Nina Ferraro (Bonzie) isn’t your typical young college girl. While most girls her age would choose to spend their Spring Break on a beach somewhere taking Jell-O shots (I know I did), Bonzie chose to spend hers at South by Southwest, playing shows and pursuing her music career. Par for the course for someone who started booking her own shows at age 12. We sat down with Nina to talk about how awesome she is, as well as her experience at SXSW and her plans after the festival. Check out our conversation below, and be sure to give her music a listen – it’s more than worth it.
Vinyl Mag: How are you liking Austin so far?
Bonzie: I love it! I love it! First of all, I like the warmth. It’s a nice break from Chicago. I like the weather in Chicago.
VM: Chicago is freezing!
B: It is freezing. They got ten inches of snow a couple of days ago. Aside from that, I like the southern hospitality. Granted, most of the people I’m interacting with are not from Austin. It’s nice that you’re from Austin; I’m finally getting to talk with the locals. I like it a lot.
VM: When are your upcoming shows for South By?
B: I’ve got the Nylon show tomorrow. I love Nylon magazine; it’s one of my favorite magazines. I have a Hyde Park showcase.
VM: Hyde Park is awesome. It’s just a solid, classic restaurant to go to. Good food, good people – you’ll have a good time. Tell me a little bit about how you got into music.
B: It’s interesting; I don’t have a musical family. I didn’t have anyone in my life who was really musical to look up to. I’m not really sure, honestly. I started playing piano when I was very young, and I took piano lessons, and I didn’t really connect with it. I didn’t really like piano lessons like any other kids. I picked up the guitar when I was nine and started writing music, and it just felt pretty natural. It wasn’t something I really thought about or had conscious decision to do. It just started happening, and I went with it. I didn’t tell anyone about it for a while. I would write songs and play them for people and tell them that they were covers. I started booking my own shows.
VM: How old were you when you started booking your own shows?
B: I was 12 when I started. Granted, the first shows that I booked were very, very small, like coffee shops.
VM: And now you’re playing things like Nylon.
B: Yeah! It’s been great! It’s been amazing how it’s progressed, how I’ve progressed. It’s felt very natural.
VM: So you just released your full-length, debut album. Can you tell me about that process?
B: It’s an interesting thing, because I do write my songs by myself. So, I write them in my room with my guitar, just thinking and writing. Sometimes it sucks, sometimes it’s slow, but it’s always alone. So, when it comes to making a record, or even arranging a band, I have these very specific ideas in my mind about what I want to happen: this is part should be this, the drum should do this, this is a keyboard solo here. The record was a matter of – for me – playing with different musicians, seeing how they interpret my ideas, listening to it, recording it, and if it’s not right, doing it again. You know, doing it as many time until it’s as close as I think the material world can get to what I envisioned. That’s the way I did my album. It was nice, because I didn’t really have a time frame, so I really spent time on it and made it what I wanted it to be.
VM: And two of the guys from Milk Carton Kids played with you?
B: Yeah, Joey Ryan and Kenneth from the Milk Carton Kids. Joey sang on “Felix” and Kenneth played the guitar. They were super cool; they were really nice guys. Joey has the most beautiful voice. When I made that song, I wanted a male harmony part that was sort of like the voice of Joey Ryan from the Milk Carton Kids, and he ended up doing it, which was amazing. And Kenneth is really cool; he does this amazing, almost Spanish, guitar part over “Felix.” It’s beautiful. They’re great musicians.
VM: What about school? Have you graduated high school yet?
B: Yeah, I graduated high school. I’m in college. I’ve just made it work. You have to really be self-motivated. I know that’s so easily said and not easily done, because we have the Internet, and we do write essays on the computer – it’s just the worst combination.
VM: There’s this awesome app you can download, and it’ll block everything you want it to block for you.
B: Oh no, but why would you do that?
VM: So, it’ll keep you from getting on Facebook for two hours.
B: I’m not promoting myself here, because I just said you have to be self-motivated, and now I’m talking about all the ways I procrastinate.
VM: I’m sure you’re studying Music?
B: No, actually I don’t study Music. I’m doing more like Sociology.
VM: Does that inspire your music at all?
B: Sort of, yeah. I feel like I get a lot of my inspiration just by existing and meeting people, but I think anything you can add to your mind is good, for the most part.
VM: How did you pick your name?
B: Bonzie was a word that I made up but I started associating with creative outputs that I did. I had been releasing music under my own name and performing under Nina Ferraro. There’s something that just felt too personal about me as a person, which my music is not. When I’m in my music, I just think about the music, and I sort of lose my body. I just felt really natural and comfortable to go under Bonzie.
VM: It has a life of its own it sounds like. So you said for your songwriting, it’s more of a solo process. That’s unique for a lot of the people I’ve been talking to this week. Do you talk to people while you’re writing? Do you ask for advice from anyone?
