Bonsi is the work of Bonnie Churcher-Owen, a classically trained singer turned electronic producer from Bristol, who is open with the pronunciation of her creation’s name: “It’s half and half, people say Bonsi and people say Bonsai, I’m cool with either.” The openness to such interpretation has come to embody Churcher-Owen and her work as Bonsi, an inter-disciplinary project bursting with the purest form of expression for an artist manifesting their personality wholly in their music.
Bonsi is about to be introduced to the world. Having built on her sound from intuitive foundations and enhanced it with an intrinsic eye for detail, the project is now ready to blossom before an audience. ‘A Friend’, the introductory piece, instantly shows the deftness that Bonsi possesses to create music that resonates.
Seamlessly imbued with a transporting atmospheric quality through its twinkling, rich samples – yet forthright in its use of minimalistic melody – Bonsi’s debut single is immediately striking. With a captivating balance of idiosyncratic, minimal trinkets of sampling and Churcher-Owen’s affecting, unadulterated vocals; it’s music for late nights, wandering around the quiet streets of the city, taking in the lights and the shadows that form, and contemplating our place within it all.
Churcher-Owen is taking a moment of quiet, sipping tea in Stokes Croft when we meet to explore the project she has created, before it is unveiled and becomes tangible, more than just an idea informed by her life up until now. She is attentive and humble in her acknowledgement of others, in particular their judgement and perception of her music. She shows herself to be an artist who perceives music not only as a vital form of creativity, but as a vessel to communicate her thoughts at their most abstract and candid.
Wax: What informed your musical education up until this point? Especially up until this project?
Bonnie Churcher-Owen: So I was brought up on deep house music as a child, 90’s rave and house music, so that was what I listened to, basically through my parents which I’m now very thankful for. The electronic music was sort of in my brain before I realised that I wanted to make it, which was lovely. Then I studied classical music for five years as like a counterpoint, I did classical singing, which is very different from me now. One day I was like “I want to produce” and I want to make music that I’ve always listened to, so I bought this £20 software off the internet, made this little song and kept on making. It’s a very DIY project that I did for myself.
W: It feels very personal, very gratifying. In terms of those two extremes, the house music and the classical music, it feels like you’ve been able to balance them within what you make now? Do you find similarities between the two? How do you make it work?
B: I don’t think I thought about it. I now look back and see those two influences come together, like I use a lot of string arrangement in my music. It doesn’t sound classical I don’t think but that’s where it was influenced from, from studying that. I think if I‘m honest all the music that I make is mainly improvisational, most of my songs I’ll sit down, I’ll have made the instrumental and I’ll start recording, and what comes out vocally is what the songs will be, that’s what happened for ‘A Friend’. I don’t know why I do that.
Q: It’s a very primal approach isn’t it?
A: Yeah its an expression, it’s what I need to get out in that moment. I think for me changing that just doesn’t feel right, so I’ll make another song. Sometimes it sticks and sometimes it doesn’t.
Q: So you have a very instinctive approach to writing in that way. Is that the same when you make your instrumentals?
A: So the instrumental side is completely different. So that’s very critical, deeply intrinsic, I spend so much time on that. So it’s like I make the bed, I craft the bed, and then the duvet of the vocals is just thrown upon it, if that makes sense. I spend a lot more time on the production than the vocal melody and the words, I don’t know why but it works.
A: That’s a nice question. I think my songs are about me understanding things about myself. As I say the vocals are very improvisational and it is an expression. So in that sense it’s almost like a therapy, I’m expressing something that I need to and then it’s done, and I’ve understood what I needed to understand. So in that sense each song is like a question and answer for me internally.
Q: The directness comes from a very human need to let out, and you do that within your music. I picked up on this penchant for nature and environment and the space you can explore within the world we are in. How do embody that feeling so well within music that is computerised, electronically made?
A: I think growing up fully in nature, it’s very in me. I didn’t realise but it comes out in my music a lot, like the imagery that is brought with my music and my words. Like there’s a song called ‘About A Tree‘, and so it’s really part of my musicality. I’m not sure how I bring that into the production, I do use quite old software and unusual things to make my music, I don’t use Logic, I use a little program called Mixcraft which is quite unusual, but it helped me find a sound that was authentic to me.
Q: With ‘A Friend’, there is something quite intimate and solitary about it, and that really intrigues me. I get the impression that it explores our connection with the world and our relationship with it. What is the song for you?
A: I think you’ve summed it up pretty well. I think it’s hard for me to find a succinct meaning to it because for me it is just what I sang and what I was feeling in that moment, so I almost find it hard to relate to that cause I’m not there right now. It feels like this thing on its own that I made but it’s hard to remember? All creations become their own thing.
Q: You build on them don’t you? Every little detail that you add it makes it this bigger whole and it can be difficult to remember where it first stemmed from. It’s like a tree that grows its branches.
A: Exactly, but if I think about the meaning, it is connecting with our surroundings and our families, and the world.
Q: Is the project something you’d like to experiment with within in a live setting? How do you imagine the songs developing from recorded output?
A: So I’m working on a live Ableton set for the songs which is a progress, and they do feel very different live. I think because I’m using the samples they do feel like the same songs but I guess each time a song is played it does feel different. I don’t know because I haven’t done it yet, I’ll come back to you when I’ve played (laughs).
Q: I always like to ask to close when people listen to your music what would you like them to take from it?
A: (considers) Feeling calm and reflective.
Words: Ross Jones Photography: Mariana Gonçalves