Indie rock singer/songwriter Bonzie (birth name: Nina Ferraro) has always been fascinated by two things: music and birds. When the Wisconsin native wasn’t stealing her older brother’s Beatles mixtapes, she was getting lost in the forest or watching David Attenborough VHS tapes at home.
“As a kid, I memorized every bird species in Wisconsin and Illinois. I would spend my days walking through forested areas with a notebook and pen trying to find as many species as I could,” the newly minted 18-year-old says. “Everything about their lives is stunning to me. The way they know how to get by, and everything is balanced out for the good of life. [People are] not that cool.”
It’s a reflection rooted in Ferraro’s music, heard in her self-released debut Rift Into the Secret of Things, out this week. Songs like “Data Blockers” and “Catholic High School” are meditative, socio-political commentaries that belie the young singer-songwriter’s years, the latter song addressing her skepticism of education, religion, leadership and love. It’s that artistic merit that has critics already comparing her to early Cat Power and Neutral Milk Hotel.
Ferraro’s talent first became evident when she was around 9 and 10—that’s when she started penning her own songs. An early love of pop music transitioned into a fascination with jazz. “I feel it’s the most chemical music you can listen to,” she says, noting her love affair with John Coltrane’s Interstellar Space, an album that would influence her later compositions.
Although Ferraro always took her craft seriously, growing up in a traditional Armenian family didn’t make it easy to pursue the dream. “The whole ‘old country’ thing doesn’t really make being in music acceptable, so some people have been very opposed to what I’m doing, but my immediate family has made peace with it.”
So much so that when Ferraro and her family moved to the Chicago area a few years back, her mom would drive her to open mic nights (and now brings along baked goods for interviews).
So far she’s wasted no time—graduating high school, releasing an album, doing interviews, and working with noted producer Steve Albini and members of Tortoise on a new song to be released soon.
For Ferraro, though, staying busy is necessary. Like those bird songs, music is the way she connects with the world and makes any sense of it. “There are a million things that need to be said. When words fail, [music] is a better way to communicate.”
Bonzie plays a record release show (and Dan Bitney of Tortoise opens) on Thursday, August 15 at 7:30 pm., $7. Schubas, 3159 N Southport. schubas.com.