Steve Messina says Blow Up Hollywood’s latest album, Blue Sky Blond, is the most personal record he’s ever recorded. The songs are based on his personal experiences and reflect a difficult period in his life. Pouring his emotions into the tracks that make up Blue Sky Blond was a cathartic experience, with the end result being an album that’s complex yet accessible to listeners.
Exclusive Steve Messina Interview
“Shine” is my favorite song off of our your latest album. Do you have favorites? Do you pick favorites among your work?
Steve Messina: “The cliché is you hear musicians/songwriters/artists always go, ‘Well, you know, they’re like my children,’ but I do have some favorites. Yeah, I do. I think there are some songs that are better than others. Sometimes it’s the song I like better in general, and then sometimes it’s just the song the way it was recorded that particular day when we recorded it. ‘Shine’ is one of my favorites and I’m not surprised that it’s one of your favorites, because it seems to be a fan favorite. It’s one of the big reasons that we put it on the record is because so many people respond to it when we play it live.”
I know it’s cathartic for you to be able to write down your feelings and to express yourself, but then is it also a slight bit painful to sing it each time because you’re reliving those emotions?
Steve Messina: “Yeah, it can be – that’s a great question. Because when you’re really focused on the song and you’re performing it, you are kind of reliving the experience. It can be. Sometimes once you have some distance from a song that’s very personal, you have a little more distance, it takes on a different meaning to you too, even as the writer. It’s like I’m always fascinated by how songs I wrote 10 years ago with a certain personal meaning…you know, I wrote a song about my cousin passing, but as time has gone on that song, it becomes about the world and it becomes less mine and more everybody’s. Yeah, so that happens. I mean when it’s really fresh, yes, sometimes it can be very painful.”
Like ripping off a scab?
Steve Messina: “Yeah, picking at it. Yes.”
Do you mind if people interpret your songs wrong? They’re based on your personal experiences, however they could mean something completely different to audience than what you intended. Does that bother you?
Steve Messina: “No. Actually, I like it. Yeah, I think it’s great when somebody has their own interpretation of a song. I think I also find it very interesting when I find out that somebody interpreted it not completely but different than I was intending.”
Is there any song in particular that somebody has given a different meaning to that you never would have attached to that song?
Steve Messina: “On our very first record there’s a song called ‘Floating.’ I think it’s the second track. The whole record is this concept album about dying and passing from this life into the next and searching for heaven. The song ‘Floating’ is about this. The meaning I had for it, it’s very simple, simple lyrics, so it’s like there’s not much there. I mean if you listen to it, the lyric is super simple. I intended it to be about a guy kind of coming out of his body and floating and seeing his body, his spirit seeing his body. Then one day, this is maybe five or six years ago, I just happened to see there was this site and they were talking about, ‘Pick your favorite Valentine songs.’ Somebody chose ‘Floating’ by Blow Up Hollywood. I was like, ‘That’s such an interesting take!’ I started thinking about the simple lyric and I said, ‘Wow, I didn’t think of it. She say it as a love song.'”
It was really interesting. When I step back, on its own, if you haven’t listened to the whole album, if you don’t understand the concept of the album on its own, I can see how somebody can say, ‘I’m so in love that I’m floating over you,’ and that kind of a thing. It was interesting.”
Are there ever any feelings or any situations that are basically too personal to put down in a song?
Steve Messina: No. I don’t always admit that a song, that if somebody asks me – even if a friend or a family member or somebody I know might ask me about a song – I won’t admit what it’s about. ‘Oh no, that’s just a story about something I heard.’ You know? I’ll do one of those.”
That’s kind of taking the easy way out, isn’t it?
Steve Messina: [Laughing] “Yeah, yeah. ‘That’s not about you, Rebecca. You’re misinterpreting that song, Rebecca. It’s about somebody else.'”
What’s it like when you’re performing live versus being in a studio recording your music?
Steve Messina: “I like both recording and performing live, but the great thing about performing live is that you have an opportunity, one, to have the energy of the audience almost, to my mind, play a big part in how the music gets delivered. If you have a great audience, the music is almost always better. There’s just a different energy, a different vibration in the room, you know? I love it. Sometimes in the studio…some people think the studio can be really stale. It kind of can be, and it’s funny you mention that because the last couple of times I’ve been in the studio recording I always think to myself, ‘I want to invite an audience to watch us record,’ just because it puts a little different twist on it. There’s an energy, there’s people listening, you feel like you’re performing more as opposed to just recording.”
