Los Angeles synth artist Ramona Gonzalez had been a poster girl for modern lo-fi, at least up until now. Her Nite Jewel project has several notably hazy releases. She's a close associate of Ariel Pink, and married to his Haunted Graffiti collaborator Cole MGN. But the smooth pop found on this year's One Second of Love is changing that perception a bit. The record's title track is probably the best thing she's ever recorded, keeping her skewed electronic aesthetic, but making it sound more electrically in the moment. To properly capture the record's fuller sound, Gonzalez is touring the country for the first time with a full band, and ditching the prominent use of the backing tracks she's had to rely on for previous performances.
We talked with Gonzalez, Ahead of her headlining show at Bowery Ballroom tonight, about why she doesn't consider her sound "soft," the joy of collaborating creatively with a spouse, the pitfalls of modern home-recording, and the decision to stop including "all that weird shit" in her songs.
The L Magazine: In writing about your music or talking about your music, people often associate it with softness. You see the words “soft-light,” “soft-focus,” “soft-rock.” Is “softness” a concept that you are actively interested in?
Ramona Gonzalez: Softness? I’ve never actually heard that before.
Well, “soft-focus” is a description that's often used. I’ve read you, yourself talk about doing homages to “soft-rock.” I just wonder if softness is a thing you think about in making your music?
I don’t think so. I mean, I’ve always tried to not be soft in a way. To not be ultra-feminine in a soft way, as a person. So it’s never really been my goal. I mean I know soft rock has that word in it, but it also has “rock” in it, you know? It’s not like I’m making folk music, or girly fairy music. So I guess I don’t identify with it that much, and if it happens it’s sort of an accident.
With this latest record being sharper, for lack of a better word, than your other releases, is it you finally being able to achieve the sound that you’ve always wanted to do, or just a matter of drawing on different, distinct influences?
I think the influences and the intentions were pretty different, all around. Listening to a lot of instrumental electronic music, Brian Eno. But then also, like, Sade. Those generally weren’t as much influences on my first record. Sure, ambient electronic music has always been an influence, but the particular artists have changed over the years. I got more into minimal synth stuff.
I read you saying in an interview that the single, “One Second of Love,” came out of an extended krautrock jam. I was curious about how that developed, because it seems like such a concise pop song now. Was it tricky to find the beginning and end of it, to let go of the extended version?
It was very complicated. (laughs) I’d say 90% of the stuff that was in the jam is not in the final recording. You get so attached to a moment, where Cole and I would do that a certain thing, and it’s like “WHOA!” (laughs) But you have to let go of that stuff. No one gives a shit except us.
The vocals were way different, also, very obtuse, really strange and sort of creepy. One day Cole was just like, “Man, Ramona you need to simplify it. People don’t want that weird shit that you are trying to put in there. They just want you to just send them off into heaven.” And I was like, “Yeah, yeah, you’re right Cole. OK, I’ll get rid of all that weird shit in there.” But I didn’t really get rid of it because people don’t want to hear it. It’s better the other way.
Was the video your concept?
Originally my idea was choreographed dancing done by three, sort of identically dressed, pious sisters. They would be in an environment where they were coming in contact with very different people, and there would be a weird issue of some kind, where there’s duality, a conflict. The director had the idea of it being strip-related, like a bachelorette party, really debased. I liked that.
It made me wonder if you were really into the cult leader side of Southern California?
(laughs) Very much so. It’s something that all people in L.A. are curious about. It’s like a badge of honor or something.
A lot of the focus on this record has been on its increased fidelity. But it seems like we’ve sort of gone through a cultural shift in terms of the ease of home recording and how much money has been sucked out of the music industry. People end up home recording and it seems like that’s only going to grow. Do you think that’s actually hurting artists to be able to get their stuff out so quickly and easily?
I think that what’s hurting artists is a lack of relationships to the technologies that they are working with. And a sort of flippancy with regard to the tools they are working with. If you don’t develop a deep relationship with the tools that you are using, projects come and go so quickly because there’s nothing else to say.
You start something, pour your heart out, maybe write some sort of personal record or even an accident, and then the music dissipates. It’s also difficult for audiences who attach themselves to bands who put out one record that’s really good and then there’s nothing else. When I was a kid, I remember when it would be a one-hit wonder thing, it would be difficult for me. “Oh man, I loved that. Where did they go?” I feel like there’s a lot of flashes in the pan.
Do you think it’d be more constructive for artists to nurse their own voice in private for longer?
Not keep it to themselves, but keep it to the artist communities they are working within. Bring it to your friends, your artist friends, people who are working with you, and developing with you. Why would you share it with a lawyer and a label exec? And like some journalist? You send your demo CDs to Stereogum or something and that’s the first person you are sending it to? That feels a weird to me.
Yeah, but your musical community, whether it’s Ariel Pink or Cole or Julia Holter, I mean that’s a pretty rare community of musicians to be able to share material with.
I know! I know it’s rare, but at the same time, it’s not like I tried really hard to find it.
Can you talk a little bit about what they’ve meant for your creative development?
Well, Ariel is like my idol in many ways. Him approving of my music was the drive that kept me going. As far as the other people in the community, it’s more people I would share stuff with, bounce ideas off each other and collaborate and perform together. No one ever reached the pinnacle of “I would follow his words no matter what!" But everybody provided a springboard and a great sense of really honest critical feedback. If I wrote something that sucks, my friends would tell me.
Also, they're such inspiring people, real true musician people who are really poor. (laughs) Live in shit places, always being chased by their landlords for money, and just pouring everything they have into music. It’s pretty amazing
How has your creative collaboration with Cole evolved over the course of your marriage?
We’ve been married for a long time, years. We started working together on music, like, 8 years ago? If anything it’s gotten better over the years, which is actually sort of surprising. it gets better the more mature and comfortable in our own skin we get, and the more experience we get outside of each other.
Have you been writing new material beyond what you’ve released? Do you have a stockpile somewhere?
I do, I’ve been recording for a year since we finished One Second of Love. I’m really excited to finish the next few records. Getting in the studio again.
Are you working on the same themes, motifs, or going in a totally different direction?
It’s definitely different. I’ve been interested in the whole “who I am?” thing. You think it’s a teenage thing, but not for me. I’m constantly trying to get into this path of self-discovery, and music has been that for me in many ways. I think that softness that you are talking about and the sharp focus of the new record, what I’m trying to do with the next one is really blend those two things in a super-effective way.
Although with the krautrock example, it sounds like it’s apt to change a lot when you get into the studio?
Yeah, but that’s Cole and me improvising stuff. Mainly this next record is just me, writing songs. Hopefully there will be some structure there going in. When there’s no structure, shit takes forever. We spent like six months improvising. And it was like we’re going to make Another Green World! And that’s great. But it takes forever and it’s expensive. So I think we’re going to take a more practical approach.
Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeff_klingman.