Watch: Nite Jewel performs in her Fashion District studio, talks ‘Liquid Cool,’ Dam Funk and R&B
Ramona Gonzalez makes smart, fuzzy beat music as Nite Jewel, but when it came to writing songs for her self-produced new album, “Liquid Cool,” she sought stillness. Or to be more precise, the particular sensation in daily life when communication gives way to isolation.
“You close the laptop, and then, silence, you’re alone,” says Gonzalez.
“That feeling of, ‘Wait I was just in this world – and now this is this world, and it’s so different. There’s no one here,” she says, sitting on a couch in the Fashion District studio where she tracked her vocals for the album.
What Gonzalez describes as “this lack of other” permeates “Liquid Cool,” the artist’s fourth long-player under the Nite Jewel moniker.
Its nine concise tracks, with titles such as “Kiss the Screen,” “Nothing But Scenery” and “Boo-Hoo,” seldom break the four-minute mark. In turn, “Liquid Cool” pushes her Nite Jewel persona and distinctive production techniques further toward contemporary R&B. Previous records, for instance, explored more syrupy, claustrophobic disco music.
The artist will celebrate its release on Wednesday with a show at El Cid in Silver Lake. The work is her first album since parting ways with the respected label Secretly Canadian, an imprint with a reputation that leans more indie rock than high-concept underground dance music.
In her first album in four years, “Liquid Cool,” Los Angeles artist and producer Ramona Gonzalez pared down her sound to its bedroom-disco essence.
Changes in sound, she says, were due in part to her newfound freedom. Though her label divorce was amicable, Gonzalez says that expectations on both ends hindered big-ticket success.
“I felt like it was time to regroup and figure out what I wanted to do creatively,” she says, adding that she “wasn’t really getting the most positive feedback from them in terms of letting me experiment.”
“It was almost like their expectations were higher than I was comfortable with,” she explains. “And I don’t mean higher as in high and low, but more commercial, you know?”
Today, Gonzalez gets a groovier kind of energy through tracks she makes as Nite-Funk, a collaboration with local funk master Dam Funk. The two have a self-titled EP arriving Friday, the result of a partnership that she describes as stress-free and easy.
Shifting from the couch to her production work station, Gonzalez pops on one of those collaborative tracks, “Let Me Be Me,” which is more party-friendly than her own material.
As a rule, she says, she doesn’t like collaborating, especially when she feels like “there’s someone in the room who doesn’t have full confidence or composure with their art.”
“Dam is like 100% grounded in that,” she adds. “He knows what he’s doing. He has the sounds. He has the progressions. He has a talent. He has the facility with his instrument. It’s wonderful to watch and be a part of.”
For her earlier albums as Nite Jewel, she had in-house help in the form of producer Cole M. Greif-Neill, her husband of a decade. Best known for his behind-the-boards work on Beck’s 2014 album “Morning Phase,” Greif-Neill and Gonzalez were schooled in the same Cal Arts-centered creative community as Ariel Pink, Julia Holter and Jason Grier.
Greif-Neill’s album-of-the-year-winning Grammy trophy for engineering “Morning Phase” sits on a shelf in the studio.
“We all had a similar perspective about art-making,” says Gonzalez, who studied philosophy and visual art at Occidental College. “It should be for yourself and for experimentation’s sake, pushing the boundaries of your own consciousness.”
Her label change, she says, prompted a shift in intention toward the more personal and intimate, and away from commercial aspirations. “In many ways it’s about messing with the audience, not as much appeasing them.”
Gonzalez toys with expectations not in the way she writes or performs, but in her unique sonic aesthetic, one that she describes as possessing an “almost ambient softness to it.”
Rather than focus on clarity, bottom-end bass lines or crisp high-end frequencies, Nite Jewel’s music is centered on the mid-range, resulting in a deliberately compressed tone that suggests an overdubbed, heat-damaged cassette tape.
That texture is tempered by a rejection of the brand of dance-music exuberance that drives sweaty EDM dance floors, one of many self-imposed limitations she placed on herself, aimed at challenging assumptions and creating tension.
“Even the songs that sound like they’re happy-go-lucky are always kind of melancholy,” says Gonzalez. “That’s what Nite Jewel kind of is, and I gain a lot of artistic energy through that state.”
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