Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Nina Ferraro is only 21, but it's sometimes hard to believe. Striking a balance between alt-rock and folk, she uses songwriting as confessional: singing her self-examination with an eloquence and depth that's rare at any age. Recording as Bonzie, her intricately layered music taps into personal connections — the relationship you have with yourself, the connection between the body and the mind. With unflinching candor and craft, she combines socio-political skepticism ("I don't trust the homeless man walking in the mall/And I don't trust the priest at the altar") with an eclectic ear for music. Inspired by Tchaikovsky, Gil Scott-Heron, and even the score to Disney's Mulan, nothing is off limits for Ferraro. Her array of influences surface in a gorgeous sonic palette that's hard to pinpoint but instantly alluring, defined by complex string arrangements and jazzy waves of electronic melodies.
This May, Bonzie will release her sophomore album, Zone on Nine — a follow-up to her 2013 debut Rift into the Secret of Things. While Ferraro herself wrote and produced the entire record, it was co-produced by Jonathan Wilson (Father John Misty, Conor Oberst) and Ali Chant (Perfume Genius, Youth Lagoon). Premiering below is the first single from her forthcoming LP, "Fading Out." It's a piece that is as ethereal as it is darkly cinematic, with the tonality and intimacy of Fiona Apple. "'Fading Out' deals with the passage of time, and there is a sense of [playing with the idea of] infinity," Bonzie explains. "It's the first peek into the album's song family and an obvious choice for me to dip my feet into the water again."
How did you decide on Bonzie as your moniker?
Bonzie became a descriptor for my own work. I didn't want to be tied down with something that already has a meaning, including my own name, so I started using Bonzie — something that can always link [back] to the songs [I make].
You've described your music as having a conversation with yourself. Why did you decide to make your work so intimate?
It's not worth making anything unless it's open like that. I couldn't sleep at night if it wasn't that way. It's about making something that's fulfilling and honoring whatever aesthetic that leads it to.
Did you always want to be a musician? What intrigued you about it growing up?
I have been writing music since I was eight or nine, but I didn't really think of it as a classification of my role — like I was making a choice to be something. I loved listening to sounds in general and always felt like I had a very personal connection to song — like the singer or the instruments were talking to me and me only. Creating songs was something I did privately, just for me. It felt very natural. I felt like I was making a contribution of sorts to a network of music that existed up in the sky that was immortal and perpetual, and I was storing something. It was very sacred to me, so it didn't seem like the kind of thing I could share. Being a professional necessitates a certain thick skin. I've developed that now, but I still have the same sort of relationship with it as I did when I was a kid.
What hurdles have you had to face as someone who started writing music at nine years old and performing at 12?
There are things out there that people have to overcome that are a lot more difficult. It's always been important to me to have a voice and give a voice to voiceless things. I have a lot more that I feel needs to be said: that purpose makes prejudice trivial.
What's the biggest change you've seen in your music from your first album to your second?
I keep learning new things. I toured quite a bit, but I also spent a lot of time working alone. When time goes by, we all change, inevitably, and new skills bloom out of these tectonic shifts in character.
Do you think Zone on Nine has a central theme?
It does, but I'd like the listener to get that themself. That's the way I like to listen to music and I suspect my audience enjoys that too.
What do you think makes a lot of your music so dramatic and cinematic?
There's a lot of naturally occurring drama out there, and I don't want to turn a blind eye to the importance of that. Whatever the subject matter of the lyrics, if it isn't important, it doesn't need music. If it is important, music is here to shed light on that.
Tell me about your inspirations for the record.
I'm inspired by a lot of non-audio: visuals I just happen upon in day-to-day life, ironic scenes and dynamics that are just like, "Why are you here? Why do you exist?" People I meet that stay in my mind don't go away, so I have to put them in song.
Tell me about the making of the album. What was it like working with Jonathan Wilson and Ali Chant?
It was essential for this album to travel for the songs — [Echo Park, Bristol and London] have their own feelings that got into the sound of the recordings. With Jonathan Wilson in Echo Park in Los Angeles, we had such a great band of friends and a lot of it was just he and I in his all-wooden house. With Ali, we were in an all-glass house in Bristol and in London with an all-European band that just meshed so perfectly. Each band fit what we were doing. I think those cities [Bristol and London] are opposite in many ways, but also share a similar creative spirit. As a result, the album adopted this dichotomy of aesthetics and genre that created the kind of contrast I was looking for in the production.
How did you end up collaborating with Adrian Utley of Portishead?
I had made these homemade demos that Adrian got hold of before I started to record the tracks. He wanted to sign on to my recording project and it was exciting to be working with him. He is a very creative person who is material-focused — he loves films and all kinds of immersive art. I think that's where his head is at most of the time, which resonated with my mentality as well. When we were at his studio in Bristol, we'd both be so involved in it that line of communication would open to the point where we would be [immersed] in the world of the song; I'd forget I was even working with someone who's made some of my favorite records. It takes an actually creative person to dive in like that, and I appreciated working in such a free and open environment with him.
Text Ilana Kaplan
Photography Luke Gilford