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Nandi Bushell on her meteoric rise, playing with Foo Fighters, and her aspirations to collaborate with Slipknot and Metallica

Nandi Bushell
(Image credit: John Bushell)

She only turned 12 years old last month, but Nandi Bushell already has a resume that’s absolutely bursting at the seams, teeming with high-profile collaborations and A-list link-ups, footnoted with guitar-shaped gifts and praise from a seemingly unending list of celebrity admirers.

Through her YouTube, Instagram and Twitter platforms, the multi-instrumentalist – who was born in South Africa then moved to England at an early age – has assembled something of a social media empire. Thanks to her collection of quick-fire guitar covers and inventive all-looped renditions of her favorite tracks, Bushell has amassed a follower and subscriber count of over 2.2 million people.

Since posting her first video back in 2017 – as as a six-year-old jamming with her dad – the young star has gone on to cover Jimi Hendrix’s Little Wing, The Pixies’ Where Is My Mind?, Arctic Monkeys’ R U Mine, Muse’s Plug In Baby and Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, playing everything from drums – her main instrument – to electric guitar and bass guitar.

“I started posting videos on social media with my dad as we wanted to share the fun we were having and make people happy,” Bushell reflects. “We didn’t know any of the incredible and crazy things that have happened were going to happen.”

“Incredible” and “crazy” are perhaps slightly modest words to describe Bushell’s exploits. In the past two years, she’s dropped a debut single, been hailed by rock royalty, received signature guitars from Tom Morello and Matt Bellamy, and developed a close musical relationship with Dave Grohl – even playing drums with the Foo Fighters live at the LA Forum during a performance of Everlong. It’s been a whirlwind few years for the young multi-instrumentalist, to say the least.

In fact, Grohl was so taken moved by the energy, enthusiasm and passion demonstrated by Bushell that he placed her name alongside some of the most influential artists of all time, telling Rolling Stone (opens in new tab), “If you want to see the true meaning of rock ’n’ roll, watch Nandi play the drums. That is as inspiring as any Beatles record, any Zeppelin record, any AC/DC record, any Stones record.” 

It's astronomical, yet deserving, praise for someone who only celebrated their 12th birthday in April this year. But, despite the dizzying speed at which it has progressed, Bushell’s musical journey had humble beginnings in an idyllic family memory.

“My earliest memories of listening to music?” Bushell ponders. “The Beatles, and making pancakes with my family when I was four years old. I loved watching the song Hey Jude on YouTube all the time.

“I loved how everyone in the video was so happy. My dad has a video of me playing guitar with him when I was two years old when I lived in South Africa, but I can’t remember it as it was so long ago. I guess I have been playing most of my life.”

She also namedrops Grohl and Morello – two heroes she's already had the pleasure of working with.

After Bushell caught Grohl’s eye with a drum cover of Everlong – issued with an invite to lock sticks for a virtual drum-off – the Foo Fighters frontman penned an entire song about her, in which he called her “the Queen of rock ‘n’ roll”. Following an online collaboration that spanned numerous back-and-forth exchanges, Grohl brought Bushell onstage to perform Everlong with Foo Fighters during a gig at the LA Forum.

Getting to jam with Dave and the Foo Fighters at the Forum in LA was the best experience of my life

“It was pretty unreal,” Bushell says of the dream-come-true moment. “None of my family could believe it was actually happening. We had so much fun. Getting to jam with Dave and the Foo Fighters at the Forum in LA was the best experience of my life.”

It may just be the tip of the iceberg for the pair’s burgeoning partnership, too, with Bushell saying a potential songwriting session may be in the works in the future. “When I met Dave on a Zoom call during the pandemic,” she recalls, “he said he wanted to write a song with me one day. So, who knows.” 

While speaking about her relationship with Foo Fighters, Bushell takes the opportunity to pay her respects to the late Taylor Hawkins, who passed away earlier this year, saying, “I just hope [Grohl] and all of Taylor’s friends and family are okay. My love and support goes out to them. I only met Taylor once. He was so kind, loving and supportive. He has made a big impact on my life.” 

Throughout her music-making process, Bushell has also received plaudits from a string of other high-profile names, including Flea, the Pixies, Matt Bellamy and Tom Morello, all of whom have taken particular interest in her guitar-playing exploits. Noted for her already-impressive technique, Bushell is equally adept with a guitar as she is behind the kit, usually favoring a swaggering single-coil snap to flex her rock-solid grasp on soloing and chord embellishments.

As a result of her prowess, Bushell has been gifted signature guitars by both the Muse and Rage Against the Machine guitarists. While Bellamy’s Manson MBM-1 was shipped out in response to her cover of Muse’s Plug In Baby, Morello sent Bushell his Fender Soul Power Stratocaster for her Black Lives Matter-supporting rendition of Guerrilla Radio

Her six-string collection isn’t only dominated by gifts from celebrity admirers, though. In a number of videos – such as her rendition of Voodoo Child – Bushell can be seen wielding a distinctive purple Fender Stratocaster. It’s a custom-made instrument she personally designed with the help of the Big F.

