Artist Interview: 7/10/2008  

Brian Holwerda : The Ballad of the Ice Mummy

A Monday night sushi dinner, led to an impromptu session at the Luce Loft with Brian Holwerda.  We skated with camera and guitar case from 3rd down to 10th and filmed a quick interview and performance of a new track by Blackout Party's front man.

Sezio: Is writing music spontaneous or habitual for you?

Brian: Both. Making spontaneous music has become a habit. But writing is a bit different. I don't force the issue. I never want to put down some random lyric just cause it rhymes, or whatever. Different times of month are better, too. Before and after a full moon I notice a big increase in output. I read Neil Young say that he doesn't even bother writing anymore unless the moon is right. Fascinating stuff. I don't take it that far, but it IS weird how the best tunes seem to come out real fast, no effort. If I'm wrestling with it, I'll just put it away for a few months.

The Ice Mummy - Photo by Zack Nielsen

Sezio: You're finishing up an album now with Blackout Party...

Brian: Yessir, we have 8 songs recorded, just finishing up vocals. Should be done by August. We're talking to Transfer about doing a dual release party at Casbah, which would be insane!!  It sounds awesome so far, everyone nailed their parts and we got really cool tones. I ran my Tele through a Vox AC30 and a vintage Fender Twin, and blended the two tones. They sound huge together. All the usual gadgets are on there too, plus banjo, flute, harmonium, and some horns.

The main reason I feel good about this album is we're doing it ourselves, with no weird stress from outside the band. I learned things the hard way with other bands, and got myself into some weird situations where the final product sounded nothing like what I was envisioning. Producers and A&R guys would be sniffing around trying to tell you what your band should sound like. Such a strange phenomenon. This album, for better of for worse, sounds like us. I think people are gonna dig it.

Blackout Party at FM 94/9's Independence Jam - Photo by Jonathan Foster

Sezio: Blackout Party is quite a ways from your past projects, do you think you have found your genre..?

Brian: Yeah, I do.  I kinda just came full circle. I grew up loving Crosby Stills n Nash, James Taylor, Creedence, the Doors, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Hendrix. I got distracted for a while, I guess you could say.

My other bands were stepping stones back to square one. When I played in Kimberly Kills I was extremely timid on stage. I would be so self conscious that I couldnt relax and enjoy the show. I wouldn't look up at the crowd. The music was some of my first attempts at writing. Some cool textures and changes, but lyrically some of it comes off as juvenile when I listen now. I barely drank then, too. I probly coulda used a few beers to calm me down. Still, we got some pretty decent interest from labels, had a demo deal with Atlantic. It just didn't feel right though, the directions people wanted to go were incompatible. I was getting way into Jeff Buckley, but we had a guitar player who wanted to play in Slipknot. There just comes a point in a relationship when you know it's done, and it just seems weird to keep going just cause you don't want the conflict or to hurt anybody's feelings.

Holwerda (Left), Andrew Heine (Right)

I quit that band on the spot and started making plans for the next project immediately. It's kinda silly to think of now, but had full-on auditions, with people sending in bio's and pictures and stuff. There was a manager involved from day one and he funded recording, and did a bunch of stuff for us. We met some funny dudes. The band came together, and it was just mayhem. We were a gang. Me and the bass player lived in the practice room, and we thought we were Nikki and Tommy. It was a complete oppostie reaction to Kimberly Kills. Where Kimberly Kills was mellow and predictable, this was brash in-your-face rock and roll. We put on a ridiculously fun show. Blowing fire, spitting beer in each other's mouths. It was going well, but I think we were in it for the wrong reasons. Personal glory was what we were feeding off of. My writing was improving, and I was singing about some weird stuff, but we were lacking a certain universal appeal that I think all great bands have. It was great times, but it just got outa hand real quick. Our peak was a sold out House Of Blues show up in Hollywood. We were signed to Century Media, the biggest metal label on the planet. The owner had our back even though his staff thought the band was rubbish, and I guess we proved them right. They bought us a van and it sat in the driveway. We kinda pissed it away. I think now we all wish we would've just buckled down and made it happen.

I quit Fine White China out of sheer frustration one day, and immediatly started recording these creepy quiet acoustic bedroom recordings. It was totally what I needed. In retrospect, it was me reacting against the type of music I'd been involved with, which was beginning to feel formulaic and soul-less. I was changing. Or, you could say I was "coming home". The band formed organically, random street jams, etc. We didn't want to be in a band, we just wanted to make good music. This was the opposite end of the pendulum from Fine White China. We got a residency at House Of Blues playing for 4 hours in the bar every Wednesday, and we just JAMMED. Low and behold, we started getting tight. Better gigs started coming, but it didn't get handed to us. And I think that makes all the difference. We did this ourselves from the ground up. We got a lot of support from other bands and places like the Casbah, but it happened organically, naturally, and at the right time. It's never felt rushed or forced. And the writing has just seemed to happen. I feel good about it.