B: I do write the songs on my own. When it comes to performing and playing with other musicians, it’s such an amazing type of connection, because it’s taking a singular idea and meshing it with other ideas, and that’s the sound that comes out. The song remains the same, but it’s a matter of how it evolves and the sound that comes out. That’s been fun with my band, especially playing the South By shows. Since we’re playing so many venues, you start to get to the core of what it means to be done and what the feeling is of the songs. It’s been really cool at South By, because we’re playing so many shows so close together that we feel very connected.
VM: Who are you performing with right now?
B: Right now, my band is Lucas Gillan on drums, Packy Monhelm on keys and guitar and Anton Catwich on bass. They’re all from Chicago. I play with lots of different musicians.
VM: Are y’all having a blast down here?
B: It’s so much fun!
VM: Have you hit up any of the parties? Have you let yourself breathe and relax yet?
B: Yeah, a little bit. I haven’t had much time. I had two shows yesterday, and I had a show the day I came in on Tuesday, so I’ve been sort of in that zone. Today was my day off. I’m thinking I might find Ellis Leone’s band, San Fermin. I’m hoping to go see that. I went to the ATO Records party, too yesterday, which was fun. Honestly, I have the most fun when I’m performing and on stage, and when I talk to people afterwards, but I love going to see shows too.
VM: Can you tell me about your craziest experience at South By?
B: I feel like every moment has been crazy. I got lost once; that was interesting. That was a little crazy and wild. Let’s see…we were unloading the car, and one of the guitarists pulled forward and put the car into drive, and it started rolling down a hill. That was kind of crazy!
VM: How did you stop it?
B: By running to the front seat and grabbing the wheel! That has nothing to do with Austin though. I did see the line for a Lady Gaga show that was absolutely insane and that horrible, horrible tragedy with the drunk driver. A lot is happening here. It’s a lot of people, it’s a lot of enthusiasm, so it’s pretty intense, but it’s fun.
VM: What projects are you working on that you’re really excited about for the future?
B: Right now, I’m working on this music video for my song, “Data Blockers.” I recorded it in Brooklyn with this group called APK Productions. It was fun to record; we’re just working on finishing it and getting the editing right. I’m looking through footage, and I’m being as collaborative as possible.
VM: I can’t wait for the release of it. Do you know when that’s going to be?
B: I don’t know. Hopefully by the end of this month. It’s going to be soon for sure.
VM: You’ve got a lot going on.
B: I’m doing some recording, too. I’ve been recording slowly for my next record.
VM: Do you record in Chicago?
B: Yeah, so far for this record it’s been mostly in Chicago. I put out a single that I did with Steve Albini in Chicago recently, but right now I’m recording more and working on the video.
VM: Do you think Chicago itself has affected the way you approach music in any way, because it’s a unique place?
B: It is a unique place! The more I travel, the more I realize that. I grew up in Wisconsin, and then I moved to Chicago when I was in my early teens, so it’s still in the Midwest.
VM: Midwestern girl deep down.
B: Yeah. I mean, when I come to a place like Austin, there’s just a different vibe. It’s really cool! The people are really nice and really interesting, just very kind and open, not that we’re not that way in Chicago.
VM: It’s so cold in Chicago; you’re like fending off the wind.
B: Yeah, there’s totally something to that! I always talk about the weather.
VM: It does affect you; I mean, you have to live in the weather.
B: For sure. Anthropologists, when they go to somewhere like Antarctica, they study those people. Those people are different…I don’t know. I just came up with that place, but anywhere, even like Alaska, even in the U.S. There’s a different culture depending on the environment.
VM: It is true. I’ve noticed what you’re saying. Like in the North, people act a little more insular.
B: Yeah, more focused on their body.
VM: Then you get southern people, who are just crazy.
B: Yeah! It’s fun; it’s awesome; I love it! But Chicago has probably influenced me in some non-descript way. I guess you can never really know how much something influences you, but the more I go places, talk to people, I guess it does.
VM: Can you tell me a little bit more about the shoot? I was Googling you earlier, and I saw the cover of your album, and you’re very stark and isolated. It’s a beautiful photo. Who did that?
B: Oh, are you talking about on my website? That was Jim Newberry in Chicago.
VM: So, you work with a lot of Chicago photographers and recording people?
B: Yeah, he does a lot of musicians. It was fun to do that. That was a while back. Thank you about that picture. I’ve worked a lot with Shee Sinsong; she’s a photographer in New York who I just became friends with, and we did a photo shoot out there. It was really fun. It was she and all of her friends; she had just graduated college, so she’s super young, and she and her friends just got the wardrobe together. I mean, the APK Productions felt like a similar thing, but it was just she and her friends doing the wardrobe and super inspired about how the backdrop needed to be. It was fun!
VM: Awesome! This is fantastic. I’ll have so much to write about.
B: Thank you for having me! I talk too much.
VM: No, this is wonderful!
*Bonzie, you’re just a delight.
May 09 Joe’s Pub New York, NY
May 10 World Cafe Live Philadelphia Philadelphia, PA
May 11 Sixth & I Historic Synagogue Washington, DC