SRJC band of the week: The Illumignarly

(Left to right) Dylin Stice, Scott Manwell, Mikey Bollonio and Derek Nielsen relax backstage at the Arlene Francis Center and drink beer before their band’s set.

Estefany Gonzalez, A&E Editor

Conspiracy theories say The Illuminati are mysterious hidden members of society pulling the puppet strings to control world affairs. The band The Illumignarly took on the persona of being a faceless powerhouse when members decided to become a surf-inspired instrumental group.

Their goal was to make fun rhythms that would make fans feel as though a big wave crashed upon them. They chose to let their music speak louder than any words a singer could provide.
Guitar players Scott Manwell and Derek Nielsen have jammed together for more than 13 years. The two decided to start a band with drummer Dylan Stice three years ago as an experiment. Their idea was to be as fun and cheesy as they could be. “We didn’t really think we would be an actual band,” Nielsen said.
Two years ago, bass player Mikey Bellonio joined the Illumignarly, completing the band’s line-up. “We’re stuck now; you know like when you marry someone and you’re too old to leave them and go find someone better,” Nielsen said.
The Santa Rosa natives play mostly local shows but have performed throughout the Bay Area as well. The members listen to punk, metal, indie, bluegrass and hardcore and said each genre tends to find itself into their sound.
The band members prefer recording EPs over full length albums. Nelson said their goal is to create “all killer, no filler songs.” They’ll often work on songs for weeks at a time and then scrap them because they sound like they could be used as a filler track on an album.
What sets this band apart from others is their go-with-the-flow attitude. “There’s no calculation behind it. I like that everything is hands off. We show up and we play,” Stice said.
Nielson said everything the band has done has been because the opportunity presented itself, not because members went out looking.  “We got together because it was fun to jam out some surf songs,” Nielsen said. “The shows all started coming to us.”
Illumignarly members play because they love to, not because they’re trying to get their name out there. “If it gets any bigger, we’ll gladly be there when it happens, but we’re not actively trying to make it happen,” Bellonio said. “We’re never trying to strive to be more than what we are.”
Before playing a set at the Arlene Francis Center, the band members shared about late nights after shows, why they’re instrumental, and what keeps them playing together.
Why did the band choose to be instrumental?
Stice: “For me, personally, I like not having a vocalist. I like the ambiguity of it. You don’t have a stance on anything, you don’t have a message; there’s no concept to pull from so it’s just kinda like colors mixing together. It’s a little more abstract.”
Nielsen: “It goes along with the personality we’ve set up with the Illumignarly. We want to be kinda faceless. We’ve all been in bands where we’ve been like ‘Hey this is us, this is what we’re saying’, but with the Illumignarly we’re not trying to say anything.”
Manwell: “We’ve experimented with lyrics, and I thought it was awesome.”
Bellonio: “It’s one of those things that when it works, it works. Music is the most important thing to all of us. I think that when any one of us listens to a record, the last thing we listen to is the lyrics.”
Manwell: “Most of the time you can’t hear the singers anyway. Almost every single band I listen to live or on CD, I can’t pick out the lyrics anyway, Elton John included.”
Bellonio: “I don’t want to say this like it’s a thing, but a lot of people are selfish with their music and they do it for themselves. And I think that all of us when we write music together, it is very selfless and it is for fun.”
How often do you guys play?
Bellonio: “We’re lucky if we can get together once a week.”
Neilsen: “We just put out our CD three weeks ago, and we just didn’t do anything for three weeks, which was awesome. That’s part of the freedom of being in the Illumignarly; we work hard when we need to work hard. We have periods when we’re very hardworking, and we have periods when we’re not. It never feels like we need to make that decision. It just happens.”
Stice: “We’re riding the coattail of inspiration. I feel like nothing’s forced.”
Manwell: “The best shows we’ve played, we’ve wanted to just go see a movie instead, but then we get off the stage and we’re like, ‘Wait a minute, no. This is actually f***ing rad.’”
Nielsen: “We’re also kind of old; we’ve all been in bands for a little too long at this point. We’re all at the point where we’ve been inspired for a little too long now, and we’re kind of burnt out, but we get that second wave of middle age inspiration.”
Why EPs over full-length ablums?
Neilson: “EPs are fun. You get in, you say what you need to say and you get out while you have the energy. ”
Manwell: “No filler, all killer.”
Bellonio: “I think the way things are going with music, full albums aren’t a necessity anymore.”
Neilson: “I love full records, but those are with bands that tour all the time, and those are with bands that will make money because they’re on the road nine months out of the year and right now in our lives, we’re not trying to do that.”
What’s the weirdest place you’ve ever slept?
Bellonio: “We slept above this bar in Pacifica. It was actually one of the best shows ever.
Derek was our designated driver. He was going to drive us back to Santa Rosa and last minute, literally moments before the last band ended, they [the bar owners] were like ‘Hey guys we have an empty apartment upstairs. You can sleep there if you want.’ and everything got real. We all got sh** face wasted.”
Nielsen: “As soon as we found out we didn’t have to drive home we got insanely drunk.”
Manwell: “So we just stayed in the loft above a dive bar.”
Nielsen: “It was right by the beach. I was sleeping next to the window and the wind was blowing. I could hear the ocean sounds, and then all of a sudden I hear [makes puking noises] and then I hear Dylan’s girlfriend at the time ‘Oh, no Dylan.’ Dylan had just puked all over the place.”
Do you guys hang out outside of the band?
Manwell: “We’re probably friends more than we play music.”
Neilsen: “At this point we’re in a band because we’re friends, and we’re all musicians and we’re like, ‘F***, I guess we should play music.’”
Bellonio: “It’s a funny thing being in a band. People always say its like being in a relationship, but this is the only time I’ve been in a band where we’re friends, and we don’t ever fight. I mean sometimes we disagree but not really. It’s just us pushing each other to be better than what we are.”
Nielsen: “There’s always one person. Sometimes I’ll push everyone really hard, and then I get burnt out and start doing something else. Then Mikey will push us, and then Scott will push us. It’s really nice that there’s never just one person holding the reins all the time.”