VIDEO PREMIERE + INTERVIEW: BIIANCO “13 DEAD END DRIVE”
Shine bright like a Biianco. Shine Bright like a Biiancooo. Beloved L.A. singer and multi-instrumentalist Biianco had a bad 2017. Brutalized by her own thoughts—and the discouraging words of piss ant jerks—she lost herself, her voice, her VOICE, and probably part of her mind. But lights this bright don’t stay obscured for long, rain clouds be damned. She found her way out of the fog, a new sensation in the constellation. Now an almost entirely self-contained operation, the lead singer of Smoke Season stepped out on her own last year with landmark performances both here and in London, a testament to the international appeal of her electro-pop phantasmagoria. We talked about art—duh. But we also talked about fear and the future and the fucked up past. Biianco is a friend and collaborator—you should be so lucky. This interview by Tolliver.
You just got back from ol Reykjavik. Yesterday, right?
Biianco: I went and was a little Icelandic elf.
Girl, what was you doin’ up there? Just chillin?
Biianco: Yeah—when I have time off I try to do lots of adventures and I was like, ‘I’ve never been to Iceland. And I would like to go to Iceland.’ And I really wanted to see the northern lights. I’ve seen them only once before, but unfortunately it was raining the whole time so I didn’t get to see them.
Biianco: I know, so sad.
I don’t know how the northern lights work. I would’ve assumed you can see them through the rain.
Biianco: No bro! It’s like particles from sun spots entering the Earth or something so it’s above the clouds.
Oh, ok. Damn. Was it as rejuvenating as you hoped?
Biianco: Yeah, it was. It was fun, but I’m really fuckin’ tired and super jet-lagged.
When you were like, ‘Hey do you want to do this interview today?’ I was like, ‘Isn’t she just getting back?’
Biianco: I basically didn’t check my email for two weeks because I was trying to unwind a little bit. But then on the way back I checked all my emails and was like, ‘Oh my, I have a lot to do.’
Are you hitting the ground running because the album is coming out soon?
Biianco: Kind of. We have a lot planned for this year. We have a schedule already in place where we’re dropping six singles in the first six months. Or we’re aiming for that. And we’re aiming to have the mixtape—which is basically just my glorified album cuz it’s like 15 songs—we’re aiming for June to drop it all. This music video is gonna come out and then we have ‘Chlorine’ which drops in February and we’re doing a big brand campaign which I can’t say anything about yet, but we’re shooting this big thing for this brand in association with ‘Chlorine,’ so that’s why we’re sort of moving quickly.
But if I guess it then you’ll tell me, right?
Biianco: I don’t think you’re gonna guess it because it’s a new brand.
Burt’s Bees. That’s my last guess.
Biianco: No. Not Burt’s Bees. I’m too much of a Kiehl’s fan.
Alright, well—I tried. Well that’s very exciting. That’s very Chance the Rapper of you.
Biianco: Is it? I like that. I take that as the highest compliment ever, I love Chance the Rapper.
You were in London a few months ago with Vōx, and now you’re playing New York with her in a bit. I didn’t even know y’all were homies.
Biianco: We’ve been friends for a long time. We met a long time ago in 2016 and we’ve been like BFFs ever since. But the funny thing about our New York show is Pop Gun hit our agents up—it wasn’t even Vōx and me that came up with the idea to play the gig together. We were approached by them and they were like, ‘You’d be a good fit for Vōx.’ And we were like, ‘Oh, would we?’ Good call on that. My agents are working on a bunch of stuff coming up for London again, Berlin and then Toronto it looks like, and then SXSW and then a bunch of other things. We’re confirming exactly where we’re playing [at SXSW] but we’re definitely gonna be there this year. Unless a massive tour comes up that pulls me away.
Are you changing up your live show for it? Are you gonna be singing in an airport hangar or what?
