No sun, the disarmingly beautiful album from singer, songwriter and producer Nite Jewel, is full of open spaces. The artist, real name Ramona Gonzalez, lets her vaporous voice float out of long expanses of the atmosphere, coiling like smoke through delicately arranged synths and subtle basslines. She offers cautious moments of stillness, giving the listener the opportunity to sit down with the music and find their own quiet catharsis through her songs.
The album came out of a period of upheaval and transition for Gonzalez. Most of the songs were written towards the end of her 12-year marriage and capture the pain and heartache she was going through at the time. Gonzalez had also started a doctorate in musicology and examined how women’s voices have served as vehicles of lament throughout history – an idea that appears repeatedly in her tender songwriting and painful vocal performances.
She spoke to Rolling stone about the album’s editing process, how it marked an evolution for her as a producer, and how she hopes it connects with people going through their own difficult experiences.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
How do you see No sun as a departure from your past work?
The only thing I don’t do as an artist is stick to the exact same formula. I know there are certain things that are just a part of me musically that I love to include, whether it’s deep bass lines or certain melodies, but I try to challenge myself with every record. I think with my second album I had a similar idea to the one I had for No sun, where I wanted to record analog and wanted to have sequencers – I was inspired by Brian Eno, actually, where I wanted to produce in this way that felt really experimental. The record was ambitious, and I don’t think it was exactly what I wanted in terms of producing and writing songs. For No sun, I was finally able to make this vision that I have had for so long, which is very improvised, experimental and focused on working outside of the pop formula.
What also helped me was that I saw a lot of contemporary artists that I admired bringing pop music to a different place, like with Blond by Frank Ocean, or with Solange’s records, such as When I come back home. It seemed to me that there was a place for all these wacky ideas that I had had for years, and that people would understand.
This album also came at a time that you think marked a lot of huge changes in your personal life. How did these experiences impact the album?
Big changes, huge changes. I started planning the record in late 2017, early 2018 when I got a Moog sequencer. At the beginning, I only had instrumental ideas. It was a bit similar to Brian Eno’s processes, or what I read about it: it was about creating a sound environment and choosing your tools, and I had a notebook where I was writing different ideas I had just for the instrumental sounds. But in the middle of 2018 my life was starting to fall apart quite dramatically: my 12 year marriage was falling apart, I had to leave my house, I was homeless for about two months. All the while, I was carrying my little setup with me from place to place – my synths and the like, from a friend’s house to a friend’s house – and recording wherever I could. Even though it was a difficult time, I felt really inspired because there were so many ideas coming to me in terms of the lyrics.
This is when poetry occurs, when you are in transition or there is a tumultuous situation. It was really the self-writing songs, and the lyrics themselves were inspired by the hardships and trauma I was going through at the time. But I also knew that those words would be powerful for a more universal purpose: so that I could communicate something that could be a universal feeling, because I felt it so deeply. I wrote most of the songs within a six month period after that, and then I started mixing, tweaking, and tweaking – and that’s the part that takes forever, mostly because I’m self-supporting and that I run my own label.
Throughout this experience, you also worked on your doctorate in musicology. Did the experience of thinking about music academically influence the creative process?
Sometimes the analytical mind can get in the way of the creative mind, but by the time my studies started, I had already pretty much completed the creative process. I was studying the history of music, the history of women’s voices, the history of women singing sad songs, and it all enriched my perspective on my own music. I would go back to the songs I had written and see them through this long historical lens of what the empowering position of women is in musical history, what they do, and what they are prohibited from doing. do – because women have historically been constrained in their creativity. practical too. It just allowed me to be riskier, actually, because once you see music in a bigger, longer tradition, you don’t worry about the things that are just a concern of the moment – Trends and things like that.
As you mentioned, you look at the tradition of female voices as a vehicle for expressing lament and pain on this album, and some of that comes straight from your studies. Can you tell us more about how you got interested in this concept and how it played out here?
Women have been entrusted with this role throughout history to express the collective pain of people, of cultural communities. I’m doing a paper on Sade and his album Rock of lovers right now, and she says, “I’m crying everyone’s tears.” It’s rooted in the trauma, in the trauma that people go through through oppression and racism. Women experience it, black people experience it, and there are intersectional concerns and traumas that cross all kinds of people in different positions in society… My album does not necessarily speak collectively for a community in my intention. But I wanted the album to tell people about [a specific] situation, which is in a way a performance of trauma.
You also focus your voice here a lot more than on previous projects.
This was done a lot by improvisation. So for example, the first song, “Anymore”, and the track “No Escape” were these sequences that I had going back and forth, and I was just playing chords or singing along, sort of improvising. . It was kind of like treating my voice like an instrument and freestyle. What I didn’t necessarily do was copy and paste my voice afterwards in a pop format. So this way the vocals are much more flexible and elastic, and the verse-chorus structure isn’t as much of a concern as it would be in your normal pop song.
I also made a specific decision not to focus on drums on this record. Many pop songs these days start with the drums. If you go to a songwriting session in LA with a young producer and a singer, they’re going to start with a beat. There’s almost a gender hierarchy built into there, where the male producers are supposed to make the beats and the women are supposed to sing and it’s top to bottom. And while I was making this record, I was like, “I’m so done with this idea.” I was breaking up with my husband, who is an amazing producer and does amazing drums. There was a bit of anger there, where I was like, “More drums.” We’re fine now, but back then I was like, “I never use drums again.” Obviously, there is percussion on the record, but it was added later, and a lot of it, I programmed myself or I had my friend play. But I was experiencing the production hierarchy that we are so used to.
Made No sun end up providing you with catharsis in any way?
I think there were different stages of catharsis. There was the catharsis of finalizing it, finishing it and feeling like it was done. And there was the catharsis of sharing it with my ex-husband and hearing him say he appreciated and listened to him. So there is this stage of this album as communication. Then there is the album which is just a work of art. And then there’s the third cathartic moment, which releases the record, and makes people say [they] appreciate it. It’s like another kind of beautiful process. [People] notice the production and notice the composition, and to be recognized as a songwriter is something I have wanted for a long time… I really wanted it to highlight my skills as a songwriter and producer.
How is your thesis going?
It’s funny. In fact, fun is not the right word. It’s enriching, but I still have two years left. I have my master’s degree at the moment, and I passed my exams. Once October begins, this is when the intense work towards your thesis begins. Right now, the case study I’m working on is Sade; I’m doing an article on her right now. And I also did an article on Rosalía – almost my entire life over the past year has been focused on her. I’m so deep in El Mal Querer and flamenco. I was struck by the fact that she was giving a historical account of the practice of lamentation in Spain, as the album is based on this 13th century text… I didn’t do much research on Lana Del Rey , but I’ll include it as a case study. And maybe one more. I just have to choose wisely, because I want to represent a lot of different women from different walks of life in the 21st century so that I can examine the power differential between these different types of wailing. It’s really important to me.