Rarely does an artist make a recording debut in as impressive a fashion as Bianca. On her self-titled EP, this Burlington-based singer/songwriter emerges as a genuinely ready for prime-time player, a fully-rounded talent of immense potential.
Rather than rushing into a first release, Bianca has patiently honed her craft, as a vocalist, songwriter and performer. She has long been fully committed to pursuing her life-long passion for music, choosing to pay her dues in a very practical sense. “I thought about studying for a music degree at university, but decided instead that I wanted to do the songwriting thing and gig on a regular basis,” she explains.
“I wanted to invest in my music career the same way I would have in university, both in terms of finances and time. I have treated this like an education. My gigs are like assignments to me, ones I love doing!”
Along with very regular performances in venues around her local area, Bianca has long studied theatre and jazz and entered musical competitions. She has also studied extensively with vocal coach Nikki Loney, and this helped fuel a desire to write songs. “Nikki’s a jazz singer and a great songwriter too. When I got old enough, I would go see her perform original material and I just remember thinking how cool it was that she was singing these songs that she had written and that I loved,” Bianca recalls.
With the musically rich and varied Bianca EP, (to be launched at Hugh’s Room in Toronto on July 29) she now graduates, with honours. The disc includes the first song Bianca ever wrote (at 13), “Gone Like Yesterday.” “It is based on some poetry I found written by my sister when she moved away,” she recalls. “I just picked up my guitar and started strumming, and out it came.” The result is a lovely and gently lilting pop song. And, yes, sister Rachelle gets a co-writing credit!
“Blue Eyed Blind” and “Sorry Babe” are equally well-crafted melodic pop tunes, while “Live For You” is a superb splash of horn-fuelled r ‘n b, showcasing Bianca’s soulful side. EP closer “2 AM” is a tender ballad testifying to an eternal love: “I know that our love won’t ever fade.” The song was actually written by Bianca in honour of her brother Brandon and sister-in-law Adriane, and performed at their wedding. The sparse setting of piano and french horn perfectly frames the subtle and persuasive vocal.
A key collaborator on Bianca is noted producer, instrumentalist and songwriter Paul Offenbacher. This well-respected music veteran has engineered records by artists as varied as The Chieftains, Anne Murray, Michael Kaeshammer, and Alannah Myles, often working out of such noted Toronto studios as Phase One, Sounds Interchange, and The Orange Lounge. He co-produced, recorded and mixed Bianca in his own top-notch Oakville studio, Village Recording, and co-wrote the song “Sorry Babe” with Bianca.
Their partnership is the happy result of Bianca’s day job, at music store Long and McQuade, as she explains. “Paul works part-time at the store too. When some recording I was doing at a different studio wasn’t working out, he offered to do a vocal track for me. I then approached him to do the whole thing!”
A fortuitous choice indeed.
“We were consistently on the same page. We had the same sound in our heads of how we wanted it to go,” says Bianca. “I had these songs that I had written and road-tested acoustically, and we wanted to do a more developed, larger scale version of them. Doing that was a really cool process.”
To flesh out the songs in the studio, Bianca and Paul called upon one highly impressive cast of players. Recruiting famed Canadian rock drummer Sonnie Bernardi (Crowbar) for the sessions was an easy task, as he happens to be Bianca’s dad! His Crowbar comrade Rheal Lanthier guests on guitar on “Live For You,” while world-renowned guitarist Bill Dillon (Robbie Robertson, Joni Mitchell, Daniel Lanois)) makes typically fluent contributions to three tracks.
Veteran jazz trombonist/arranger Russ Little took care of the horn arrangements for “Live For You,” which also features the legendary Guido Basso on trumpet and Michael Stuart on saxophone (Russ and Michael play with Sonnie in the popular 905 Band). Paul Offenbacher contributed a range of guitars, keyboards and programming and Bianca played piano, while other A-list players and singers are featured on bass, keyboards, French horn, mandolin, and background vocals. Fittingly enough, this cast includes Bianca’s vocal coach Nikki Loney and guitar coach Shawn Trotter. The result is a rich sonic canvas, but the focus throughout remains on Bianca’s warm and melodic vocals and her well-crafted original compositions.
While Bianca is her first solo album, Bianca is no stranger to the recording studio. “I was in the studio from age seven,” she recalls. “Through my vocal coach, I got to sing on plenty of children’s sing-along albums on the Somerset label.” Her first experiences performing came even earlier.
“The first time I was ever onstage was when I was two, at The Havelock Jamboree with Crowbar. Kelly Jay’s daughter grabbed me and brought me up onstage. I’m told I loved it!,” Bianca recalls.
Growing up in a musical household that regularly hosted jam sessions left a lasting impact on the young Bianca. She was exposed to blues and rock through her dad Sonnie, while her mother’s wide tastes also had an influence.
“My mom loves people like Phoebe Snow and Minnie Ripperton, but Jimi Hendrix too. Through her, I naturally started to gravitate to really strong females, like Etta James, Janis Joplin, Ella Fitzgerald, Joni Mitchell.”
Bianca is also a big fan of current artists like Pink, Sara Bareilles and Adele. The males aren’t ignored either, as she notes
“I love Jason Mraz, Ben Harper and Jack Johnson.”
This mix of classic and contemporary is also reflected in her own songs.
Her skill as a vocalist has already been observed by such Canadian stars as Crystal Shawanda and Julie Crochetiere. On just a few hours notice, Bianca was recruited by Shawanda to sing back-ups at a big Hamilton Place concert, a role she smoothly nailed. She also sang backing vocals for Julie C on a mini-tour of performances at Ontario schools, a thrill for a one-time Sugar Jones fan. Bianca has made fans in Music City too. On a visit to Fan Fair in Nashville a few years back, she played a short set at hotspot Margaritaville, to great response. A return trip there for songwriting and showcasing is being planned.
She is now putting a band together for gigs in support of the EP, and her commitment to a career in music is unwavering.
“I’ve known from a very young age that this is what I want to do and am supposed to do. Why fight it? Work at it, do the best you can and see what happens.”
We confidently predict major things happening for this shining young talent.