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Ramona Gonzalez Channels Grief And Loss In New Album

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEFORE I GO")

RAMONA GONZALEZ: (Singing as Nite Jewel) I gather all the words to sing or be heard, and I won't take it.

Hi, my name is Ramona Gonzalez, also known as Nite Jewel. I'm a musician. I am a PhD scholar, and I'm a professor at Occidental College.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEFORE I GO")

GONZALEZ: (Singing as Nite Jewel) It seems so long ago. We were in throes. My hand, you were holding. Will you take it?

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Professor Gonzalez teaches songwriting. Nite Jewel produces and records albums.

GONZALEZ: It became interesting to me, the concept of women singing sad songs, to put it plainly. I became interested in the history of musical lament practices, not only the ancient traditions that are widely known through tragedy, but also the contemporary pop forms that I engage in as well.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEFORE I GO")

GONZALEZ: (Singing as Nite Jewel) I'm swimming out. I'm swimming out. Oh.

SIMON: Her studies and her art all come together in her new album called "No Sun."

GONZALEZ: The dissolution of my 12-year marriage occurred about halfway through the recording process of the album "No Sun." And at the time that the actual separation occurred was when I began to write lyrics, when I began to actually sing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEFORE I GO")

GONZALEZ: (Singing as Nite Jewel) I'm calling to you. Will you take it? It seemed so long ago. We were at home. My hand you were holding. I can't fake it.

I was just in so much pain. I couldn't even bear to get up from the floor. But I could hear the words in my head. And I just pulled myself off of the floor onto the keyboard and started writing this chord progression.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEFORE I GO")

GONZALEZ: (Singing as Nite Jewel) Oh, hear me now. I won't talk about my feelings if you come around. What's it about? You hesitate to touch the water, but I'm swimming out.

SIMON: So why not pair the lyrics with long acoustic chords to amplify the pain that she's written about?

GONZALEZ: When it comes to grief and loss, you know, it's not just sadness that I felt or that one feels, you know? There's other emotions, too. There's anger. There's freedom. There's joy, too, you know? Perhaps this is a relationship that was meant to be ended for some time. So the song has to communicate all those layers of feeling into one, you know, three-minute piece.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHOW ME WHAT YOU'RE MADE OF")

GONZALEZ: (Singing as Nite Jewel) Show me what you're made of. Show me what you're made of. Is your mind made up?

SIMON: And working through her own feelings, her laments and regrets helped professor Gonzales better understand the larger musical tradition from which this album flows.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHOW ME WHAT YOU'RE MADE OF")

GONZALEZ: (Singing as Nite Jewel) Is your mind made up?

So it's not just an unthinking sort of process. It really is a historical process and a craft and a skill that women have been given the power to do.

SIMON: That's Ramona Gonzalez, who's both the Johnston-Fix professor of the practice in songwriting at Occidental College and the artist Nite Jewel. Her new album is "No Sun."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHOW ME WHAT YOU'RE MADE OF")

GONZALEZ: (Singing as Nite Jewel) I'm not hoarding fire. I'm not hoarding air. But where do I begin? Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.