As I waited in the muggy backroom of Pianos, a bar on the Lower East Side of New York, my thoughts drifted between wondering if I would recognize him and wondering if all venues below a certain size are required to have terrible ventilation. There were about a dozen people in the room, but I was sweaty enough to feel like I had been in the middle of a huge crowd.
Suddenly, I spotted him. In a basic flannel, dark jeans, and a newsboy cap pulled down over his trademark locks, Justin “Bobby” Brescia, the bad boy heartthrob of The Hills, might as well have been wearing camouflage. But his trademark combat boots (with festive orange laces for Halloween) gave him away. As the folk cover band finished, Bobbyrock, comprised of Brescia on guitar and David Dariani on drums, took to the stage to set up.
It’s clear that Brescia’s camouflaged look is intentional. In the five years since The Hills ended, Brescia has laid low in comparison to his castmates. Spencer and Heidi Pratt have continued to be reality TV’s most hated couple and are clearly loving every minute of it. Lauren Conrad has her own GOOPy lifestyle website, Audrina Patridge inexplicably hosts an NBC show that airs after SNL, and Whitney Port married a producer from her Hills spinoff, The City.
But what about the show’s most underrated participant? Since 2010, Brescia has been busy staying out of the spotlight. Staying true to his hairstyling roots, he created a line of hair products and opened a chain of salons in Southern California, Nicaragua, and until recently, in his Manhattan loft. Unlike his co-stars, being in the spotlight was something Brescia avoided. Until now.
As Brescia stepped up to the microphone to start the show, I could see a hint of eyeliner and chipped black nail polish. Dariani, the drummer, wore a similar look. Although Brescia’s tresses looked long in comparison to Dariani’s shaved head, his hair was much shorter than it was back in his Hills heyday. But overall, Brescia’s look hasn’t changed much in five years. As Brescia introduced band, he referred to himself as only “Justin.” He thanked the sparse crowd for coming, acknowledging that it was the day after Halloween and a Sunday at that: “We know it’s fuck all tomorrow.”
I soon figured out that “fuck all” is a Justin Bobby-ism for “everything.” Although his bad boy charm certainly got him on the show, his vaguely philosophical quotes are what kept him there. They take a bit of deciphering, but it’s worth it. Brescia is that guy in your philosophy class who barely scraped by with a C; not because he didn’t understand the material, but because he couldn’t be held back by the professor’s antiquated notions of how an essay should be structured.
Bobbyrock is a collaboration between Brescia and Dariani, but Brescia dominated the songwriting process on the band’s first EP, which was recorded earlier this year. “I came in with rusty, unpolished material,” said Brescia, “and we worked on them together.” Brescia played drums in his previous band, Ed Stanley, so he came to Bobbyrock with a lot of material. Dariani had been the lead guitarist and singer of his previous band, Pilot Blue, so he was ready to take a break and step behind the drumkit for a while.
Dariani described their sound as “Heavy rock with a punk rock look,” and I couldn’t really disagree with him there. Amp feedback acted as the third member of the band, something I surprisingly didn’t mind. Songs vacillated between the power chords and fast paced drums of punk rock and the up and down volume of heavier rock. The lyrics were simple but fun, and song titles didn’t leave much to the imagination. “This next song is called 'Norma Dean',” Brescia said, “If James Dean and Marilyn Monroe fucked up in heaven, this is what you’d get.”
Lyrics aside, it’s clear that both Brescia and Dariani are talented musicians. Brescia “had a guitar in his hand at the age of five,” and Dariani started playing guitar at age 10. It’s easy to think that punk rock is nothing but sloppy power chords and drumbeats played faster than the ear can comprehend, but Bobbyrock definitely has a dedication to their craft.
What really sold me on Bobbyrock was watching Brescia on stage. Even when playing to a sparse crowd, Brescia put on a show. During especially epic solos, he would descend from the stage and play amongst his audience. As he introduced their single, “I Love You But Do You Love Me,” he turned over his shoulder and coyly asked the audience, “Well, do ya?” He punctuated his question with a wink, making my 15-year-old self’s heart flutter. If Bobbyrock wanted to get maximum groupie play, all they would need to do was tour exclusively in mid-sized cities where the punk rock scene is dominated by teenagers.
