k*nk* magazine

Dienstag, 5. Januar 2010

All Nite Jewel

On her epic debut Good Evening L.A. based Ramona Gonzales aka Nite Jewel beautifully mumbled words nobody could understand. Still, everybody liked her DIY approach to New Disco. Last autumn in Lausanne we spend some minutes with her. This marvellous student of philosophies led us from Ariel Pink to Arthur Russell, from spiritualism to synthesizers and from Martin Heidegger to herself.

Interview, Lausanne, Sept. 20th, 2009
By Hannes Grassegger

Nite Jewel produced her 2008 debut album called Good Evening all on her own on an eight track recorder, with just a little help from her husband. Out came a lo fi jewel, transcending privacy to disco floors, something warm and spiritual. Something only she can do. But this tour’s live set up consists of three band members.
Nite Jewel is Ramona Gonzalez, born in 1984 in Berkeley, Oakland. Ramona is half-mexican and Nite Jewel is her private moniker which refers to a song by obscure L.A. band Nimbus Obi. In 2003 she went to New York to study philosophy, in 2006 she got married to a guy called Cole MGN, sharing two years of what she calls “just the two of us”. Then both moved to Los Angeles, being involved in the creative scene around Jason Grier’s Human Ear label, people like Ariel Pink, No Age or John Maus. Miss Gonzalez composes, sings and plays the keyboard. But she doesn’t come from the synth pop scene. She was rock. Back in Oakland, she was involved in some “serious shoegaze, psyche and garage rock bands”, which she recalls as “terrible shit. All about sex and drugs”. But she still has some studio recordings left from that period. “Oh that tape?” says Corey, the bass player, raising his eyebrow. “Yeah. A could-be full length album.” Maybe in a future world, record collectors like the discogs-feeders who form the Nite Jewel L.A. environment will release "that tape".
At the bass guitar it’s Corey Lee Granet from San Francisco, age 34. He played for the Warlocks, The Girls (watch out for their new album, plus they are currently touring), Vincent Gallo and Holy Shit!, a side-project of L.A.s DIY icons Ariel Pink, John Maus and Matt Fishbeck, who appearingly is “the guy through whom we got to know each other“ says Ramona reminiscing, “when I first met Corey I thought he really was a rocker”.
Tranquile Emily Jane Kuntz, born 1980, is the third member. She plays sampler and midi-keyboards. Being a visual artist mainly working with videos, this is her first time touring with a band internationally. She is a former member of Bubonic Plague, who released some of their music at Human Ear Music.

[Interview transcript]

HG: Tell us, why did you assemble a tour band? Why not go solo?

RG: It’s because I’m a musician, not a performer. And I know how boring it is for me to play all alone, without a band. Musicwise, thinking of the crowd I’m not experimental enough to come up alone.

HG: And why did you move to Los Angeles?

RG: NYC was far to expensive. Plus, I wanted to go move where the best music is around. I mean Emily’s environment, people like Ariel…in NYC I wasn’t connected with the music scene at all…hmmm…as far as I remember some flatmate of mine knew Vampire Weekend..but that’s it. Plus, for a artists, L.A. really offers a lot of job opportunities which can help you to get along.

the lausanne mansion

…somebody comes in to ask the band whether they would like to have a drink.

RG: That’s great. I’ll take a beer…thank you! I toured in NY. That was hell. They don’t even give you guarantees. I mean you just have to show up for the concert. No drinks, no food, no accomodation anyway. It’s great here.

HG: Really? We already discussed whether you would be fine with the squat…

Emily: Don’t mind! It’s great here. In the US they don’t give you anything.

HG: Who do you think is your audience at the concerts?

RG: There are no common features. I tried to, but I couldn’t figure out any consistent aesthetics. Normally it’s around 50 to 100 people. They don’t really seem to form groups of people who know each other that well. We play, and then people leave..

Emily: Especially when we play at dance clubs..the dj turns starts his set, but people just go home. (laughs)

RG: I think initially in LA we had this mexican hipster crowd. I remember one time around Highland Park, that is where all the hipsters live, some mexican kid on the other side of the street was just screaming “hey this is nite jewel. I know you.yeah.” or something..anyway..

HG: Your tour is really fast, you just stay for some hours and leave the country. Still, how do you perceive Europe? Does it appear new or "old" to you?

RG: To me, Europe is large. And so diverse, even within short distances. Somehow it’s comfortable, couchy like a pillow, so pleasantly nice. In my eyes it’s a perfect combination of old an modern. Just think how progressive it is in terms of environmentalism or public transportation or architecture. O.K. in terms of food, L.A. is still very progressive. But if you drive through the US and look around, you might think it all got stuck in the 1980s. We just forgot to update our industrialization since then.

HG: You just had a show in Berlin. Once you said you might wanna move there. That was even before you had went there for a first time. Still true after your gig at West Berlin?

