Gabby Bianco is exactly the kind of friend you want in your corner – stylish and cool, equally down to provide the soundtrack for a night on the town or give you some pointers on how to make music in your bedroom. And when you need a reality check, she’s the type to tell it like it is, boost your confidence, and help you move on.
That’s the idea behind the LA-based producer’s latest single (released under her eponymous stage name BIIANCO) “that’s what friends are for.” Though she’s lived on the West Coast for over a decade, she still rocks her ride-or-die Italian New Yorker roots, best heard in ball-busting lines like “Screw you ex/He’s a bitch and so are all his friends/I wouldn’t say a goddamn thing to them/’Bout who you are or where you been/Thick or thin.” Atmospheric synths and a slow-burning beat give the track a cinematic, ’80s horror-redux vibe, so it’s only fitting that the video for the track take that motif a step further; in it, she and her gal pals fend off a series of exes who have come back from the dead – quite literally.
But this isn’t just a music video. It’s a music video game. Via BIIANCO’s website, you can test what kind of a friend you really are by helping the characters choose whether to give their exes a second chance, or slay their proverbial relationship demons (the version below is the “winning scenario,” but playing for yourself is much more fun).
BIIANCO had been percolating the idea for a while. “This was one of the first songs I had written and produced and I thought to myself years ago, this has to be a zombie video – like us destroying zombies in slow motion and stuff. But I was like, how do I nail this concept in a way that doesn’t just feel like a cliché horror kinda thing?” she recalls. “At the same time, over the past two years, I’ve watched my friends and also felt myself go through some really toxic relationships and breakups and [seen] people, especially in quarantine, not acting themselves or exes doing horrible things. Everybody has a relationship that ended in a way they’re not proud of – no one’s perfect. People become the worst versions of themselves, almost like they’re fucking zombies or something. It’s kinda this affliction of people just not having basic coping mechanisms in breakups, where no one’s the best version of themselves.”
It’s a salient metaphor, one that makes very clear that we shouldn’t indulge our desires to rekindle relationships that don’t serve us – but it’s a lot easier to make that decision when our exes’ flesh is rotting right before our eyes. Still, incorporating a decision-making element for the viewer felt central to BIIANCO’s concept – even more so as a self-professed “video game nerd” with a penchant for classic RPGS like The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy. Working alongside longtime friend and director Scott Fleishman, she combined the nostalgia of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Goosebumps novels with the modern tech of Black Mirror interactive movie Bandersnatch into an interactive, but streamlined take on the pitfalls of dating, even calling out bi erasure, a subject near and dear to her heart as a gender-bending, queer pansexual femme.
“When we realized what would be required in order to achieve this I was like, holy fuck! We basically shot eight music videos, and had to plot the whole thing out beforehand, and then had to edit eight music videos and code an entire website. It was wild,” BIIANCO laughs. “I’m such an Aries that if anything sounds hard, I probably wanna do it at some point.”
Being a loyal, trusted friend certainly paid off for BIIANCO – pooling her talented circle for everything from direction to motorcycle rental to special effects to building the website that allows viewers to play along, she was able to create what looks like six-figure shoot on a shoestring. “I basically have found myself in this fucking amazing collective of friends, where people are all in the creative industry in some way,” she explains. “Literally my best friend since friggin’ kindergarten is an incredible programmer; he coded the website. He wanted to buy a new motorcycle, so he rented a Ducati for the weekend [but let me] ride it for five minutes for the video.”
By casting her friends and styling the shoot straight from her own closet, she was able to allocate a bigger budget for special effects. “I was like, if we’re doing this, we’re doing this for real, not like shitty Frankenstein makeup. We’re getting makeup artists from The Walking Dead. Everybody knew somebody who was really great at what they did, and it’s such a passion project for everyone that you end up in this really amazing situation where everybody’s willing to work on a budget or work within the confines,” BIIANCO says. “It always goes multiple ways – I’ll help somebody set up their whole tour rig, or somebody will come to me with an idea and want to co-direct something. I try to be as supportive as they are to me. Get you a pod, a group of friends, where you have something to contribute to their lives and they have something to contribute to yours.”
BIIANCO doesn’t stop at contributing to her friends’ creative projects; on TikTok, she offers production pointers with a good dose of her exuberant personality. She started doing mini-lessons on how to achieve certain effects on a whim, but ended up amassing thousands of views, building her audience from there. Demystifying her process as a producer is essential, she says, to getting more women involved in the production side of music.
For her part, she started off as a classically trained pianist, eventually adding singing, guitar and drums to her repertoire before studying film scoring at UCLA. She’d been an early adopter of GarageBand and later, Ableton, expanding to production and musical direction for live shows as a member of Smoke Season. But a women’s Ableton retreat in Joshua Tree changed everything; not only did she meet talented women producers (some of whom, like Madame Gandhi, would eventually become collaborators), but it shifted her perception of herself as an artist in incredible ways and opened up her next creative chapter.
“That was such a pivotal moment in my career because I left that retreat like, I’m a producer, from that moment on. I came out of that like, I have a new solo project, I’m gonna use my last name, and I’m gonna produce everything myself and just lean into that. That was the birth of BIIANCO,” she says. “It’s been a really fluid thought process because it’s all coming from my brain. It tends to be really undiluted and actually very consistent. I’m just going for aesthetics I love. My music is darker, it has some creepy undertones; my aesthetic is darker so that ends up just coming very naturally. It sounds like it’s always in the same world; it’s very easy to write in it and create in it because it’s just basically in my head.” BIIANCO plans to release a mixtape combining some of her previous singles later this year; it will tie in thematically with a book of poetry she published in February titled This Will Wreck Your Heart, which centers on unpacking the four stages of surviving toxic relationships.
BIIANCO felt she needed to be “as loud as possible” to get more women involved in production, not only to earn her own respect, but so that other women, particularly younger women, could envision themselves in that role, too. “When I first started producing there was an emotional element kind of like despair, because subliminally and subconsciously, culture and society teaches [women] that’s not really your role,” she explains. “I never even thought about it being a viable route, so I never was in the room at the age of 21, or the age of 16, learning what a vocal chain should look like with a pre-amp and how it goes into a DAW and using an interface. I just realized the gap is so fundamentally huge in experience and it’s because of this very subconsciously perpetuated idea.”
Lately, she’s noticed an uptick – partly due to the pandemic – in women producing their own work, and though that’s heartening, she points out there’s still one huge hurdle for women producers to jump.
“We might have more exposure, but when it comes to money, like when it comes to getting in the room, the labels and the publishers and the big time managers are still fucking choosing the men to produce. I don’t blame the artists, though I hope that the artists start to understand that is where women are completely devoid from the conversation, except when an artist like Taylor Swift intentionally chooses a woman producer,” BIIANCO says. “That’s where the money is, really, like being a Mark Ronson or a Benny Blanco, getting called to do a Selena [Gomez] track. We have placated the issue into thinking like, this is really not that big of a deal anymore, cause don’t you see on Instagram so many women are producers? And I’m like yeah, but they’re not making the same money, they’re not given the same opportunities.”
Just like the no-nonsense advice she gives on “that’s what friends are for,” BIIANCO has a reality check for the music industry. “Don’t think that just because Fader put out a list of the top five women producers to keep an eye on, don’t think just because Grimes has made a couple of records, that you have fixed the problem,” she says. “We are devoid from the conversation in those big money moments. Labels don’t see us as viable options or they just don’t think about it, and that is the next frontier that I think we’re all trying to fucking blow up. Honestly.”
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