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Meet Bianca Espinoza of Turtle Blues in East LA

Today we’d like to introduce you to Bianca Espinoza.

Bianca, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
My story started very early on in my life. When I was four years old, I used to sit in the living room with my dad and he would take out this huge box of CDs he had. We’d listen to so many of them as he told me stories about the bands, his memories with the music, and the sad lives some of the musicians lived. I fondly remember thinking that my dad was so cool because he listened to Nirvana and the Rolling Stones. Even at such a young age, I learned to form connections with the music I was listening to. I had no idea what some of the experiences felt like but it didn’t stop me from being moved. I became obsessed with certain artists, like Blondie. I’d put Parallel Lines on and dance and sing for hours. I consider myself very lucky to have grown up with parents that loved listening to music. My dad has always been a huge fan of female artists so I grew up listening to a lot of Blondie, Linda Ronstadt, Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie, Cheryl Crow, and Chrissie Hynde. These badass women shaped me into who I am today.

Once I reached middle school, I was given the option to join a music class. I was ecstatic that my parents were letting me and told them that I wanted to play the drums. Fortunately for my household, they said no and I ended up choosing the sax. I played saxophone until I graduated from high school. Being in band really defined my listening skills and allowed me to listen to music at an even deeper level. I learned how to read and play music in many different styles – being in every band possible (symphonic, marching, and jazz). It was a defining period of my life as a musician.

When I reached college, I quit playing music cold turkey because I wanted to focus on my studies. Those were probably the most miserable years of my life. However, I took that time to listen to music in an almost obsessive manner. I learned all about the artists I loved and how they used music to express themselves. I eventually got a ukulele for Christmas and was excited to get going again. I had convinced myself at that point that I was only an instrumental musician. However, it got kind of boring to just strum a ukulele and not sing the words of the songs I was trying to learn. I found myself becoming more focused on how my voice sounded rather than the instrument. I used to post short covers on Instagram and slowly started gaining more confidence in my skills.

A couple of years down the line, I was asked to provide vocals for a project a few of my friends were working on. The group was called Borrowed Bodies. That was my first experience writing my own lyrics and recording. It was the most exciting thing I had ever done musically and I was so lucky to work with people that made me feel comfortable and encouraged me to keep going. I got my hands on a guitar and started focusing on writing my own songs and that is where I’m at today. As mentioned before, I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by amazing musicians that inspire me on a daily basis. If it weren’t for them and my amazing parents, the EP I just released would have never happened.

Has it been a smooth road?
Smooth is definitely not the word I would use to describe this journey. I’ve always had an issue with calling myself a musician. It’s like a weird imposter syndrome. I always doubt myself and my abilities and give myself new goals to “finally be considered a musician” even though I’ve been playing music for more than half my lifetime. I learned multiple instruments – nope, not enough. I wrote and sang my own lyrics – nah. I played instruments on my own tracks – fine, maybe you’re finally getting there. It’s been a struggle to share my music because to me, it comes from a very real place. I’m a very sensitive person so when you hear my songs, you get a glance into my experiences and my heart is out there. I feel very vulnerable.

Also, being a woman in this art is very difficult. I can’t even count how many times I’ve gotten DMs praising my music only to be followed with, “Hey, you’re really cute.” While it’s flattering to be called cute, that really puts little drops of doubt into my mind about whether my music is actually good or if someone just finds me attractive. There came a point where I really had to remind myself that I make music because I like it and not for anyone else. Keeping that mindset has helped me with my songwriting and with finally owning the fact that I am a musician.

Can you give our readers some background on your music?
I established this idea of Turtle Blues in early 2019. I decided that I wanted to write and make my own music more seriously, although I had already been doing it for years. In April of that year, I was able to put out my first single – Mountain Man. To this day, I’m still so proud of that project. It was my first time taking the bull by the horns and making a song I wanted. You can really hear my influences in that song because I drew from artists such as Fleetwood Mac and Springtime Carnivore. I had people I really trusted helping me with the project and they made me feel very comfortable about asking for exactly what I wanted (thank you, Sergio, Reuben, and Phillip!) Down the line, I started getting more comfortable writing my lyrics. I wrote half of my first EP toward the end of 2019 and the other half during the great quarantine of 2020. 2019 was a very stressful year for me. I was working on my Masters and dealing with a lot of things internally.

Although I was always so busy, the lyrics I wrote during that time seemed to pour out of me naturally and it’s what kept me afloat during that time. The quarantine really caused me to sit down and think about what I wanted to write about. Then, with the help of two of my closest friends, Sergio and Reuben, I was able to get the ball rolling and record. I’ve been beyond blessed to work with my buddy Sergio Meza (Morning Harvester) on all my projects. None of my music would be what it is without his talent and ear. Working with him is the smoothest part of my experience as a musician – the man can do it all.

I’d say that my music specializes in being real with the sadness people sit in sometimes. I’m not really sure what sets me apart from others because there is so much competition out there but I can say that everything you hear from me is real. What you hear in those songs is me and I’m always going to be genuine about my feelings and my art.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
There are many advantages to being a musician in Los Angeles. I’m surrounded by so many great artists. It really drives me forward to think about people I admire making their art. It can be intimidating to be surrounded by such amazing artists but once your network and make those connections, you really realize that we’re all in the same boat. Support from each other is important. Before COVID, it was really easy to find a show to go to. Although I’ve definitely slowed down from going to shows in my recent years, I always loved the post-show feeling of seeing people you respect up there doing their thing. When you immerse yourself into that scene, you get a sort of kaleidoscopic view of all the amazing possibilities. There can be many challenges in starting out in Los Angeles but I’d tell anyone starting out to go into it with an open mind and an open heart, you’d be surprised to see what you’ll find.

However, I strongly believe that the music scene needs to be more open and safer for women. There are far too many stories going around these days of women finally speaking their truth about being treated as objects and being sexualized when they’re just trying to go to a show or make music. This needs to be improved by giving women more opportunities and calling out your buddies when you see something wrong. Being a musician is such a gift and we need to take care of each other and the people that support your craft.

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Image Credit:

Reuben Sanchez

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