “Good Evening”. I never expected anything from that record actually, let alone people hear it.

The cover for the "Am I Real" EP, straight off the set of "Dallas"

OK: You’ve done a lot of collaborations- Teen Inc, your husband, Dam Funk, etc. But for the Nite Jewel songs specifically, are those a collaborative effort or are a lot of them your creation?

RG: up until this year they have been songs i have written. Cole, my husband, always rounds out the edges, does drum programming, etc. Now, however, I’m doing more collaboration for the next record, which is due to my growing confidence; it makes me able to share the music at earlier stages with people.

OK: So do you think we should expect something different, like a change in direction, with your next LP?

RG: Yes.

OK: But not giving anything away as of now?

RG: Well it’s hard to say. What do you want to know about the LP?

OK: Well I read that for your EP you had the benefit of working in something that resembled a studio so you’re probably utilizing that…?

RG: The EP was recorded in my house, just like “Good Evening”, but on tape and logic as opposed to just tape and with a bit more “know how”. The basic tracking for the LP was done at a friend’s house in Berkley on 2 inch tape. Very hi fidelity.

OK: My bad. I guess I should’ve said with a little more professionalism which i think you can notice on the EP- it doesn’t sound as lo-fi-y. But I guess it’s hard to say what I’d want to know. Because when I listen to your music I have my idea of what you’re influenced by, what you sound like etc and somebody else has a whole other interpretation. And then other interviews you did could be summarized as you had this massive clusterfuck of music that you listened to growing up and you could just say it’s an agglomeration of that.

RG: Right. Well… i’d say with the LP it started as an idea to record synthesizers really hi-fi, which came from my obsession with New Age music. [I was really attracted to] the beauty of  just a synthesizer, through a nice pre amp, compressed- the expression that comes from just that. my friend’s in berkeley found this whole concept intriguing, so Cole and I went in with the idea of making a new age recording [influenced by] Brian Eno’s “Another Green World“, which to me is like a New Age recording in many ways. Well, with some session dudes on top of it, but if there were no session dudes it would be a New Age recording. I was reading a lot about Eno and his studio experiments so that also contributed to what we did in the studio.

OK: I can’t say I’ve listened to Brian Eno’s own stuff but I’ve heard Roxy Music and I love David Bowie’s Berlin era albums that Eno contributed to but didn’t outright produce. And that stuff is accessible but kind of light on vocals.

RG: “Another Green World” is a record that Eno produced during his solo era, after Roxy Music. It was one of his least successful records at the time- slightly inaccessible. The premise was improvisation- bringing a bunch of talented guys in a room and giving them strange directions then laying down instrumentals and editing and overdubbing them until a song emerged. And some great songs emerged over time. It’s “process based”, it was a precursor to his whole ambient thing because before he was just making solo pop records.

OK: So you’re kind of recording parts for however many minutes, and just putting the sounds together. It sounds exciting but could also result in something horrendous.

RG: Yes, it’s very challenging! For the first week Eno was recording “Another Green World”, everything was discarded. But Cole and I don’t have that kind of cash so instead we were motivated by the fact that tape is $300 a reel for 24 tracks, which we split in two so we had 12 tracks per song. And every minute is money so nothing frivolous was allowed.

Cole and I have been playing music together since he was 18, so we have psychic powers together! We were able to come up with a concept for a song (key, tempo, instrumentation) and lay something down. And as we went back and forth to Berkley over six months the songs changed every time. More overdubbing, minute changes, etc. Now we have about an hour of material, I’d say 80% of which are great fucking songs if I don’t say so myself.

OK: I’m sure everyone appreciates the honesty so we’ll all be picking apart that other 20 percent ha. But it sounds like you’re challenging yourself, trying to put together a fuller sound without the benefit of  a bevy of instrumentation.

RG: I don’t think you’ll be hearing the 20 percent, thank God. I just want to do what makes me happy with music, you know? if i were to sit in my apartment for another year, cobbling together cassettes, that sounds pretty dull. I mean, I want to make music like the music I hear and love. And how I can get closer to that is by going outside my comfort zone- i.e. my house, my head. Music should be very challenging and exciting. One would hope.

OK: We have Justin Bieber to fall back on- for those of us who want to stay safe.

RG: Like using a condom; “taking a shower with a raincoat on”.

OK: But when this LP comes out, one would hope you get on tour again. How exactly are you scheduling shows? And more importantly, how can we get you to play the midwest (read: our state of Ohio) more? I see Wilkes-Barre was worthy of your presence but such gleaming cultural meccas like Cleveland and Columbus fly under the radar?