RG: Oh yeah! It’s still true. I will move there. I loved that concert. My love for Berlin has many reasons. When I was at school, I had this incredible german teacher from East Berlin. And there is Gudrun Gut [from Malaria] whose new album I really love. She does this female IDM sound so slow-motion. Her album really is very good. We are in touch with each other. We emailed back and forth….then there is my friend Erin Weber who formerly was a part of Crack We Are Rock [aka Crack WAR] who now lives in Berlin and is really happy with it. Even after the concert, et the bar, people said such thoughtful things to us.
I mean I am obsessed by Germany. Look at it’s whole history of german philosophers, it’s history of german music. Even at university, in my last semester I studied the Frankfurter Schule and Wittgenstein, I took courses in german language and german arts and architecture.
Right now, at this point in my life I feel I need to get specific…and Germany is what is most interesting to me..some kind of naturally…

HG: How do you experience the Germans?

RG: What I find interesting about Germany is, that there seems to be so much at stake. Whether it’s at a political level or in any other area of life, whatever the Germans communicate it is judged by the history of fascism. I feel somehow that they care a lot about content. And that’s something which relates to my music. It’s about content. And speaking for myself, as an artist I am an eclectic person. So again, my interest to german philosophy is also about methodology.

HG: You are still studying?

RG: Yeah, I want to continue, go for the master after the tour. I have a bachelor in philosophy now which I received from Occidental College, Los Angeles. I thought about continuing in Berlin.

HG: To be honest, I couldn’t understand a lot of your lyrics. Rumor has it that even native speakers cannot understand what you are singing. You didn’t upload your lyrics to the website neither. So do you think that it’s the music solely which conveys your ideas?

RG: Oh no (laughs). I know, even Americans don’t understand it properly…For sure there is lyrics to my songs and I know what I am singing. It’s only that I made the whole album [Good Evening, her debut] at home, only me and my 8-track cassette recorder. I never expected it to be heard by nobody. But I wanna rerelease it as a Vinyl with all the lyrics. Moreover I feel that you have to be careful with what you say. People are so much like sponges. If you are dropping out lyrics, you might even poison people. That’s what I meant when talking about the german historical background. Because of their history, there is no way of saying something without content. I mean, if artists work based on style alone it is at least a problem.

HG: I got your debut vinyl in January 2009 from Other Music in Manhattan, one of the world’s most highly recognized record stores, known for its super savvy staff. There was a sticker where the owner compared you to Arthur Russell. Which actually means you have been compared to G.O.D. How do you think about that?

RG: Oh, I heard about that. People told me. It’s crazy. I couldn’t believe it. I mean I love Arthur Russell. For quite a while I have been listening to Springfield EP from Audika Records almost daily. I might have listened to it maybe 300 times and it still makes me cry. I think Springfield is his best song. Most of his work is amazing, I love his solo cello work a lot, the World of Echoes and his disco stuff is great as well. I saw the movie, of course. Do you remember the soundtrack? He even made great pop songs. To me Arthur Russell is so dark, but in a way without being sad. That’s really special about him. But in the meantime, I have started to become more and more interested with the Californian New Age scene. There is incredible music out there! Especially Iasos. All the time now me and my friend we are listening to Iasos. He’s amazing. A genius. On the same level with Arthur Russell.

HG: That’s a funny coincidence. Generally that genre is so far out, but we started listening to New Age sounds ourselves as well. Early 2009 me and some record loving friends we were digging in Zürich and we just had the idea: hey, let’s go for German New Age music. It’s cheap, it’s unknown territory. Some early 1980s records. Labels like Erdenklang. They put out an amazing compilation callled Music from Utopia.

RG: Oh yeah Erdenklang, of course. You mean music like Deuter. But check out the Californian New Age scene. There is tons of stuff out there. A friend of mine runs a blog on the topic.

HG: Actually, I sometimes wonder why cultural phenomena like this sudden interest in New Age music pop up at the same time within totally different environments. For example, I heard the mechanical clock was invented around 1350 in several places like Italy, France or England.

RG: I find that interesting as well. This emergence phenomenon actually is the topic of a study I plan to write at university. There is a feeling people have which Heidegger termed “anxiety”. I don’t know what the german term for this is, sorry. Heideggerian language is a bit complicated sometimes. In my study I wanted to analyze this, and I have ideas, but it’s upcoming, not yet written. I also wrote my thesis based on Heideggerian thinking, but unfortunately I came to other results than he did (laughs).

HG: I also wonder about the significance of such phenomena. Take e.g. Lo-Fi. What does it mean? Why do people go for it?

RG: Oh, there are so many reasons for it. So many messages. Take e.g. the “social class issue”. Lo-Fi says that you don’t have the means, the money to go a studio. That’s a message. Or, in some ways I also think that neglecting state-of-the-art studio techniques might be a sign of musicians becoming conscious about how to use their means to transport their feelings, how to become spiritual with electronic means. Which relates to these New Age music pioneers. They were all about transporting spirituality with electronic instruments.

HG: Talking about your music. Pitchfork seems to hate you.

RG: Yeah I know. But have you read their criticism? To me it seems like the only thing they talk about is the production. The fuzzyness of it. I mean come on, Good Evening was never intended to be released.

HG: When doing research on you, I found that you were part of a Los Angeles arts scene.

RG: The L.A. Scene? I think we’re just a bunch of people with the same taste. We are Anti-Hipster.

