House Parties, Lucid Dreams, and Inventions: A Conversation with Nite Jewel
Ramona Gonzalez is many things, but one of my favorites is chillwave pioneer Nite Jewel. She returns with her first album in four years, and just in time to fill up our dance floors with some more dark and hot beats. She’s been described as “Janet Jackson produced by Kraftwerk”, which is not far off. Liquid Cool marks her third release, and we caught up with her before she embarked on a short tour of the coasts, east and west.
TMB: I first got into you when you released “I Want You Back” on Italians Do It Better, are you fan of any of the bands on that label?
NJ: I actually wasn’t aware of them until I released my first single with them, so I wasn’t a die hard fan or anything, I got introduced to them through meeting them and watching them play and stuff like that. So obviously I became a fan because I was friends with them. Musically, I feel like I connect most with the work of the Chromatics. You know, just emotionally and stuff like that. I really like that band.
TMB: I always thought that you would make really good music for soundtracks. Have you ever thought about doing any kind of soundtracking, or have you already?
NJ: I love movie soundtracks. I in particular like horror movie soundtracks, new movie horror soundtracks, not even necessarily the stuff from the 80’s. I just saw Neon Demon and the guy, I forgot his name, but he did the Drive soundtrack too, he scored it, The Neon Demon soundtrack is just amazing. I would like to do something like that someday. I mean I took a stab at doing an experimental short film and doing more of an orchestral sound for that, but it would be a dream of mine to definitely do more of a synth forward soundtrack some day.
TMB: How did you come up with the name Nite Jewel?
NJ: I have to be quite honest, I did not come up with it myself, it was actually drawn from a record from ’84 by the obscure San Diego band, they were sort of like synth-prog to me, but a little cheesier, not so heady. They had a song called Nite Jewel on their record, but it was spelled differently. My friend started calling me that. When I put up my first songs on Myspace, I thought that’s just it I guess!
TMB: That’s how a lot of band names start, just kind of randomly.
NJ: Exactly, and I think he found something in the name that he felt related to me personally, so it was a bit of like a stamp, like “This is who you are”.
TMB: Do you write songs on tour ever?
NJ: Rarely. When I was on one tour I bought a pair of noise canceling headphones and made some beats. It’s really difficult for me to sing in that context because, although some of the vocals I do are kind of hushed, some of the vocals I do are also kind of poppy, you know, forward, and it just feels weird to sing really loud in that environment in front of a bunch of people. I definitely just write really fast and efficiently, so that when I am home, I can get a lot done in a short span of time.
TMB: You clearly have a love for dance music. Do you like to go out dancing at all?
NJ: Yeah I do, I at one point had my house as the spot where everybody came to dance and probably had the cops called on me like 20 times over the course of a couple years, haha. I love to host more casual dance parties, I love to go dance in whatever context. It’s not super easy to find places to dance in LA, if you just want like not a genre specific dance party. It’s more about like this club and that club and I kind of like to be all inclusive with my dance music.
TMB: That’s why you throw your own parties…
NJ: Exactly, I love to dance and recently threw a Prince party a few days after he passed with a friend a mine who probably has one of the biggest vinyl collections of Prince and his associated works, and we danced from like 9 to like 5 in the morning. It was pretty crazy, and it was like the whole LA community too, it was packed. It was a house party, ya know? That’s how we like to do it.
TMB: Do you ever listen to any latin electronic music?
NJ: I listen to a lot more of the underground stuff, Cumbia, and the sort of associated underground acts, the darkwave stuff that comes out of mexico city, which just happens to be a lot of what my friends are associated with. I love all that stuff, it’s something I wished I was exposed to more. I tend to get it third hand, through DJ’s here in LA who are re-contextualizing that music in their work. People like Nguzunguzu and stuff like that.
TMB: If you had a superhero power, what would be your superhero power?
NJ: #1 to fly, and #2 to be invisible.
TMB: I like that you gave me two.
NJ: Well, because both are so key in my dreams, in whatever dreams I have I’m either invisible or flying. I have a lot of dreams where I have powers beyond my abilities in real life. When I was a kid, I had so many dreams about flying, that I was absolutely convinced I could do it in real life. I would tell my friends actually, “No, I really can, basically levitate”.
TMB: Do you ever have lucid dreams?
NJ: Yeah, completely. I have lucid dreams, I’ve read a lot of young and stuff like that, so I do believe that there is this collective unconscious that we’re all connected to, and that we’re dreaming of these archetypes and can test each other’s psychology in dreams and stuff like that. So I do have dreams that I find are fairly premonitory. And I don’t say that in a weird spiritual sense, I say it in more a coincidental sense, probability, a mathematical type sense. Where it’s like there’s all these things happening, and I have a dream that it’s going to take this one path, whether’s it’s someone calling me or something happening or whatever. My dreams are like this very chi part of my life, and they have been since I was a little kid.
TMB: If you were to have an invention, what would your invention be?
NJ: An invention I would like to have or see is something that could rewind time to sort of fact check. I mean, not only for political purposes, which would be a very helpful thing, but imagine like the bible. If we could just go back to that time, and see if any of that stuff actually occurred of it was pure fiction, it would be really useful to bigotry of the world. But beyond that, also like in my relationship, it would be really good to rewind and be like, actually, you did say that, so..
TMB: What is your earliest childhood memory of a song that you were really into?
NJ: It seems really banal, but it was the first song that I learned to play on piano and it was hot crossed buns. I know that sounds like, really lame, but I remember putting my hands on the keyboard and learning how to play that, and that was when I was pretty young.
TMB: Are there any artists you’ve met while you’ve been in the industry or you met on tour that you were kind of starstruck by?
NJ: You know, I don’t really tend to get starstruck by people. I’m not enough of a star obsessed person to get that way. However, it was pretty exciting, I felt like I was in Norway, and I was pretty excited to meet Sal P, because I was a big fan of Liquid Liquid, and he was saying how he was huge fan of my music, so there was kind of a mutual admiration thing. And then we took acid later that night together. That was a pretty nice experience, and he started going off on how New York changed so much, that was pretty cool, but you know my star sort of relationships just tend to be more casual, just because I’ve lived in LA for so long and I’ve just become sort of desensitized to that sort of thing.
TMB: Are there any questions that you wish people would ask you on interviews?
NJ: I guess I wish that people asked me more, and this is going to sound so counter-intuitive, but I wish people would ask me more about my lyrics, but I don’t think people can understand them, so maybe that’s a problem. But I did include the lyrics sheet. Maybe I should like publish it and then people can ask me more questions about that. I need to find a happy medium between indecipherability and atmosphere. I’m working on it!
Purchase Nite Jewel’s new record “Liquid Cool” HERE.