On a sidenote, I read Willie Nelson's book "The Tao of Willie", and he gives his secret for winning over a crowd. He said as soon as he walks onstage, he finds a friendly face in the crowd and smiles. This, according to Willie, ignites a chain reaction of smiles and good vibes in general. I started doing that and it works like a damn charm. I highly recommend smiling to any band out there. It puts people at ease. Crowd dynamics are fascinating, and a rock show is no different. Ever notice a band that looks uncomfortable onstage, or doesn't seem to be having fun, or stares at their fucking feet?!? The crowd feels uncomfortable as a result. People don't know what to do cause the vibes are all messed up.

So yeah, to answer the question, I do think I've found my niche. But it isn't a certain genre or style. It's more of an attitude or a spirit. Positivity. I sing about some damn sad things, but I try not to carry that stuff around with me all the time. Leave it all on stage. 

Jim Holwerda, filling in on the bass - Photo by Zack Nielsen

Sezio: Did you grow up playing music?  I heard Jim Holwerda lays down a funky bass line.

Brian: Ya, he's a character and and all around awesome dude. He's also the best bass player around. He can get funky and slap it around like Flea, but he knows what NOT to play, which I think is the mark of a great musician. It's all about unselfish playing, serve the song, not your desire to play something cool. He's got great feel though, and alot of that sticky nasty groove shows up in Blackout Party riffs.  No matter what, even if it's a quiet slow ballad, it's gotta groove. You've gotta be able to move to it. That's the main idea to me, it's gotta be a little bit nasty. A good groove will make you do a face like you smelled something bad.

Sezio: What are you listening to lately?

Brian: I've been getting albums off Amazon lately. I prefer them to iTunes any day. I bought the Sword album, phenomenal. Saw them at The Casbah. They are the last band that made my jaw drop and laugh out loud. So good. Got MGMT, that's been in constant rotation. They kicked serious ass at Indy Jam. The last pice of vinyl I bought was probably the "Easy Rider" soundtrack or Iron and Wine. Also, my cousin Montel just burned me a bunch of mix CD's, all bay area hip hop like Mac Dre, E-40, and Andre Nickatina. Those are in constant rotation as well.

Sezio: Where can you be found on a tuesday night, friday at 2am, sunday afternoon?

Brian: Good question. Well, if I'm not working, Tuesday nite I'd most likely check the Casbah schedule and see who's playing. If it sounds interesting, you would find me hanging out there. If not, probably doing something at home, reading a book, cooking, and passing out to a podcast. I've been hooked on podcasts lately, so I'd most likely fall asleep to an episode of "Dan Carlin's Hardcore History", or one of the "NPR Live" concerts.

Friday's a different story. Most likely I'd be at work til 11 or 12. I wait tables at a sushi place in La Jolla. Odds are I'd be leaving work with a slight beer buzz, and looking to keep that going somewhere. I usually have just enough time to catch the headliner at Casbah if I haul ass home, shower, and head straight over there. This past Friday I pulled that maneuver and walked in just as Fleet Foxes was going on. They were fantastic. I love live music in general, and it's really interesting to me to see all the stuff people are doing out there, what gear they're using, etc. And since I'm a musician, I can't help but analyze a band's set, or see certain things I want to incorporate into something Blackout Party does. That's how you get better. I can't imagine not going out to see live music all the time. It just makes sense. Hone your craft, whatever it may be.

Sunset in Mexico - Photo by Zack Nielsen        

Sunday, bloody Sunday. I usually have Sunday's off work, so after the usual recovery period and pot of coffee, I'd most likely be looking to jump into some sort of body of water. The ocean usually does the job. I like a little cove in OB that's usually just locals, and there's no lifeguard so we can drink beers. All the gutterpunk hippie kids hang out down there too, so there's this crazy mashup of rich people who just walked down from their beach house, and homeless kids frying on acid who actually live ON the beach. Also, lately we've been cruising up to Tim Mays' house on Sunday afternoons and swimming all day. Last Sunday we spent about 4 hours straight trying to do that trick where you jump off the diving board and someone throws you a basketball and you've got to catch it and make a basket at the other end of the pool. It's a cool family vibe.

Thanks for asking cool questions. And thanks to anybody who takes the time to read this. Peace.

Brian's music can be found on myspace here.


Tags: music, interview, Luce Loft, Sezio Session, San Diego, Brian Holwerda, Blackout Party, Fine White China, Kimberly Kills, Song Writing, , Jonathan Foster

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