RG: Haha, I apologize for not getting out there. I’ve never properly toured a record- we haven’t had the right kind of promotion. Or backing. Or cash. But for the new LP, we will tour the U.S. in full- on my honor.

OK: I’ll check the Myspace from time to time and shows appear pretty haphazard. It’s just whoever you can talk to pretty much?

RG: Well the live act has completely changed over the last two years. I haven’t felt fully behind previous incarnations, but with our new five-piece I can safely feel we are ready to be Nite Jewel live. Because in the past our live shows were “cute” at times, “goofy” at times, but never slick and sensual and tight. Nor groovy nor mind-blowing. All of which is what I want it to be.

Fun fact- a separate interview revealed Gonzalez once puked on her mic. Will her new and improved live act feature such improv??

OK: So you’re saying they were never up to par with your vision…or they sucked?

RG: They were never my vision- and they didn’t suck! Standards are just so low these days, I mean look at the amount of people doing karaoke! I’m a musician though- meaning I like playing with other good musicians and playing off them. Not just farting along to backing tracks.

OK: I know what you mean. I’ve seen bands around columbus- nationally touring and everything- that just kind of play the album over again and have little to no stage presence.

RG: Yea the live show has got to be something I truly enjoy before I’m going out on the road again, not just “okay we have to do this to promote  our record.” What’s the point, you know?

OK: You mention on your site about graduating with a degree of Philosophy. How’s that paid off for you?

RG: When I pursued philosophy I wasn’t really thinking about “pay off”. I graduated with high honors- that has paid off. So I can probably pursue a grant somewhere, apply to grad school, etc. Philosophy is something that matters to me a great deal apart from that.

OK: All the reading, studying, etc can kind of engulf your life. Was that the case for you?

RG: In many ways yes. I didn’t really hang out with people. I just recorded music and did school. I think institutions are problematic- it would be very hard for me to go back. My school was really liberal so it helped, but academia is troubling. I’d like to be able to just do research somewhere, that or write.

OK: A degree like that- or a lot of things in humanities- it’s like the most solid career prospect for that would be to just keep pursuing degrees until a school hires you. I mean, the world pretty much dismisses english majors, or even my major (poli sci).

RG: Yes, or law school for philosophy. Being a lawyer, how awful! All jobs sound awful, though. I’d like to have a private income forever.

OK: Have you ever gotten commercial offers? Just knowing how fashionable it is for a company like AT&T or Target to put an indie artist’s song in a 30 second spot.

RG: I haven’t been able to synch my music because there’s too much hiss. I currently have some people pitching for this EP though, we’ll see.

OK: So one other thing I’m wondering here- do you still have a day job to slave over?

RG: I do! I work seldomly, and God it’s horrendous. I’m phasing it out currently- Cole just got a great job and we’re moving to Topagna Canyon. I’m not above a day job though, just this one. My mom’s side of the family were Communists, so working class ethics were ingrained in me. I think my grandmother would be so appalled if i were just a bohemian!

OK: But she’d be more proud of– what exactly is this horrendous job?

RG: Receptionist at a salon. Cuntiest women imaginable.

OK: Oh so stereotypical L.A.?

RG: Very much so. People who are so concerned with their beauty they fail to realize they have become ugly.

OK: But this is reflective of how things are at the moment- that you have a college degree and make music and have brought that around the world but yet here you are scheduling hair appointments.

RG: The most educated people are not the ones who can successfully navigate capitalism. You have to sacrifice to do that. I’m currently figuring out what is possible to sacrifice. you think about music nowadays and how pleasing it is on the surface, but that’s more indicative of what artists have to do to survive rather than an aesthetic they’ve developed. It’s a marketing choice- either the artist dumbs themselves down, or they’re dumb to begin with. OR lastly they have a reputation that make it possible to suspend all that. Reputation takes time, and I may have to work in a salon but that’s better than doing something stupid.

Thanks Ramona, for sitting down and agreeing to being our first interview attempt (victim?). While you’re at it, mosey on over to her official site for streaming audio of her “Am I Real” EP and for a little bit of merch. As a postscript to this interview, Labor Day in Oakland should be exciting- Gonzalez will be playing in Oakland (hometown show) alongside Panda Bear (of Animal Collective fame). Hopefully it’s a forerunner to more exciting news down the road.

-Marc

Photo Credits:https://okconfucius.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/picture3.png?w=300, http://cdn.stereogum.com/files/2010/08/Nite-Jewel-Am-I-Real.jpg, http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/9/92/Another_Green_World.jpg, http://agitreader.com/img/futures/nitejewel.jpg,