AN INTERVIEW WITH BONZIE, DIRECTOR OF "alone"
Nominee: Best Original Song - Best Animation Film - March 2021 Edition
Honorable Mention Award: Best Music Video - February 2021 Edition
BONZIE IS AN AMERICAN SINGER, SONGWRITER
BONZIE has been praised by the likes of VICE, Vogue, and Brooklyn Vegan, as well as led to praise in the pages of The New York Times, including ‘alone’ as one of the Best Songs of 2020 as deemed by The New York Times. ‘alone’ has over 1.1 million streams on YouTube. The new album Reincarnation is co-produced by BONZIE alongside DJ Camper and Yeti Beats, producers known for their work with Doja Cat, Jay-Z and John Legend.
Hi BONZIE, it's a pleasure to interview you. You're pretty much the prodigy, with a stunning career launched at the early age of 15 with the release of your debut EP The Promise in 2013. How and when did you realize you were a musician and decide to embrace a professional career?
Well, thanks! I always loved creating things and music was my favorite medium, since I was very young. I think I just naturally started writing songs and had the desire to share them. I don’t think there was a time that I realized I was pursuing it on a professional level until others started telling me I was. It was just fun.
You wrote and directed the "alone" video. Tell us a little about your process at the genesis of the film: did you come up with the idea of an animated piece even before you wrote the story? How did you get to know Miyo Sato's work, and what made you choose to work with her?
I had already begun speaking with Miyo Sato on Skype for a while before the pandemic about maybe working together someday. Back in late 2019/early 2020 were using a translator to communicate, as my Japanese skills weren’t good enough at that time—she speaks Japanese and I speak English as a first language. I had found her work through her short films... they are animated totally with her hands by finger-painting on glass or using sand, and they all have a very tangible, heart-filled quality to them. I loved that you could almost feel the animation physically. I spent the next months studying Japanese very hard, and by the time we started working on “alone”, we didn’t need a translator anymore! It all kind of came together—it was a pandemic, she was across the world in Japan, and her animation style was finger-painted while the song was finger-plucked. There were a lot of dichotomies and conversely a lot of parallels between us and between our works of art that made it a serendipitous match. We’ve talked a lot about how our meeting seemed to be a kiseki 奇跡, a miracle of some kind.
"ALONE" screened on a wall in Nagoya, Japan (as part of the Streaming Heritage Festival) for all to see and for a whole month. What kind of feedback did you get from the viewers? How did the event impact your presence on the Japanese market as a musician?
To see the video projected on a huge building in downtown Nagoya was absolutely crazy, to be honest. Miyo and her family and friends all went to go see it and took footage, and it was really prominent in the city center, which shocked me! It’s wild to feel like your project, that you worked on in a very private, intimate way for many months, is suddenly several meters tall in a big city across the world from you! I was also tagged on Instagram by people in Japan who were seeing it, which was also such a surreal feeling. It’s a grateful, honored feeling, to feel that the video can be enjoyed by a city across the world— and to see firsthand that the sentiment that music and art is universal is a real one. I appreciate anyone that saw the video out there! I’m planning on touring in Japan now, when the live scene is at a safer point!
Tell us a bit more about the making of the video. How did you and Miyo Sato organize your work, in a time of global quarantine? What technical difficulties did you encounter in the process? What did you learn that you feel is worth sharing with aspiring Filmmakers?
Miyo is incredibly hardworking and creative. The process of painting by hand a complete animation is grueling and time consuming, and she did it completely by herself. While I studied Japanese very intensely over the past year to minimize the language barrier, that always exists of course, to some extent! That said, I think the barriers we had only brought us closer together—the pandemic, the language gap, the time difference—somehow these things both brought unique challenges, but made the project feel more special. It’s not every day that you find yourself in a project quite like this one... it was definitely a first for me. We were across the world, but yet still experiencing similar emotions about a worldwide pandemic.
A big portion was the fact that Miyo was open to working with someone like me, both of us being independent artists in our own fields, in totally different places in the world. I really respect her for being so committed during this whole process. The biggest takeaway is to be open minded with who you work with and why you choose to work with them. If there is mutual respect and a vision, I think anything is possible in a creative context.
What is your take on film as a vector of music? Is it possible, in this age, to release music without the support of visuals, preferably impacting visuals? And do you think that the music itself is no longer "enough" to trigger the listener's imagination?
I’m part of the camp that likes to listen to records sans-visuals. I think a good album should evoke images in your mind without supplementing them, materially. The sounds, lyrics, melodies, have a world of their own, even though you can’t see it with your eyes. That said, anyone who has seen a movie with phenomenal music supervising, or an incredible score, knows how strong visual plus music can influence us emotionally. We’ve all seen that scene where the music hits the right chord at the right point in the script, and we all just lose it. I don’t think visuals are necessary for music to affect us, no, but I do think the combination can be a powerful artform. That is, if the visuals are created by a musically-intelligent visual artist, like Miyo!
'alone' is indeed a breathtaking, extremely poetic and beautiful video. It blends wonderfully with the song, in other words, the visual and sonic experiences enhance one another. How did you come to decide and put the film on Festival circuits?
Thank you! To be honest, I’m just very proud of this work! We put a lot of love into it, and my hope is that it reaches others. I think that it’s a pertinent emotional subject for this era and I feel that it was meant to happen. I am so happy to see the work live its life now that it’s finished and released, and I’m extremely grateful to festivals like Cannes World Film Festival for acknowledging it and bringing it to people’s eyes and ears.
Post-covid cinema statement: I’m confident that the love of film will persevere beyond the structural influences of the virus, and will continue find new ways to connect to audiences as the future unfolds. I don’t think we’re out of theatres for good—if anything, I believe this era has taught us that the need humanity has for art like music and film is greater than we could’ve ever known.
Official "alone" Music Video