HG: But isn’t it childish to relate to such nonsense like Hipster-ism? I remember your early video for “Artificial Intelligence”. In the video you look like a typical hipster, go to a photo shooting where you end up vomitting neon-coloured liquid.

RG: It’s right above a 100.000 views, isn’t it? The video was just a fun thing. A sketch. Huite-fait. The song is about something totally different. Artificial Intelligence originally was a critique of a critique of a critique of a critique of certain people who use the internet in a particular way. The video doesn’t relate to that in any way. We put it up, views rose and then this discussion on the net started, the battle, the pros and cons, all of those issues. I started thinking that bothers me, but then I realized it is just noticed. I realized that’s the best thing, you are manifested as an artist, I thought.

HG: A manifestation on the internet. Is this “real life” for you?

RG: There’s people like Virillo or Baudrillard, who talks about the simulacrum argueing that there is no difference between real life or virtual reality and everything ending up in hyperreality.

HG: That’s your stance?

RG: Concerning internet versus real-life? Only thing for me, I think there is people who are nostalgic and others who are anti-nostalgic. It’s like two sects fighting over world dominance. And when eventually someone decides to take a stance and to manifest his position and thus both world’s clash, that’s when the best art happens.

HG: And you, personally?

RG: I have no dogmatism. I do what’s pleasurable for me at the moment. Like with my music and the eight-track recording for Good Evening. It was all so complicated with the bands, I took the eight-track because it was practical to me at a certain point in time. Just to pursue my aims.

HG: So you might abandon the lo-fi thing?

RG: I made music before. I know what a studio is like. Now that I have more resources at hand, I might as well become hi-fi.

HG: There is a Nite Jewel CD-R called YOU F O which recently appeared on Discogs. Is it part of a new album?

RG: That’s so silly. I think I even know the guy who put it up there. You F O is just a five-track tour-CD we started selling recently. But yeah, I’m constantly working on new music. There even is a song where I sing in german on You F O.

HG: Your debut came out on Gloriette Records in 2008, was rereleased on Jason Grier’s Human Ear Music and now on No Pain in Pop. Still your current Maxi appear on Portland/NYCs Italians Do It Better Label. Tell us about your label policies…and did you sign a new label for your new album?

RG: I haven’t yet signed any label for my next album yet. Human Ear Music is just the label of Emily’s environment, people like Ariel Pink or Geneva Jacuzzi, with whom she used to play in Bubonic Plague. And these guys from Italians Do It Better: I have never met them personally. We are in email contact, that’s all. And I tell you what. Gloriette is actually me and a friend (laughs). When my partner listened to my recordings, which are now Good Evening, he said it’s great, why don’t you put it out? And I asked: where? And he said: you yourself on Gloriette. Thus we made a 1000 pressing on vinyl and this is how my debut came out.

HG: Great artists around you! Panda Bear, Ariel Pink, Geneva Jacuzzi...

RG: It’s mostly Emily’s environment. In Bubonic Plague Emily used to play with Geneva Jacuzzi. And Corey plays in a group called Holy Shit! together with Ariel Pink and John Maus. My husband Cole plays with Ariel sometimes. Still, I took part in some events with these people.
Ariel, I think is impressing. It seems strange to say it, but I think he really is a genius. He’s so fast at learning, so apprehensive, it’s amazing. Even in non-musical things. I believe he really is very intelligent. John Maus is a more complicated person.

HG: Is there someone among your friends for whom we should really look out?

RG: Hm, I think Julia Holter is really amazing. Someone to look out for. I recently did a mix with her as the opening title. You can find it on the Dazed and Confused site.

HG: Your music is eclectic. You seem to listen to R. Stevie Moore, Drone stuff, Cosmic, Krautrock..

RG: Yeah, that’s some of the music I listen to besides New Age artists like Iasos. By the way, how do you correctly pronounce that German group Cluster? Some people argue it’s pronounced with an a, like the english word. Or with an u?

HG: We pronounce it the english way.

RG: Oh.

HG. So, do you still like your debut?

RG: I still love it. It’s great! I’m happy with it. And you know what? The picture for the cover artwork, that’s actually my wedding photography. I was pretty drunk back then, I think. But I was really really happy.

HG: Your kind of music already got its one name: dreambeat. People put slow, electronic lo fi with aetheral voices together. So Nite Jewel, Beach House, Washed Out…is it a movement?

RG: You know what? I give a shit about movements. Beach House? To me they are doing something totally different. I don’t listen to such music. People even send me their music, stuff that’s not enduring! I listen to it once, then I throw it out the window. So many young bands... I know some kids personally. Nice guys. Now you see them on posters, playing at big venues. Guess what in ten or maybe twenty years, nobody will listen to their stuff.. They are just here and they wanna be famous. Some writer [actually I forgot the name, could have been Milan Kundera;the editor] once said, that such people just fear to die. This is why they are in such a hurry to become famous, to build a big big thing, just because they feel like they will fade. Me, I’m not in such a rush. I do my thing in slow motion. I just want to create something beautiful. Once. I am working on the one manifestation of beauty.

HG: Good Evening.




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