Blow Up Hollywood rarely grants interviews. Instead, the collective prefers to express its artistic statements purely through the music without extraneous explanations or posturing. However, recently, a trio of core Blow Up Hollywood musicians broke their silence in an intriguing roundtable. What follows is a privileged access peek into the band’s origins, indefinable aesthetic, and seldom discussed inner band dynamics and career-defining moments.
The cast of characters in this interview are Harvey Jones (piano/keys), Dave Diamond (drums), and Steve Bonacio, (bass). Each member offers a profound and distinct perspective into the band. Harvey Jones is a recent member who has become invaluable in helping to sonically shape Messina’s expansive artistic visions. Jones’ wry wit and outsider-ish vantage point nicely compliments longtime collaborators Dave Diamond and Steve Bonacio’s war stories. Diamond was there at the beginning and shares his thoughts on that infamous beach house retreat that gave birth to the band. Studio vet, and road dog, Steve Bonacio, who has been in the band for over a decade, shares his hilarious thoughts about finding his way musically in the group after being immersed in the arena rock mindset.
Blow Up Hollywood began as something of a reaction to founder Steve Messina’s previous band, a pop-rock outfit with sincere music career ambitions. “I met Steve in 1997. We bonded listening to a specific vocal part of a U2 song. He was captivated with the way Bono sang a certain line,” bassist Steve Bonacio recalls. “My impressions of him were that he was really charming and funny, but also very serious. At the time he was just starting Blow Up Hollywood and transitioning from his pop rock roots. He had this idea to start an anti establishment faceless band. He was sick of the business side and wanted the band’s emphasis to be on music and creativity.”
“I first met Steve Messina when he was trying to snake my bass player,” drummer David Diamond says laughing. “We ran in the same musical circles. Working with him early on, my impression was that he was a really hard worker, wrote great songs, and he had such a magnetic personality.”
Fifteen years later, David Diamond is one of the few musicians who can describe that special beach house retreat where Blow Up Hollywood officially began. “It was like how you envision The Band worked during the Big Pink era. People would come and go and record ideas. It was very freewheeling, and the scenery was just gorgeous. I still remember staying up all night recording the track ‘Beyond The Stars.’”
After that creative of honeymoon at the beach house, the band began to gel around a group of accomplished and imaginative in-demand professional musicians. “The truth is, everyone in the band was gigging out with other projects, but no matter how busy people were with high paying gigs, everyone wanted to be a part of Blow Up Hollywood,” David says. “We all just loved doing it.”
Playing in Blow Up Hollywood requires a high level of musicianship and also a specific sort of creative intuition. The Blow Up Hollywood aesthetic is based on ethereality and spaciousness, and the musicians have developed an unspoken lexicon over the years. “When I first played with Blow Up Hollywood, I had just come off tour and was stuck in an arena rock mentality,” bassist Steve Bonacio says candidly. “I remember one time we did a mostly improvised show while a movie played behind us. Steve said ‘If you play more than you don’t play, you’re f*%^ed up.’ I had to learn to lay out, be sensitive and just chill.”
“It’s a different way of playing because the music is so ambient,” Steve continues. “You have to empty out your head and let the music just happen. It’s like meditating. It’s very unselfish and we strive to take our audiences on the inner journey we experience when we play this music. I take a lot of pride in that.”
That journey has been captured on eight albums over 14 years. The band’s catalog has been critically acclaimed and earned Blow Up Hollywood a devoted fan following. But, besides the broad scope of the work, what’s been compelling about Blow Up Hollywood’s output is how consistent it’s quality is. Two albums that immediately come to mind for the players as favorites are Blow Up Hollywood’s most recent releases, the intimate and personal Blue Sky Blond and the mesmerizing, and recently released, Live at Rockwood Music Hall.
“Recording Blue Sky Blond was the second time I ever met the band and a week after my first gig with them,” says Harvey Jones. “I was so in the dark! No one said anything. We just played and played for two days. I remember I was coming out of a very inactive period. My fingers hurt.”
For Steve Bonacio, who has been with the band for over a decade, he favors Live at Rockwood Music Hall. “I like that album because we played songs from the catalog with a lot of spontaneity, and the music feels more human. It’s a great counterpoint to the polished studio albums.”
“It’s hard to believe it’s been almost 15 years,” David Diamond says reflecting back. “There are so many variables with a band like this, comprised of musicians who tour with other bands and have their own projects. No one ever gives up or wants to throw in the towel. Even though we all do a million things, we always find a way to do Blow Up Hollywood.” Harvey Jones adds: “I think it endures because the songwriting is so strong and the music affords the players so much creative freedom.”