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Over the past couple of years, the indie rock and pop realms have been flooded with examples of artists going from tinny-sounding bedroom/home-based projects to much-discussed touring bands (usually with a fleshed-out lineup). At one point or another, Passion Pit, Neon Indian, Washed Out, Youth Lagoon, Spectrals, Dirty Beaches, Toro Y Moi, Cloud Nothings, and Painted Palms have fallen into this group, and the trend doesn’t look like it’s going to stop soon. Nite Jewel, the brainchild of the L.A.-based Ramona Gonzalez, is another example, having recorded her 2008 LP Good Evening in her living room and at a friend’s place. The new One Second Of Love marks her rise upward. Granted, this album was also recorded at her in-home studio and at a friend’s studio, but you wouldn’t guess it from its punchy, finely produced dance-pop—a sound that’s worlds apart from her hazy, spacey sound from before.
“I feel like there’s a lot of accessibility to [One Second],” Gonzalez said. “At the same time, there’s a lot of weirdness to it. In many ways, [it’s] a stepping stone for me—something I necessarily had to get out into the world to be able to move forward with being a real singer.” Before Nite Jewel hits the Empty Bottle tonight, March 30, we spoke to Gonzalez about the record’s direction, the downsides of lo-fi, and her love for a very specific time period.
The A.V. Club: Over the years, Nite Jewel has seen some fundamental changes in the way the project sounds. What kind of ambitions did you start with, and how do they compare to where the band is now?
Ramona Gonzalez: I guess I didn’t really have any plans at first. I was just sort of doing my thing, and then it changed over time just based on the music. Whatever was right for the music was where the changes were, you know what I mean? It’s never really had any specific business practices—just whatever I wanted to do for the music was where I ended up.
AVC: A couple of terms have been associated with Nite Jewel on and off. The first is “lo-fi.” That doesn’t apply to One Second Of Love, but over the years, lo-fi and Nite Jewel have been so linked that a Google search for the combination produces tons of results. How do you feel about the word, or at least its association with Nite Jewel?
RG: I think it’s accurate. The first record’s pretty lo-fi. Not intentionally, I just was kind of producing myself and it’s ill-advised to produce yourself now, for me. Thing is, a lot of those songs I’m really proud of as songs and I think that they could have gone a little bit further had I not been producing myself. I think lo-fi just means limited.
AVC: If you play One Second Of Love for someone who has never heard of Nite Jewel before, they probably won’t have any associations with lo-fi. It’s a totally non-lo-fi record. How much of One Second was actively straying from the lo-fi idea?
RG: It was definitely active. Not to say that it was because I didn’t like lo-fi or anything. As an artist, you want to do different things and change your approach, so we initially bought a reel of two-inch tape and wanted to record this really beautiful hi-fi instrumental electronic music, like improvisations, and so that was an intention. We just wanted to have that sound, you know? The record emerged out of those sessions, drawing from that reel and chopping it up and doing different things with it. That’s how the single “One Second Of Love” happened. The thing is that once you make a commitment like that, once you say, “Oh, I want to record on two-inch in a really hi-fi capacity,” then that’s the way your record turns out, you know what I mean? You just make that commitment and go for broke and say, “I made this commitment and I’m going to stay with my gut,” just like if I recorded all of my tracks on Good Evening on a cassette and it sounds really fucking fuzzy, I’m not going to redo it, I’m just going to say that’s what I was doing and commit.
AVC: Do you miss any traits or elements that you lost in the move from lo-fi to hi-fi?
RG: I’m not really nostalgic for my other self, you know what I mean? I mean, I like my songs and I like singing my songs, but there’s nothing I miss about lo-fi music. It’s fun to do on your own for your own sake, but there was a lot I regretted [with] having that record [Presumably Good Evening. —ed.] be so lo-fi, just in the context of not being able to listen to it in a club, not being able to listen to it if you’re an older person and not attuned to that sound or if you’re a really great producer. I’m meeting some producer that I’m trying to work with and I play him one of my songs, and he’s just like, “What the hell?” [Laughs.] I’m not really nostalgic for that. The key is to get better at your technique and then you find that sound that is just perfect.
