“This one was given to me by Lenny Kravitz,” Nandi Bushell says, carefully holding a striking, light brown and black Les Paul Gibson, while her father, John, angles the remote camera towards the array of instruments adorning the room’s walls. “These were all given to me by some amazing people…this one was from Matt Bellamy and this one was from Ellen DeGeneres…” she continues, proudly. “And this was given to me by Tom Morello. I’m really lucky.”
Indeed, she’s lucky. But we’re pretty sure Nandi’s success comes down to raw, innate talent and an incomparable drive. (Aside from drums and guitar, she also plays bass, saxophone, piano, flute, vocals, ocarina, and has just started to learn to play the clarinet.) It’s hard to believe it’s been three whole years since, at 10 years old, her incredible drum performance of Nirvana’s “In Bloom” went viral, catching the attention of Dave Grohl and millions of other viewers around the world.
Now, at thirteen, she’s proven herself as an accomplished songwriter who defies genre and creates from her own very personal viewpoint and vision. Her latest single, “Sweet Nightmares,” is a catchy, eerie banger, featuring the deep, dark vocals of actor Josh Brolin, known as the commanding voice of Thanos in the Avengers movies (or Brandon Marsh in The Goonies, depending on when you were born). Written when she was eleven, Nandi sent “Sweet Nightmares” to Tom Morello, who then suggested they hire his long-time producer Carl Restivo to help them record the song.
Wearing a Slipknot T-shirt and a beaming smile, we spoke with Nandi about how her songs come together, her Halloween costume this year, and how Josh Brolin came to be a part of her sweet nightmares.
What were you thinking about when you wrote “Sweet Nightmares?”
Nandi Bushell: The lyrics were mostly inspired by the nightmares I was having at the time. So, “Say goodbye like you mean it and don’t you ever look back,” that’s towards the monster in my nightmares. “Say goodbye like you mean it” – because it’s the last time they’re going to be there. And “Don’t you ever look back” because they’re getting away forever, so they shouldn’t look back. And then some of the lyrics, like “Empires of a sin,” I thought they sounded really cool and scary.
The last time we spoke, you were about to release “The Shadows” – a song about and for your dad. This song is a little different.
Yeah, I love being a drummer but I just wanted to expand – I don’t want to be known as the “drummer girl” forever. I’m not going to stay 10 forever so I want to be something else…be something more and have fun. I play lots of different instruments and so I have these to write songs on and do different music.
The new song and video is being released on Friday the 13th. Are you superstitious at all?
No, I’m not. I am dressing up for Halloween and going trick-or-treating with my friends, though.
What are you going as?
My friend is dressing up like an angel and I’m dressing up as a devil with horns and red wings. I love Halloween.
How did Josh Brolin get involved with the song and video?
My friend, who’s a photographer, Brian Bowen Smith, was in contact with Josh Brolin and thought his voice would sound perfect for the song because it’s scary and it’s really deep. So we reached out to him with the help of Brian and he said yes so that’s how we got him in, which was really amazing. He was really supportive and really nice about the song and liked the music video.
I listen to the song with and without his voice and it just adds so much depth and everything to it – makes it so much better.
I read that you tried acting for the first time this year. What can you tell me about that?
Yeah, I did a children’s TV show and it was really good – it was fun and everyone was really nice.
Are you always writing down songs and music that you have in your head?
Not as much, being busy with school starting up. But I have an EP – five songs – that should come out soon when I’m less busy.
How do all of your song ideas come to you?
I just start messing around on the keyboard or guitar, write a few chords down then start with the melody and then I’ll start on the bass – get the root notes. Then I’ll take the melody and loop it and put the drums over it. Get the drums down, start on Logic Pro and get a simple structure down. I’ll add more intricate sounds once I’ve added all the instruments to it.
How about the words?
Normally, I feel like I write lyrics last. I might have a simple lyric melody in my head that doesn’t have any words over it…just like a humming to help show me how the song is going to go.
Sometimes I’ll have friends over just to mess around and get song ideas and get inspiration. Listen to other artists to get inspired…listen to different types of music.
Such as Slipknot?
(Laughs) Yeah, they’re my favorite band. They’re incredible – my dream is to see them live. I want to see them live so badly.
Slipknot’s music is interesting, it’s not boring like a lot of music I hear. A big thing I love is the drumming. I love both Jay [Weinberg] and Joey [Jordison]’s styles…the double pedals are so satisfying to listen to. I also just like the vibe. I like scary things.