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Nite Jewel on Her New Album, Humanizing Electronic Music, and Working on Her Image

Nite Jewel. Photo: Mathew Scott

Romana Gonzalez, the 28-year-old artist better known as Nite Jewel, releases her second full-length album, One Second of Love, today. It’s a record that explores how our culture values (or, rather, fails to value) human relationships, and she created it through a bunch of synth and musical experiments in a San Francisco studio. She spoke with Vulture about humanizing electronic music, how women in music can use their sexuality to their advantage, and working on her own image.

What is the album about, lyrically?
There’s a great deal of love songs or songs about people that I’ve had relationships with, real or imagined. There are a few songs that have nothing to do with that and are more conceptual. But for me, all ideas that are global and huge that we try to make sense of — what is the meaning of life, politics, you know, whatever — to me, those ideas all come down to human relationships and relationships between people. That’s what One Second of Love is about. It’s just about how we’re losing those personal relationships. 

That’s interesting, because the music is electronic, something humans can’t physically create without assistance. But the album is about human connection.
It’s a paradox I’m extremely interested in: how we become more or less human based on the technology that we use. I think that synthesizers are one of those things that are an extension of humanity, if you want it to be. Creating sounds, creating art, when we work with marble or mud as filters in any way, this is an extension of our mind and we are creating these things and they come into being and it’s another aspect of human life.

So what do you think about people who claim there’s a “human” element missing from making music, like with what Dave Grohl said at the Grammys?
Is he a human? I don’t even know. [Laughs.] It seems like a reduction of what’s going on. I think that people aren’t less human in any way, it’s just that they’re so egocentric. It’s all about you and how famous you can become and how special you are, and we’ve lost the dialogue between an artist and his or her tools. We’ve become so hung up on image. Like, you’re this band who is very eighties-synth-based, that’s your vibe, or you’re a band that is dubstep, that’s your vibe. It’s becoming so about these key words, as opposed to just being in the studio and working with things and creating things organically out of that. I guess music has become a little less organic.

Do you think you are challenging that idea a bit?
Yeah. [Pause.] I don’t know if I’m directly challenging anything. It’s not that I necessarily think about these things while the music is being made; I just notice after the music happens that I’ve sort of unintentionally created something that speaks to things that I’m dissatisfied with [in] music now. People are not direct enough. They’re trying to hide behind some sort of image. I’m all about creating an aesthetic and being beautiful, I just — I don’t know. I think it’s a little bit better to be honest with yourself and be honest with people who you’re singing for.

You’ve mentioned a love of divas in the past, like Janet Jackson or Mariah Carey. How have they influenced you as an artist and your music?
Yeah. I was really into, R.I.P., Whitney Houston as a kid. Lauryn Hill, Janet Jackson, all those ladies. I mean, the thing that’s such a strength about them, it’s a cliché, but when they sing it’s like they’re singing to you. As an artist, it’s like, yeah, they’re creating an image but that is who they are. They are their image. That’s why it feels so true. I just wanted to be like them, so good at singing that it doesn’t take much to communicate to people.

Take somebody like Lana Del Rey, who’s created an image and received backlash for not being authentic.
I think Lana Del Rey is completely transparent about her entire history. She’s doing all the right things. She’s creating an image but it’s true to her. That’s who she wants to be in her fantasy world, so that’s her, that’s her honest self. Janet Jackson was a woman who was extremely androgynous and she would wear suits onstage, dance in suits, wore tap shoes, and was terrific. And that’s what she was. That’s what her art became, and that’s who she is as an artist. That’s transparency to me.

Do you feel a pressure as a female artist to use your sexuality? Or do you feel someone like Adele has softened that pressure?
I know what you’re saying. For me, I don’t know, I think female sexuality is one of the powers that we have. If you have the confidence, use it — absolutely, 100 percent. I hope that I can have enough time and money to make that one of my priorities this year.

How would you use that in a powerful way that wouldn’t be misconceived?
Taking care of yourself, you know? For instance, I now have a girl that I met in L.A. and she is my official makeup and hair person. I was at her house for several hours last night working on my hair and what my image will be this year. Which is funny, because I’ve always been an intense tomboy, rolling-in-the-dirt type of person. So it’s interesting to take that on. I have a certain amount of confidence in my own image, so I don’t have any problem with it. It’s really a money issue. People just have trouble cultivating that sexy female image because it takes fucking time and work and money and makeup and clothes and all this shit, and it’s not easy to get that done. I try to make the focus 99 percent of the time the music; sometimes it gets sacrificed.

Nite Jewel on Her New Album, Humanizing Electronic Music, and Working on Her Image