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Queer musician Gemtones talks new record "Good Girls" and femme producers making waves in the industry

July 24, 2019

A queer, femme revolution is underway, and musician Nicole Gemmiti is leaving her mark as the artist and activist, Gemtones. Drawing from musical influences like Jack White and Hozier as well as personal influences like Janelle Monáe and Kehlani, Gemtones uses her rock and blues sound to reach audiences that can relate to her personal experiences with queerness, heartbreak, and mental illness. 

Gemtones’ recently released double single “Do You Feel Good? // Good Girls” is her first published record as a singer/songwriter. Although she feels production work is her calling, Gemtones’ original music is “a deluge of her musical freedom coming to a head” – and it's here for you to enjoy. 

Nicole is a GLAAD Campus Ambassador and recent graduate of Berklee College of Music. In this interview, Nicole opens up about her growth over the past year, her message to listeners, and how her queer identity influences her artistic expression as Gemtones.

Nicole Gemmiti Gemtonez Gemtones

Photography by Holy Smoke Photography

So, can you tell me about your journey of how you started your music career?

I didn't even actually consider music as a career until my junior year of high school. I always thought it was just going to be a hobby. But then I realized that I wasn't going to be able to do anything that was gonna make me happy unless it was in music.

The first thing I did production-wise was I made some recordings using GarageBand on my phone (laughs), using the microphone on my iPhone earbuds to record everything.

I was like, this is kind of cool. So music production was what I decided to do in school, once I figured out that that could be a career. Then I decided to take some songwriting classes for fun at my school, Berklee College of Music, that had nothing to do with my double major in both Contemporary Writing & Production and Music Production & Engineering. I ended up really, eventually, liking the stuff that I was coming up with. It took me a while to find my own sound. But once I started writing “Do You Feel Good?” and “Good Girls” in particular, I feel like I sort of found where my voice was by having an outlet – outside of all, like, the technical side. The creativity of songwriting is a lot of fun.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Has becoming a singer songwriter changed your relationship to music?

I mean, with stuff that I've produced in the past, I do get nervous, of other people listening to my mixes or stuff I've recorded. But when you have a song that's something that you've written, like, right from your soul, it's like giving your newborn baby to the world and just letting listeners do whatever they want with it. And it's scary, it's really vulnerable. But I'm liking it so far, I think it's worth it.

Has anything positive come from being vulnerable in that way?

Yeah, it has. I can say till the cows come home how much the songs that I write mean to me, and how much the lyrics mean to me, but as soon as somebody texts me, like, “I'm jamming out to this right now” or “I really felt those lyrics” – as soon as somebody else says that they relate to what I have to say it's like, a huge rush of validation for me. It helps to know that my music is not just for me, it's for everybody.

And how is your music for everyone?

I feel like that should be the case with all music. I know that some artists say like, “Oh, well, I'm just doing this for myself. And if nobody else likes it, then I don't care”. But I’m not that kind of person. I want everyone to enjoy my art – it’s for them, too. 

I'm a big proponent of activism through art. I think that, as artists, with our platforms being wide reaching, we should use those platforms to say something that matters and reach people in important ways. You know, for people that don't have a strong voice, so they can be heard in one way or another.

Nicole Gemmiti Gemtones Gemtonez

Photography by Holy Smoke Photography

What do you want to say to people who don’t feel they have a strong voice?

For anybody who feels marginalized in one way or another, I would say that you're worth fighting for, and anything that you have to say is valid and important. I hope I can get that message across. I mean, I can't speak for everybody. But speaking from the perspective of someone who's femme-identifying and queer, it can be difficult to be taken seriously. 

I also hope to speak to people who are mentally ill. That's something I struggle with. It's not often easy to talk about, because a lot of times if you're high functioning, people can't really see it. But despite that, everybody's experience is valid and deserves to be heard and validated.

How does your experience with mental illness influence your music?

