Born in Indiana, raised in Wicklow, and now based in London – Bonzai has lived several lives, yet she’s barely out of her teens. A prodigal production and songwriting talent, a trio of outstanding EPs have afforded the artist space to find herself, to fuse hip-hop, R&B, electronics and whatever the hell else crosses her path.
Speaking to Clash from a studio in Peckham, Bonzai has spent all morning watching videos of Bjork interviews on YouTube. “I take my inspiration from loads of stuff,” she explains. “One day I’ll just only listen to Bjork, and then another day maybe only old school hip-hop, and then something totally different again. There are some people who I like a lot of what they do. Bjork is definitely one of them.”
It’s a neat point of comparison. A real original, Bonzai refuses to place boundaries in front of herself, skipping between genres with an intense yet playful approach. “I’m still experimenting,” she explains. “The EPs are are just a nice way to get music out and have a bit of fun experimenting. That’s the plan anyway, just make some new tunes and see how it goes.”
Having worked as a backing singer with NAO and collaborated with Mura Masa, Bonzai has gained enormous experience from some singular artists. One her most formative experiences, though, came not in the music industry but outside the school gates in Ireland. “I hung out with these guys in Dublin and they only just listened to hip-hop. And I spent like, usually every day after school with them, just like smoking and listening to hip-hop. I was like: here’s my life.”
Bonzai’s father was a drummer, and there’s an innate percussive sense to her work – even at it’s most downbeat, the groove feels effortlessly, sharply defined. “Usually I like to start with just percussion,” she says. “If it’s just percussion I can kinda start at any key or in a weird place, and then slip more melodic stuff around it. Usually I like to start with just not much and start from a weird place.”
Using her own instincts as a guide, Bonzai has journeyed from weird place to weird place, sketching out a new topography that you just can’t help but follow. Infectious songwriting that obeys no rules but her own, her opening trilogy of Eps present a deeply independent artist. “I know when I’ve done something good and when I haven’t,” she says at one point in our chat. “So I guess, sometimes it just takes longer to get there.”
“I just kinda keep going until I have something I’m happy with. All you can do is make yourself happy. Do what you think you’re good at.”
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