Biianco: I probably am gonna have to scale back a little bit, but basically my live show is just me and a 20-foot screen of all my videos. So I don’t know how doable the screen is. But I don’t talk on stage. That’s like … my voice. And I edit all those videos and everything. They’re my way of telling the audience how to interpret the songs. So maybe I’ll figure out a way to do it at SXSW.
That’s interesting you don’t talk onstage—but you’re super expressive. I seem to remember you climbing 30 feet in the air onstage. I talked to someone that night and they were like, ‘Oh, she does this.’ A lot of your lyrics are about being held back, like in ’13 Dead End Drive,’ and in your visuals, like in the imagery for ‘Get Up,’ you’re literally bound. I wonder if your live show has anything to do with that—being physically free while singing about being restrained.
Biianco: That’s a super good point. I’ve always looked at performing as being my biggest catharsis, emotionally. I just come alive as a human being when I’m onstage. I’m one of those people who in certain contexts I get so excited I explode with energy. I’ll give you an example. When I was in Iceland, we did this like … glacier hike thing. And as soon as we started climbing I couldn’t stop climbing everything. I was so excited I turned into this Tasmanian devil of energy—just childlike. I feel like when I’m onstage it’s such a rush of emotions that it explodes. So I guess in a way, metaphorically, it is sort of like me being unrestrained. I feel like in my day-to-day I’m very Capricorn energy all the time. But then when I get onstage I’m like, ‘Oh, I can be an Aries again now.’
The way you describe it almost sounds like a blackout. Like an out-of-body experience.
Biianco: It’s sort of like totally having a mental breakdown. [laughs] I don’t know how to explain it. I’m totally in a different mindset, I’m totally in a different personality. And it’s actually really hard to pull back afterwards. Going into it is not hard—coming out of it is hard.
Is it hard to talk to people once you get offstage? I always find it really weird to talk to people after I was really amped up.
Biianco: I’m just like … the party keeps going then. I’ve actually started implementing taking five minutes of meditation after a show so my adrenaline levels can come down. Otherwise I’m just going for the whole night and I’m in this almost self-induced manic episode in a way.
I relate to that. I find myself smiling too hard and yelling ‘Thank you!’ when people say ‘good show’ or whatever.
Biianco: Yeah—you’re like in a manic episode. Everything’s so intense. I’m trying to be mindful with touring.
You gotta save your energy. You had a huge set at School Night. I saw that they put you on their list of favorite artists this year. But I know that you were very anxious for that show—how did that night feel?
Biianco: Obviously I have a lot of experience touring and performing because I was in Smoke Season, but with Biianco—and because I’m the only person onstage for most of the time and because all the videos are edited by me and edited by me and animated by me and I produce everything and I’m writing everything—it just feels so revealing that I get so nervous before every show. But that School Night show I was so nervous that I was shaking backstage. Jason from Smoke Season and Erin my manager and everybody were being really empathetic, but at the same time they were in complete shock cuz they had never seen me like that where I’m trembling in fear—like meek and meeker from stage fright. They were just like, ‘What is wrong with you? We’ve never seen this side of you. What’s happening?’ I was like ‘I don’t know what’s happening. I’m having a nervous breakdown.’ There’s actually a really funny moment that happened right before the set. You know the artist Beca? You know at School Night there’s that backroom and you can come on from that backbar? I was back there and I had this looping sound thing going on before my set. And so Jason and my manager were like, ‘OK, you’re gonna start soon. We’re gonna go up to the booth.’ So I’m standing there and Beca’s like, ‘Hey, Gabby, have a great set! I’m so excited!’ I looked at her and I’m like, ‘I’m so scared!’ She’s the only person talking to me! ‘Oh no, you’re gonna be fine. Why are you so nervous?’ ‘I don’t know—I’m so nervous. I don’t know if I can walk on right now.’ In the meantime Erin and Jason told me they were standing by the sound booth like, ’Is she gonna start? Where is she? What is she doing?’ And then Beca pats me on the shoulder and is like, ‘You got this.’ I was like, ‘OK, alright.’ Then I just stepped onto the stage with Jason. Beca probably doesn’t even know she’s the reason why I started my set!