I mean, the whole first song on the record is about dealing with having a couple different kinds of mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, personality disorders, and how they intersect with one another. Also, how it can often skew your perception of emotion. Like, you don't know if somebody else could be feeling an emotion the same way that you do.

This song is sort of asking the question, if you feel good, what does that mean to me? Like, are we feeling the same thing? Or, am I just never feeling the same? I can never know that for sure.

So, songwriting has helped me express that question that's kind of unanswerable. I hope that people can relate to that.

What do you feel is relevant between your queer identity and the music?

The song “Good Girls” in particular is all about how, as a femme-identified queer person, you're often not seen as valid by cis, straight men in terms of like, being in a relationship with somebody that you love. It’s like they just think it’s all fake, because you're not doing anything in your love life for the gratification of men. 

And, you know, this song itself, it does come from a place of anger to a degree. The song outlines all these hetero-patriarchal situations that we can't control and we're trying to change because they're awful. But it's mainly supposed to be about empowerment. No matter what happens, we're not going to stop being ourselves and loving who we love.

Nicole Gemmiti Gemtonez Gemtones

Photography by Holy Smoke Photography

What are some life lessons that you've learned this year?

Patience is a virtue.

What do you mean by that?

We worked a really, really long time and trying to make this record as good as possible. And I'm really proud of how it came out. And I don't regret a single late night where we got nothing done. I don’t regret any conversation, or having to spend a little extra time on this or that because it all led up to a product that we're really proud of. 

I think that that goes for anything. You know, if you really want something to be good, you have to work for it. And you can't care how long that takes. 

Can you describe the people that you made music with? What role did they play in producing this record?

Oh, yeah, totally. The main person who was my partner throughout this whole thing is my co-producer and also recording engineer and mix engineer for the project, Jessie Brown. They were a huge help throughout the whole thing. We were partners through all the production, the recording and everything.

The band that I've worked with, they're all close friends of mine. A lot of us were in the same ensemble class together. Berklee has ensemble classes where you do particular kinds of music, and I put one together. We just did a bunch of music from Jack White's discography (laughs). And then I got some of them together when I was thinking about doing this project. I was like, hey, the music is going to be kind of similar. Can you help me out? And you know, the drummer, the bassist, and the keys player, we were all part of that same ensemble. And I brought some other friends in and we all got along together really well. Rehearsals are where the arrangements sort of came together. 

All the instrumentalists had great ideas. Yeah, this record really would never been as good as it was if I didn't have all those people behind me. I quite literally could not have done it without every single one of them.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Do you have any role models?

That’s a good question. I love Janelle Monáe and I love Kehlani, even though their music isn't super similar to mine. I admire, you know, just really being super out and proud. Not caring at all what anybody thinks about it. 

Also, they’re not just being out and proud, they’re doing appropriate things with their platforms for the community. They're outwardly looking out for the queer community. And not just like, being quietly out or just saying it if somebody asks. They're like, I'm here. I'm out. I love myself. I love my queer siblings. That's important. 

I love activism through art. I love when people who have large platforms use it to say something meaningful.

What role has mentorship played to you?

All of my Berklee professors have been so helpful. I gave a special thanks on my record to one of my Berklee professors, Susan Rogers. She's a legend – she was Prince’s audio tech for a long time. She helped out my co-producer and engineer a lot throughout the production and mixing process of this record.

Having people like her – and all of the great women production professors at Berklee – is fantastic, because you don't often see that in the industry right now. I see in all of my classes, all these great female and femme producers coming up, and it's about to just shake the industry, I swear. There's so many of us and it's gonna be great. And it's because of femme mentorship that more women get involved in these areas of the industry. When you see yourself reflected in somebody else who is successful, it seems like anything is possible.

You can listen to Gemtones’ project “Good” on all major streaming/downloading platforms using this link. You can also follow her on Facebook, Instagram, or her personal website.

Andrew Hall is a GLAAD Youth Engagement Intern and recent graduate of UCLA where he studied Gender Studies. Andrew recently relocated to NYC to pursue a career in media advocacy.

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