AVC: It’s really surprising that you recorded One Second Of Love in your house. It sounds like comes from some fancy studio.
RG: Well, we recorded it ourselves on our own dime, so we stretched our capabilities and we tried to make it sound really huge, but yeah, a lot of it was recorded in an unconventional manner, actually.
AVC: The indie music press fetishizes so many bands who start off in the bedroom nowadays. There’s Neon Indian, Craft Spells, Youth Lagoon, Baths. Why do you think there’s this proliferation of artists who are getting so much attention for having this thing in common? What’s the interest in the idea?
RG: I think it’s because there’s so much music and so little talent that you have to ascribe importance to all the different things that are coming our way by making it an asset that is amateurish because if it’s not raw talent, then there has to be something about it that’s good. If it’s an amateur doing it and it’s decent, then that’s the cachet. I guess I seek to work as a musician who is not lauded for doing a pretty decent job with limited means but doing a great job with any means.
AVC: Another thing you’re associated with is the ’80s, which comes up all the time. It probably comes up even more nowadays with One Second Of Love. How do you feel about the ’80s association with Nite Jewel?
RG: That’s fine. I love the ’80s—the early ’80s especially and late ’70s. That’s a fine tag. I think that that has a lot with the music I listen to. I didn’t actually grow up super in the ’80s. I was a baby in ’84 so I don’t actually have that time period etched in my brain, but I definitely listen to a lot of that music and draw a lot of inspiration from that music.
AVC: Latina magazine interviewed you and you said, “The time period I would be stoked to work in as an artist would be from about 1978-1982,” which is pretty much exactly what you just said. What about those years was particularly attractive to you and what artists from that time are you into?
RG: Well, the time period was so special because it was a time when innovation, technology, and expertise were all coming to a head—and money—so you had artists who were the best in their fields working in these really innovative groups that were just coming to be at that moment in time. These artists were experimenting a great deal, and it was a time that was brimming with ingenious sort of music, whether it was Brian Eno or David Bowie or the Krautrock musicians who were burgeoning electronic vibes in their music, as opposed to psychedelic stuff that was happening before, and it just seems to me that all of these technological advances were being used to their fullest, as opposed to now, where we’re kind of doing this lowest common denominator thing where we get a new Apple product and then hear a rash of shitty music coming out—and good music but a lot of shitty music. And it’s because it’s being disseminated in a very democratic way whereas [during] that period, technologies were only available to people who were the best. In a sense, that's kind of a good thing and also kind of elitist. You lose and you gain, but I think you gain [more].
AVC: Have you ever written your own music envisioning that it would fit well within that period?
RG: Yeah. I mean, definitely when I was recording One Second Of Love—the initial sessions—I was on some faraway beach and reading a lot about the recording of [Brian Eno’s] Another Green World and what he was doing, and I definitely was trying to gain inspiration from that by doing a few months of improvisatory work on tape with a bunch of different musicians and just going for it, and doing experimental stuff in a very slow-paced manner as opposed to this fuckin’ splurge of momentary inspiration that seems to be really popular nowadays. It just pains me. “And then I put it down on GarageBand and then it’s out.” We were trying to take more of this focused the approach to the music to really let the songs develop, and if the single “One Second Of Love” hadn’t had that time to develop, it would have been a 12-minute-long instrumental jam, but because we allowed it that space, it became this four-minute pop song. That’s kind of exactly what was happening for these artists at the time. They had so much resource to just take their time to make things the best, and that’s pretty inspiring.
AVC: Are there any pitfalls of venerating artists from that period and using them as some kind of mold or inspiration?
RG: I don’t really think so, unless you’re thinking that you wanna live in that time. I don’t wanna live in that time or anything, and I don’t regret the time that I live in, and I don’t dislike music now. I gain inspiration from a lot of musicians now, especially musicians that I work with in Los Angeles, of course, and several others that I get introduced to from time to time. I think if you balance that adoration of the greats with knowledge of new music, then I think it’s all good. I think, in fact, as our generation right now, I think we’re a little bit weak on our knowledge of history in general. Education is pretty down the tubes. I don’t even know how much people read anymore about anything. I think that we need to learn more about the history of music, not less.