Notable for its slanted bridge humbucker, the downsized six-string is a Squier at heart with an added short-scale Fender neck, but contains one other surprising spec.

Fender told me they had some leftover custom purple paint from a custom Prince guitar that they used on my guitar

“Honestly, I just asked for it to be purple, small and light, and to sound like a Jimi Hendrix guitar,” Bushell admits. “Fender took a Squier and replaced all the parts with professional parts, and added a humbucker pickup.

“Fender told me they had some leftover purple paint from a custom Prince build that they used on my guitar,” she adds. “It’s pretty amazing that I have Prince’s purple on my guitar.”

Fender products have served Bushell well so far. When asked about her wider rig – at the heart of which sits a Boss RC-505 looper pedal – she reveals, “I only really use Fender equipment – I have not really tried other stuff. I am really lucky to have been gifted so much incredible equipment from Fender, and I always make sure I use everything that is given to me.”

What’s perhaps equally remarkable about Bushell’s burgeoning career thus far, though, is that the influential youngster hasn’t just been keeping herself busy with recording and performing. Rather than riding the wave and getting lost in her music, Bushell has also teamed up with music icons to support humanitarian and environmental causes.

I don’t shy away from things that are important, not just for me but everyone. There is no better way of getting a message across than with music and art

Earlier this year, she collaborated with Morello, Julien Baker, Serj Tankian, Nils Lofgren and more to rework The Nightwatchman’s God Help Us All in a bid to support a charity initiative that provides musical tuition to young Afghan girls. 

Before that, Bushell and Morello’s son Roman released The Children Will Rise up – a rabble rousing call-to-arms anthem featuring Jack Black and Greta Thunberg, which called for greater eco activism. As she puts it, “There is no better way of getting a message across than with music and art.”

“I am really privileged to have the following I have,” she tells us. “Everything I post is what I believe in. I don’t shy away from things that are important, not just for me but everyone. Also, I listened to a lot of Rage Against the Machine growing up.”

Her and Roman's efforts were later acknowledged by former US president Barack Obama (opens in new tab), who lauded the pair for using ”music as a way to share their compelling message about why we need to take action on climate change”.

Where next for Bushell, then? Well, being a regular 12-year-old, school and its associated workload remains a priority. “It can be hard at times,” she says of balancing her two lives. “I’ve just moved to high school in England. There’s a lot more homework, and I’m involved in clubs that take up a lot of my time.” 

Despite her newfound fame, Bushell remains rooted to reality, and realizes the importance of both her school life and the need to have an as-normal-as-possible childhood.

“I have a one-hour guitar lesson every week,“ she says when asked about the task of balancing music with school. “I don’t watch a lot of TV.  In my downtime, I play instruments, draw, skateboard, Minecraft... that kind of stuff.“

As for her musical leanings, Bushell still has aspirations. She name-drops Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas as future dream collaborators, along with Lenny Kravitz, Red Hot Chili Peppers and QuestLove – not to mention some more head-bang-worthy names in the likes of Metallica and Slipknot.

Though it's unlikely we'll see Bushell kitted out in a Mick Thomson mask anytime soon, it comes as a pleasant surprise that we may be seeing the rock loyalist dip her guitar into heavier waters in the near-future. No doubt she'll make light work of it, too, having already demonstrated a love of everything from Incubus and Tool to John Coltrane and Coldplay.

Nandi Bushell

(Image credit: John Bushell)

It's also a sign of the artist's sponge-like versatility: a universal musicality that has continually driven her to new heights. Rather than resting on her laurels and sticking to a comfort zone, Bushell has consistently explored new genres. “Every time I listen to new music,“ she notes, “I get a new favorite [guitarist]“.

Posting covers has been fun and educational, but I now want to put everything I have learned together and create something new and beautiful

From this, Bushell also signals an end to her cover-making days – the multi-instrumentalist anticipates she will be spending more time in the future on her own material. In the next five years, she hopes to “have written a few albums” and have “collaborated with loads of incredible artists”.

“I don’t know if I will still be posting covers,” Bushell comments, “as I want to focus on my own music. Posting covers has been fun and educational, but I now want to put everything I have learned together and create something new and beautiful.”

Nandi Bushell on stage with the members of Foo Fighters

Nandi Bushell on stage with the members of Foo Fighters (Image credit: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for FF)

Of course, given her academic commitments, these aspirations are still a little way off.

“I am still only 12,” she reminds us. “I don’t know what’s going to happen – I have to finish school first. I want to be the best I can be at the instruments I learn. I like mastering things: I want to learn as much as I can about music and jam with as many artists as I can. I want to make music that makes people feel alive.

“Most importantly,” she concludes, “I just want to have fun and enjoy the journey, wherever it may take me.”

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Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.