We meet New York born Jim Bianco outside his workspace at Lisbon Sound Society near Gulbenkian on a sunny day. Donning a green hoodie under a navy jacket and with slicked back salt and pepper hair, Jim strikes us as a friendly laid-back guy – the type you’d enjoy grabbing a beer with.
To get some pictures of Jim, we take a walk through the greenery of Gulbenkian. “I take direction very well,” says Jim. We’ll see about that.
To loosen Jim up, we ask some quickfire questions. We start with a big one: “Are you a happy person?” “Yeah, I think so.” Less significant: “What’s your star sign?” “I’m an Aries.” “Do you believe in any of that stuff?” “I mean, I lived in LA for 15 years, so you always half-believe in it.”
What else about LA rubbed off on Jim? “Some of the health stuff stuck. Coming from New York, you could feasibly eat meatball subs every day, and no one would be upset about it.”
Suddenly, two security personnel from Gulbenkian confront us, upset by the sight of our small tripod. We protest our innocence, but it doesn’t work. We have to trudge on.
Back out on the streets Jim tells us about his move to Lisbon. “We moved here eight months ago,” says Jim, about himself and his small family. “Fundamentally, we needed a bit more adventure in our lives. Also, we have an eight-year-old daughter, and we’ve been trying to navigate the situation in America right now. We thought this would give us a great adventure too.”
Jim has been around the block in recent times. “We’ve moved about eight times since my daughter was born. We moved to Nashville, New York, LA, Florida, Seattle… but the short answer is my family just wanted more of a European existence. It’s been a big jump. But I think it’s going well.”
We decide to have coffee at an outdoor spot. Jim shows off his Portuguese as he requests a coffee. “Um garoto?” he says two or tree times. Jim is impressed with himself, giving us a big thumbs up once the server gets a grasp of what he is trying to say.
Sitting down, Jim talks about his daughter. He mentions her often during our time. He tells us that one of his happiest experiences is being able to bring her to school every morning via tram before he walks to work – clearly an experience he could not get in the United States.
After coffee we wander into a big bookstore, and Jim again demonstrates his Portuguese by asking the shopkeeper where to find the music section.
“I write songs, and I produce them. Sometimes I sing in them,” Jim tells us. Before getting too much into what he actually does, Jim gets distracted by pressing the buttons of a vintage record player. “This is kind of fun.”
One would imagine Jim as a vinyl junkie – him being a music producer. “I was, but it’s just so much easier to say ‘Alexa, please play Thelonious Monk,’ and then Thelonious Monk comes on.”
After the bookstore Jim takes us to see the Lisbon Sound Society studios where he is working from. Walking down the corridor from the entrance, a sign on the wall reads “Without Music, Life Would Be A Mistake – Friedrich Nietzsche.”
Jim introduces us to Fred in the sound booth, who runs the studio, and then we go into the main recording space, which is adorned with instruments – guitars, drums, bongos. It looks and feels the way you imagine a music studio should look and feel.
“The interesting thing for me is that I’ve been a singer and a songwriter for 20 years. So the producer thing is new for me and I’ve found enough success with it that I keep doing it now. But it’s not a fundamental part of my identity.”
So, what makes a good track?
“It’s about the song. I like making a great song and putting deep meaning into it, while trying to make it sound fun… sometimes.”
We walk down another narrow corridor and into Jim’s personal space. It’s like an attic room, but it not an attic. It certainly has a hideout vibe. There are no windows. Its dark but it has some nice fairy lighting which creates a nice glow. There are few more instruments dotted around, and a big computer set up where Jim creates his works.
He plays us some tracks he’s been working on recently, and we immediately like what we hear. One sounds very cinematic. “It’s composer-y. It’s music soundtrack-y,” Jim says.
He isolates the drums. “It’s actually a heartbeat.” We wonder whose heartbeat it is.
Jim grabs a blue electric guitar and starts playing along with his track, creating a soundscape that would fit well in a post-apocalyptic world.
Changing the tone, Jim plays us another track that is distinctly more poppy. But it still has a chunky beat that anyone could grab onto.
When you go hard, I go harder.
When you go high,
I go higher.
When you go fast,
I go faster.
“I vacillate between all those worlds,” Jim tells us.
Not long ago, Jim had a track that became a hit by featuring in the Walking Dead TV series. He plays us a bit of Easy Street, which is again totally different from what he’s played so far. It has a happy, bubblegum vibe with a slight 50s sensibility. Jim tells us that the track was used to juxtapose against much more sinister imagery. “You need to imagine someone getting tortured.”
And on that ominous note we feel we should probably get out of Jims enclosed space which offers little options for escape.
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