Singer/guitarist Brian Holwerda cites his parents among his influences. “My dad, with the music. He’s a ripping funk bass player, and he taught me all the fundamentals on the guitar. He’s a pretty intense, smart dude, and I can see a bit of that in my personality. But also my mom — she’s a lover and a mellow sweetheart, so I got a bit of her DNA in there to soften me up a bit.”
He says even his will is a testament to what he owes his folks, “to help pay them back for all the crap I put them through when I was younger. You could sell all my stuff and still not make enough to pay them back for all the crashed cars and unfinished college degrees.”
In his late teens, Holwerda played in a band called Fine White China. “All the eyeliner and stuff was a little silly. We were young. We got signed to a European metal label. The band fizzled right after the record was finished. I couldn’t see myself making that music when I was old.”
Spending around three years as a server at the Sporting Club (“I’m a sports fanatic”) and then taking a similar position at Café Japengo (“I’ve been at the same job for a while and try to do my best while I’m on the clock”), Holwerda uses his off time to build up a musical résumé that includes playing and recording with John Meeks and cofounding Blackout Party in 2007.
“Blackout Party came together...as a bluesy, unplugged, acoustic-folk project,” says singer/guitarist Brian Holwerda. “The ‘Blackout’ was actually a reference to us playing without electricity at the time. We’ve since morphed into more of a face-melting rock group, definitely plugged in. The songwriting still comes from that foundation, though, three chords and the truth. We’re just a little louder now.”
According to pedal steel guitarist Daniel Crawford, “Brian started Blackout Party with Tim Lowman. I was doing a recording session for someone else. During lunch the producer played a song by Brian. I loved it, so for fun I laid down a lap steel part. Next day, Brian heard it. Tim, Brian, and I met for beers — that’s how I joined. It definitely was in a more traditional country vein then.”
Holwerda is grateful to Rockit Entertainment, the local booking company that set up five shows for his band in Memphis and Nashville backin 2007. Holwerda's folky six-man band includes lap steel, cello, and harmonium.
"Our very first show in Nashville was...at B.B. King's blues club," says Holwerda. "We get off the plane and head over there in a van. That's where we find out that they wanted us to play cover songs for four hours starting at 6 p.m., while people ate dinner...I told them on the van over we only have an hour set."
"There were, like, 10 to 15 families eating grits and chicken wings. I felt like we were the bar mitzvah band in The Wedding Singer.... We did play one Hank Williams song, but I didn't want to start pulling Tom Petty covers out of our asses."
So, Blackout Party went against house rules and broke into their original set.
"We don't need a parental advisory sticker on our music, but a couple of songs have the word 'bitch' in it. The first one goes 'Mister, shut your bitch up.' That's when we got our first warning. The manager, who was actually carrying a barstool, walked up and said somewhat menacingly, 'This is a family operation.'"
"Right after that we launched into 'Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound.' I don't think he took too kindly to that. A couple of songs later...we have a song that repeats the line, 'Ain't no way in hell I'm going to get through to that cold bitch's heart.' That was it. Midway through the song I saw the guy going over to literally pull the plug."
"[Our agent] came up and nervously told us we were done and we had to go. The manager told us we were the worst band he had ever heard and he would ruin us and we would never play in Nashville again. He said he was best friends with [Warped Tour founder] Kevin Lyman, and he would ruin our chances with him. We were, like, 'Oh, right, like this guy from this supper club in Nashville knows Kevin Lyman.'"
"A couple weeks later we were speaking with [Reeve Oliver bassist] O at the Casbah, and he said he was talking with Kevin Lyman in his office when this guy did call him to badmouth Blackout Party. He said Kevin was laughing about it and that he took it with a grain of salt."
"A few years later, my buddy and I got to open for BB at a private party at Belly Up though, so I don't think it hurt us in the long run!"
After releasing their debut album Bottom of the Sea, Blackout Party was nominated for San Diego Music Awards as Best Americana in 2010 and 2011. “It’s nice to be recognized,” says Holwerda. “I don’t know that any of the nominees are true ‘Americana.’ Blackout Party lost the same category in 2010. I play guitar for John Meeks, and his record won last year. I made a drunken acceptance speech, since he didn’t show.”
Holwerda seems reluctant to certify his band as “Americana,” despite being slapped with that label. “I’d say our sound is more like Southwestern swamp rock.”
La Mesa native and pedal steel guitarist Daniel Crawford weighs in. “It’s funny that we always get put in ‘Americana’ — the category is so broad. I think we get very far from that bush, so to speak. A lot of our tunes melt faces, whether they’re about mummies smokin’ weed or pirate rockers.”
As of 2011, “The biggest change has been solidifying our rhythm section. Some great players came and went. We really lucked out, getting Jeff Hawthorne on drums and Jesse Bowen on bass. And doing a weekly residency at the Riviera Supper Club for over a year helped us figure out what works live. We got tight enough to record 15 songs live.”
Their second album Closed Mouth Don’t Get Fed, recorded at local Lost Ark Studio, was released later in 2011. “The new record is way more upbeat than Bottom of the Sea,” says Holwerda. “I’ve incorporated a bit more storyteller, narrative vibe, with less confessional, heartbreak, tear-in-my-beer... That record was a cluster of songs I wrote after a breakup. I’m in a totally different place now.”
In August 2011, they won Best Americana at the San Diego Music Awards. Guitarist Tim Lowman’s side project Low Volts released its debut full-length Twist Shake Grind Break in 2011, also winning at that year’s SDMAs. The following year, they won Best Local Recording at the SDMAs. In October 2013, they took home the Best Rock SDMA trophy.
Holwerda and Lowman both moved to Nashville in 2016, with Lowman keeping his other band Low Volts active at the same time. The 2016 Blackout Party album Float On Towards Our Doom was tracked live to two-inch tape at Zac Brown's Southern Ground Studios in Nashville, with a lineup featuring Holwerda, Lowman, and Crawford now backed by Jesse Bowen (bass, vocals) and Jeff Hawthorne (drums, vocals).
"The album cover was a custom work by our buddy Eric Johnson, who does a lot of work in the comic industry," says Holwerda. "The idea was having a creepy guy floating down a swamp with a lantern, with us floating behind him in the water. You can see each one of our faces, and somehow Jesse's hair looks amazing, even though he's underwater! Eric added a bunch of hidden imagery and a can of Tecate floating with us, which is fitting since it's the official beer of Blackout Party."
By 2018, Around 2016, Lowman had returned to San Diego, while Holwerda stayed in Tennessee. “I fell in love in Nashville on tour with Blackout Party,” says Lowman of his two years there. “At the time you could rent a two-bedroom house on ¾-acre in East Nashville for $650, and all your neighbors were musicians. It made so much sense to be where music ruled the town and people shared the same passion. Plus it’s a great hub for touring the south and east coast.”
The 2018 comedy Super Troopers 2 features the Blackout Party song "All My Friends," alongside tracks by Low Volts and Stephen Pearcy.