Beca has that sort of energy. Like she’s baked all the time.
Biianco: She’s very calming. Little angel.
It’s wild because when you’re in your head, you’re picturing everybody judging you the way you’re judging yourself. But I’m sure you’ve had shows where you thought somebody noticed something and they were like, ‘I couldn’t tell at all.’ That was the experience from me watching you. I knew you were anxious cuz you told me you were, but then when I saw the performance I was like, ‘This looks like a good performance. This is someone killing it.’
Biianco: That’s good, I’m happy to hear that.
Madame Ghandi collaborated with you on this latest single, and that’s super cool cuz we all love her. Whenever I’m in a room with her, I’m very intimidated.
Biianco: She’s so smart.
She seems larger than life almost.
Biianco: It’s funny that she seems so intimidating because she’s actually really intimate. The first time I met with her we were getting coffee cause I was gonna help her with live show, like videos and light show set-up. And we went to get coffee and we ended up spending the whole day together. She cooked for me, I laid down some keys on her new album. We basically went up to her loft and hung out for the whole day. What was supposed to be an hour was like seven hours so we immediately became friends. A couple months later I reached out and was like, ‘I have this beat that I really want to sample your drums on.’ So I went over to her house and set up a bunch of microphones. In her loft she has every type of percussive instrument you could imagine. And she just played each one of them and I got audio recordings in the BPM of the song, and then I ended up chopping all these things up and making a beat with 20 different percussive samples that she’d made.
Damn. I guess I should’ve known that her place would be overflowing with drums.
Biianco: It is overflowing. It has a little mini stage with every type of percussive instrument you could ever see.
I’m picturing it like plants.
Biianco: Exactly. She’s a plant lady who collects actual drums.
What a great tandem. Speaking of people you’re inspired by—who’s someone you’re inspired by that would surprise people?
Biianco: I am incredibly inspired by the band Savages. My music is nothing like Savages, but I was incredibly inspired by how they incorporated poetry into their live show. The lead singer often breaks down into spoken word. I knew I didn’t want to talk onstage, but I wanted to do something similar where it’s a blending of artistic mediums, and so I replaced poetry and spoken word with my videos because sometimes the videos break down to actual phrases and stuff like that. With Savages I felt like there was a lot of classical influence in their stuff, too. Like the Greek classics, poetry classics—it just felt extremely literature heavy. I’m also extremely inspired by Zach De La Rocha and Rage Against the Machine. Just his energy onstage and his ferocity with his lyrical content. I’m a huge Rage Against the Machine Fan, so the Coachella lineup was like, ‘Fuck yes.’
With your new video you said you’re using white as a metaphor for someone taking away your creativity. Can you tell me more about that?
Biianco: I went through a crazy period where I was convinced I was the worst singer in the world. I became a bad singer because I was one in my head. I think the industry was getting to me so much. It feels so much lighter now that I’ve shifted that off. But it started with my voice and then it turned to questioning everything—my songwriting choices, my fashion choices. For all of 2017 I was in my head and then for half of 2018, and then I started climbing out of that mindset. It sort of whitewashed everything. It whitewashed my confidence and it whitewashed my voice. And so we really wanted to play with that imagery in a lot of the video.
It’s super striking. Especially the … is it like a milk bath?
Biianco: Dude, let me just say I gave myself the most chemical reactions of any video I’ve ever done. We injected with a syringe a Cetaphil solution, like the face wash. The bath was powdered milk, so it was a thick milk bath, basically. Then the eyes were a mixture of Cetaphil and the powdered milk or something to get it to come out. We had little tubes and stuff. It was crazy.
That’s scary as hell.
Biianco: I had nose bleeds for like two days afterwards.
BIIANCO‘S ’13 DEAD END DRIVE’ IS OUT NOW.