Over 12 years and 7 critically acclaimed albums ambient pop-rock collective Blow Up Hollywood has created an expansive and adventurous body of work that manages to be both highly emotionally charged and majestically anonymous. Helmed by Steve Messina, and backed by trusted friends and collaborators, Blow Up Hollywood has put its distinct fingerprint on warped Americana, dark wave, post rock, noise, jazz, classical, freak folk, and any other music medium they felt like inhabiting. But when Messina’s personal life became painfully complex, he stepped out front and crafted the most direct and vulnerable album in Blow Up Hollywood’s career, the stunning, Blue Sky Blond.
“This one is from my heart. It’s more personal than any record I’ve made,” Steve Messina reveals. “While making it, I went through a time where I never felt more alone. Life was a big mystery, everything felt so uncertain. I didn’t even think I was going to make music anymore. I felt like someone took an eraser and erased the board with the intricate mathematical equation that was my life.”
Blow Up Hollywood was founded in 2001 as a middle finger to the music business and pop conformity. Restlessly creative, the band explored the musical equivalent of art house films and literary fiction with a chameleon-like tendency to authentically infiltrate a myriad of music idioms. The band’s debut was written during a freewheeling 3-week retreat with Messina and friends ensconced in a beach house in West Hampton, New York. The band went on to garner acclaim from indie tastemakers and a dedicated cult following. Blow Up Hollywood’s most popular release was the concept album The Diaries of Private Henry Hill. The record was based on the journal entries of a young, deceased soldier from the Iraq war. The album won the group high praise and greatly expanded its profile, culminating with a feature on NPR’s All Things Considered. Blow Up Hollywood fearlessly followed up that album with a gloriously opaque Eno-esque album.
Messina illustrated his eloquence with poignant confessional writing on The Diaries of Private Henry Hill. With Blue Sky Blond, he flips through his own diaries and offers a stark survey of his own battles. The album is rife with imagery of oceans and deserts, conveying a vastness and all-encompassing emptiness with titles like “Throw Me A Line,” “Desert Rose,” and “Waiting For My Ship To Come.” “Throw Me A Line” gracefully unfolds with subtle, breathtaking textures and a spacious propulsive quality that’s both comforting and disquieting. The airy, pastoral beauty of “Desert Rose” is in sweet contrast to its message of the fragility of life’s stability. “That song is about getting so caught up in our little world and then something else suddenly takes over and you loose your solid ground,” Messina says. The uplifting and soulfully cleansing “Shine” is an emotional life raft on the album, providing a gospel-like reassurance that everything will be okay.
As a powerful counterpoint to the shivery and lonely feelings Messina was wading through inside, the group of musicians around him gave a supportive and emotionally grounded environment for his songs. During the making of the album, he found his collective had become a band. “I felt support around me, it felt like they had my back,” Messina says. Blow Up Hollywood is officially Steve Messina, vocals, acoustic guitar; Thad Debrock, electric guitar, pedal steel, keyboards; Teddy Kumpel, electric guitar; Steve Bonacio, bass; Dave Diamond, drums; Harvey Jones, piano, keyboards; Nadia Ackerman, vocals; and Anthea White, vocals.
“I feel so much better now, the whole world looks different,” Messina says, assessing his emotional landscape in the wake of finishing Blue Sky Blond. “You know, Blow Up Hollywood is my sanctuary. I don’t think about money or my career; I do this because I have to do it, it’s a catharsis. This is who I am.