Nite Jewel Reveals What Her New Album Is Really About

‘Real High’ is out this Friday

by Noah Jackson

As a seasoned cratedigger who once opened an album with the line, “I’m a broken record/ you have heard this before,” Ramona Gonzalez has made no bones about her vintage inspiration. But on Real High, her latest album as Nite Jewel, she makes the most explicit tribute to her musical forebears yet. The title track, a lush synth ballad we recently premiered, interpolates lyrics from Janet Jackson and Mary J. Blige classics, while the themes of ambiguity and confusion that permeate the record place Gonzalez in a long lineage of female artists exploring the liminal spaces of adult relationships. 

Gonzalez’ music has always been a delightful bricolage of white label electronica and soulful confessionals, modulating between dance floor intimacies and yearning heartbreak. Real High, however, represents her most seamless synthesis of Janet-like production styles (the strutting beat underpinning “I Don’t Know” feels especially like a lost Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis joint) and a Jackson-esque assertiveness that lends swagger to even the most languid tracks. We caught up with Gonzalez to discuss her musical heroines, vinyl collecting, and her own real highs.

You’ve been working on Real High for a number of years. How did that fit in with the creation of your last album [2016’s Liquid Cool]?

I started “Real High,” the song, four or five years ago, and then that sort of developed into this record that was being made while I was still on a label at the time. My label was hot and cold about it, and so when I came to finally split with them, I just couldn’t really approach the songs for a little while because they were so tied up in this really weird time, emotionally. So I took a break from them for a year and recorded Liquid Cool really fast, within six or eight months, and by the time I was done with that, I felt like emotionally ready to return to those songs that are on this new album.

In “Real High” you reference iconic Janet Jackson and Mary J. Blige lyrics from “That’s the Way Love Goes” and “Real Love.” How do you place yourself in relation to those titans of R&B?

I listened to them throughout my childhood, and I think that it was just so easy to invoke because, at that time, we didn’t have access to streaming and stuff like that. You would listen to the same song or the same album a bazillion times because that’s all you had. So it’s like these songs of theirs are in my subconscious in a serious way.

I just love the way that these women at that time were kind of like tomboys, and they were strong and they were tough, but they were also in touch with their sexuality and with what it’s like to be feminine. I think a lot of their records were actually about that struggle, that sort of weird binary that we face as female artists but also as women. Real high or real low it’s just about, like, the black and white and these opposing forces, these polarities that we’re constantly having to navigate as artists and as women in the world. 

You released a 12-inch companion EP to Real High and are also releasing a limited-edition version of the album itself. Did that experience of obsessing over records when you were young inform your current infatuation with vinyl as a medium?

Yeah, I mean that has to do with listening to albums when I was young. It also has to do with growing up as a young adult among record collectors and being in a very record-nerd world, not only in L.A. but in the Bay Area, too. I was exposed to music when I was first starting Nite Jewel through vinyl and through collecting. A lot of what influenced Nite Jewel more in that adult stage was vanity pressed recordings. The album, as a product, is so important, but also there’s something really special about small-run records because you feel like you’re the only one who knows. You’re the only one who’s got it, and you’re in on this little secret. I try to give my fans that because I feel like we are in on this secret together.

What would you say the most prized or rarest record in your collection is? 

It’s funny because a lot of the rare things that I really prized I talked about a lot and then they got re-issued, like that Prophet Right On Time 1984 record. I did a cover of one of his songs, then he got reissued by Beat Electric, and now Stones Throw is going to put out one of his new records. That was my prized possession, my little secret, and I was like, “Oh my god, this is the most next level record on the planet, no one even knows, but I’m sure people now will know about it”.

Can you tell us a secret about Real High?

It seems really plain that all of these songs are about what it’s like to love somebody else or love yourself or whatever, but the record really is about being an artist and the struggles that go along with it, and being really self-destructive. I mean, the album is called Real High, you know what I mean? It’s about being a fucked-up, crazy person and getting fucked up all the time and being a narcissist and being into the roller coaster of life. I didn’t say that explicitly in the press release because I kind of wanted people to discover it on their own, but I think it is good to note that it has to do with my own personal growing process, for better or for worse.