There’s something enigmatic about Nina Ferraro AKA Bonzie‘s music. The young singer/songwriter–she’s only 18-years-old–paints vivid narrative portraits through her soft and sometimes melancholic pop songs. A well-spoken and thoughtful young woman, Ferraro’s pleasantly inquisitive demeanor becomes all the more enchanting at first listen. She is incredibly talented, heralding comparisons to young Chan Marshall or even a softer, more digestible Jeff Mangum circa his formative years. Deeply devoted to her craft, Ferraro released her first mixtape at 15. Two years later she brings us her debut album Rift Into The Secret Of Things. A vast leap from the initial single that launched her career, “Catholic High School,” her latest offering is a complex, deeply personal collection of songs that span emotional highs and lows. Songs like “Data Blockers,” show her talent for moving seamlessly between gentle folk-inspired verses and edgier, rock-n-roll riffs.
Whether the pure beauty of her sound comes from an innocence steeped in youth, or her skill is an anomaly in spite of it, there’s no question Ferraro will make continuously bigger waves as her archive grows. We sat down with Ferraro to discuss her love for Ella Fitzgerald’s scatting, the album release and her insatiable hunger to create.
You just finished high school–congratulations! What are you planning post-graduation?
I’ve been doing music for a good chunk of my life, I started playing music when I was really, really young. I’ve always been focused on music—at times it was tricky to make time for everything I wanted to do. Now I feel good about having time to tour and releasing the album.
The work you’ve done is really impressive considering you’ve been juggling school and adolescence with creating music for years. What’s the first release you put out?
I released an EP when I was 15 called The Promise—it was the first thing I recorded and released.
Has music given you opportunities to travel?
I’ve been out of the country—I’m coming to New York in August. I had done a little bit of traveling but I’m more of a homebody.
What kind of homebody are you–knitting? Hobbies other than writing music?
In fifth grade I was really into movie making—I had a free editing program. I made a documentary about my class and showed it at the end of the year. I do a bit of abstract sketching. Music has always been my biggest focus, I was in a couple musicals in sixth grade—it just wasn’t for me. It was always about making my own music.
Is making music a therapeutic process for you?
It’s always just so automatic to me. It’s something that I do as my existence—I never thought of it as work or therapy. It just kind of happens. I don’t think about it. It’s an instinct.
How does using social media and playing the self-promotion game fit into that instinctual drive to make music?
I especially like Instagram. I think it blew up because it’s so interesting to see other people’s lives. I use Facebook too—but I’m very involved in social media. There’s this record store in Chicago called Reckless Records. They sell my music, and somebody found it just by browsing through their store. They found me on Facebook—and had no idea I lived in Chicago. The wrote me and said, “I just picked this up and loved it.” You get cool opportunities to talk to people.
Is there anyone you follow religiously?
I follow Conan O’Brien on Twitter—I get his feed and he’s so funny. It brightens my day. We have second city here in Chicago, and I’ve gone to a couple other shows.
What’s exciting to you in music right now?
I feel like there’s this combining of genres happening right now that’s really interesting. Its not always black and white, there have always been crossover artists. There’s this band I really love in Chicago called Tortoise, I recorded with a few of them last week. They combine a lot of things to make this very unique sounds. That’s something really exciting about music—when an artist can go past a niche thing and be a combo of several sounds.
If you were gonna record an album in a different genre, which one would you pick?
I’d like to make a rock and alt album. A little bit harder, a little bit louder. I think it comes from playing live—it’s exciting to get to that place when you’re playing live. It’s exciting to write that on acoustic guitar. At the same time, I try not to constantly think about what kind of music I’m making.
Describe Rift Into The Secret Of Things?
It’s so different song-to-song. It’s almost like different colors, especially when we got to mixing the album, it seems like each song has it’s own world within it. They did connect to each other in a certain way, it can be a lot of different things, it’s sort of a chameleon. When you can have music associate with lots of different things.
There are definitely tons of darkness and melancholy in it. What role do the darker things in life play in your music?
Some of my songs come from a personal place, and some of them are more about other people or other situations and things I observe. I think there’s a little but of darkness or melancholy in everything. Especially in music and art.
Who are you listening to right now?
Jim O’Rourke, “Halfway to A Threeway.” It was released over a decade ago—I love it and I always go back to it. And Ella Fitzgerald—I think her scatting stuff is really interesting. That’s a big influence to me, the idea that you can be a very emotional vocalist without using words. I think Foxygen is doing something really cool. I think they transcend the popular trends.
If you could perform anywhere in the world, where would it be?
I would love to do Carnegie Hall someday. That’s kind of the quintessential answer, but it is an amazing venue. It’s a landmark in the US.
What’s something people might not know about you?
I’m really involved with everything that has to do with my music. I worked really closely with the album artist, Rob Carmichael, on the album art. He’s based in New York, he did The Dirty Projectors’ Bitte Orca cover and Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavillion cover.
As a person, I’m a bit more quiet, and reserved. I like connecting to people who hear the music and are really fans. I care a lot about what I do.
What accomplishment are you most proud of in your life so far?
The moment when I realized that this album was done and fully completed, I worked on it for such a long time and this is my first full LP—when I realized it was done, that moment was really proud for me and everybody who worked on the album. I think that’s my proudest moment.
How did you celebrate?
We went out to dinner and had a little celebration, but literally the next day I was ready to get back in the studio.