What’s the process like for you when you write? Do you have to be totally alone, locked in a room? Or does the inspiration come anywhere?
Steve Messina: “Yeah, you just nailed it. I have to be completely alone. I have to have lots of silence and lots of time. Usually, more often than not for me … I mean it can come at any time, but it’s in the middle of the night. I’m a bad sleeper so I’ll get up in the middle of the night and I’ll often go outside and just kind of gaze up at the stars. It’s so quiet I just imagine that I’m the only one up in the world. Then I get really inspired.”
Does it come to you all at once or do you just get little bits of a lyric and then eventually it comes together?
Steve Messina: “You know, it’s different. A bunch of different ways. Sometimes it’s all at once. Then sometimes I’ll have a musical idea that I just love, but I don’t have a lyric for it. Then one day it just kind of appears, you know? Believe it or not, another interesting thing, I’ve often … I shouldn’t say often, sometimes I can write a song and if I let myself go a little more stream of conscious, and let myself not be so judgmental of what I’m doing, I’ll write something and I won’t be sure what it means until it’s done. Then I go, ‘That’s what that means to me.'”
Is there a song on the new album like that?
Steve Messina: “Believe it or not, ‘Shine.’ ‘Shine’ was one of the easiest songs I’ve ever written. I remember writing that song, I was coming back from seeing a performance of one of my favorite singer/songwriters and I was just really moved by the performance, and I loved how much the crowd was moved by it. When I came back, it was the impetus to write that song. Kind of just got down, it kind of wrote itself.
‘Marjorie’ on the new album, I was getting ready to go out to lunch with my wife on a Saturday afternoon and while I was waiting for her to get dressed and ready, I just started playing the chords and humming that melody almost immediately. I knew there was something there and I said, ‘I can’t go to lunch. I’m sorry, I have to finish this.’ She went out, brought lunch back. In literally 20 minutes she was gone, the lyrics just came. I didn’t change anything. The lyrics are as I wrote it. It’s based on a true story, a real person.”
I would imagine that getting it right the first time is a thrilling experience, when you know that that is exactly what the song is supposed to sound like.
Steve Messina: “Yeah. Again, it’s really cliché, but I guess it is because it’s so true that sometimes you feel like more like a vehicle to this other dimension, to a spirit world, to a higher source, where you kind of just feel like it’s writing itself and you’re just the pen. That does feel really amazing.”
How many years is it going to take to get the next album?
Steve Messina: [Laughing] “You know, we’re actually, as we speak, we’re here on the West Coast. We rented this little cottage in Venice for a week before we head up to San Francisco. We’ve been doing some recording. On April 8, back in New York we’re going into the studio to do some recording. It’s not going to be as long. Sometimes the time it takes between records, sometimes it’s because we’re really pondering the music and the record and what we want to do. Sometimes, personally, if I’m not inspired by anything or if I don’t have anything to say, then I just want to keep my mouth shut.”
That makes sense.
Steve Messina: “I think if we were more in it for … not that we’re not in it for the money, you want to make a living, this is what we do, but if I was more concerned with stardom or making more money and how much we’re selling, then I would probably force myself to do it, but I don’t do that.”
Do you normally have a lot of songs to pick and choose from for an album, or is it normal that there’s just barely enough?
Steve Messina: “You know, I love songwriting. I do a lot of producing and I write with a lot of other people for their records. Sometimes I’ll even write a song myself and I’ll be like, ‘Wow, I really like this song I wrote, but it’s not Blow Up Hollywood.’ One of the reasons I like to record, and the band records, and for me as the main writer is once I have a bunch of material I have trouble writing more until it’s put down. It’s like I actually have to get rid of it. It’s almost like, ‘All right, I’ve got to get rid of this. I have to empty out.'”
You have to purge that material and then you’ve got room to work on something else.
Steve Messina: “Exactly. My head is filled with it until it’s done.”
Talking about releasing singles and albums, it seems with social media and YouTube and all these outlets now available, new artists have more of a chance to be heard. Has that affected the music industry, do you think?
Steve Messina: “Oh, absolutely.”
For better or worse?
Steve Messina: “I don’t think there’s a better or worse, I think it’s just made it very different. I think it’s made it very different. In some ways, the music industry is a mess. It’s just so all over the place. What’s great about it is anybody has an opportunity to get out there now. [Laughing] What’s bad about it is anybody has an opportunity to get out there now.”
-Posted by Rebecca Murray
Follow Us On: