Show Off Your Studio: Nite Jewel just needs a desk and some synths to craft delicate sounds
The producer, professor, singer and label owner invites us into her apartment studio to tell us how she created her new album, No Sun, with a limited toolkit.
Nite Jewel’s 2009 album Good Evening was an integral record in the chillwave eruption, being one of the first albums to explore the genre’s signature lo-fi tones and soft pop hooks. The professor, producer, singer and label owner, real name Ramona Gonzalez, went on to release three more acclaimed albums and is now taking a new direction in her new album, No Sun.
Gonzalez explores themes of female pain in No Sun, using her PhD research on women’s lament practices to form the backbone of the record. Borne out of the emotional burden of the dissolution of her 12-year marriage and her newfound love of the Moog Mother 32, No Sun is both a representation of mourning and a celebration of life. She invites us into her workspace to explain how her limited toolkit was pivotal in actualising these concepts, and why it’s important not to cover up your production errors.
Hi, Nite Jewel, congratulations on No Sun! How did your creative process change in exploring themes of pain, grief, and celebration of life?
Thank you! I approach the creative process similarly every time, in that I choose a particular set of tools and parameters for the production. What those gear choices are will differ from record to record. For this album, I initially limited myself to only using the Moog Mother 32 and a Fender Rhodes, as well as not using Ableton Live’s timeline grid. This set of instruments and this framework was informed by how I felt the concept of the album should sound.
You completed your PhD in Musicology recently. How has that informed your approach to No Sun?
My PhD studies continue to give me a depth of understanding of music and its history, allowing me to take more creative risks. With this album, my academic journey gave me the opportunity to expand my purview of the imaginative possibilities of music.
Tell us a bit about the studio.
My studio is just my work desk. It’s located in the living room of my apartment, where I moved into six months ago and is meant to be simple and portable. When I recorded No Sun, I was sleeping on friends’ couches and moving around a lot after separating from my partner, so I needed something to travel with and record quickly and easily. At that time, I was just carrying around my laptop, my Moog, the Novation Ultranova and a set of Audio-Technica headphones.
How do you use your studio?
I use it daily; I practice at my electric piano, demo out ideas, and do a lot of initial creative work and improvisation. I also produce and engineer final versions of more low-stakes tracks, including remixes. If I’m mixing or recording acoustic elements for an album like No Sun, I do that work at a separate studio; usually at Stones Throw Studios in Highland Park.
What atmosphere do you try and create in the studio?
I don’t really try to do anything [laughs]. I can record pretty much anywhere. Just give me some alone time.
Which DAW do you use?
Ableton Live. It’s the most flexible and user-friendly DAW out there. Nothing compares.
What is your favourite piece of gear?
My Roland Juno 60. It was the first synth I ever bought, and it can be heard on every album I’ve made.
We’ve heard that a Moog sequencer was a driving force of No Sun…
I used Moog Mother 32 on every track on No Sun. It is the backbone of the record and is the rhythm to which everything else is arranged.
You’ve also ensured that your vocal is at the forefront of this album. Did that change your writing and production process at all?
I knew the vocals would be heavily present from the beginning. I chose my tools carefully because production, instrumentation, and minimalism were always the driving concept. I never strayed from that idea nor doubted it.
What’s been the biggest investment in your studio? Was it worth it?
I’ve bought and sold many synths over the years, but the Roland Juno 60 has always stayed. It was definitely worth it.
What is your dream piece of gear?
Probably a Yamaha CS-80, but my partner has a CS-60, and it’s virtually the same thing.
If we left you on a desert island, what one item would you take with you to make music with forever?
Any vintage polyphonic Roland synth.
No Sun feels like a different album to Real High, Liquid Cool and Good Evening. But what vital production lessons did you learn from those albums that you applied to this one?
Go analogue, so you don’t feel compelled to cover up your errors or over-edit.
What is your top piece of production advice?
Limit your tools. Also, it doesn’t matter what plug-ins you use if you have good ideas.
What is the one piece of advice you would give someone starting out building a studio?
Research the records you love from the past and think about how they recorded things and what gear they used. Build your studio based on that history.
No Sun is out on 27 August via Gloriette Records.