There was no diva behavior from Bobbyrock that night. They ended their set on time, probably in an effort not to incur the ire of the perpetually-annoyed sound man. After they were finished playing, Brescia and Dariani stayed for the first few songs played by the final band of the night (a rule of musician etiquette that the band preceding Bobbyrock chose not to follow). As we moved out of the show space back into the bar, Brescia made a point of waiting for friends who had promised to show up but had yet to follow through. This also seemed to be an excuse to watch what would end up being the final game of the World Series. True to form, Brescia is a Mets fan, because he “loves the underdogs.”
Once it was clear that the Royals would become the reigning champions, we were free to abandon Pianos in favor of the more authentically punk Double Down Saloon and talk about the band’s origins. Like an old married couple, Dariani and Brescia argue about how they first met. Brescia had already done the math, “He first texted me April 3, 2014.” They had met at a brunch through a mutual friend. Dariani was totally unaware of Brescia’s stint on The Hills but was drawn to him anyway. “I can smell a musician from a mile away,” said Dariani. At first, Brescia was wary of Dariani’s musical advances. “After something like that you’re never used to who’s real with you for what reason,” said Brescia, “You don’t know if people are into you for you or into you for something else. I learned that very, very quick from the show.” In an excellent Justin Bobby-ism, Brescia noted, “It was a serious dose of reality about human nature.”
“‘The Hills’ was cool but...it can definitely reroute your life in a way that you
have no control over, and that's scary.”
Brescia is open and honest about how his time on The Hills affected his worldview. “Doing that thing for six years, five years, whatever it was, you have to watch every move chessfully. It’s exhausting and it’s untrusting.” But not all was bleak behind the scenes of The Hills. “Some of the things, the people you meet and the experiences you have, and being on TV, it’s a lot of people’s dreams. It was cool, it was an amazing experience and I wouldn’t ever change it, but you definitely have to be on your toes because it can get rerouted and misconstrued and it can definitely reroute your life in a way that you have no control over, and that’s scary.”
At first, Brescia forcefully denies keeping in touch with anyone from the show. But upon reflection, he remembers, “Spencer Pratt actually just hit us up about a month ago. He’s always giving love. He’s kind of one of my favorite people that I worked with. He was just the realest. It was in your face and aggressive, but every time I was with him, sitting with him, he was just speaking a lot of truth and you can’t really fuck with someone who’s speaking truth.”
As we left the bar that night, I couldn’t help but feel like I was falling under Justin Bobby’s spell. But the next time I met up with the band, they were running late for their scheduled photoshoot and I was falling out of love quickly. Flakiness seems to be part of where Brescia’s slacker bad boy image comes from, even though beneath that hard exterior lies a polite and forgivable rascal. As I fielded inquiries from the photo staff about Bobbyrock’s location, I simultaneously received texts from the band updating me on their location every 10 minutes or so. At one point, I couldn’t help but feel giddy that I now had Brescia’s phone number. When they finally arrived, I went to meet them at the corner only to find that Brescia was missing. He had gone to buy a hot dog from a food cart. As we made our way into the lobby, Brescia stopped to snag some candy from the front desk. His weird mix of intelligence and naivety make it hard to stay mad at him for long.
It’s obvious that Brescia learned a lot about posing from The Hills. “What we get is a straight crash course of the industry and how to be on camera and how to work with directors and knowing lighting. There was no comparison.” During the entirety of the shoot, Brescia had the air of a professional. He followed the minimal directions from the photographer and used his recently acquired lollipop as his main prop. He moved fluidly through pose after pose in a way that I thought only fictional models did. Though Dariani is no stranger to being in front of the camera, Brescia did everything he could to make Dariani as comfortable as he feels. “Dave has a great peanut joke,” Brescia announced. “Two peanuts were walking down the street,” Dariani said, “One was assaulted.” While Dariani posed for his solo shots, Brescia began to clean out his pockets. From his vintage leather jacket, held together by safety pins and Harley Davidson patches, he produced a clementine orange and set it on the table.
After the photoshoot wrapped, Brescia made sure he took his tiny orange and we retreated to a nearby cafe where he was able to reflect on what life on The Hills was like. Although Brescia didn’t appear on the show until the third season, he had been offered a part in the show during its first season. “At that point I was traveling with Maroon 5 and I was working full time and making money and I didn’t need it,” Brescia said. After encouragement from his friend Patridge, he eventually felt that the money was too good to pass up.
Learning to live with the warped reality of the show was challenging, but Brescia had a secret weapon: the name “Justin Bobby.” When he first decided to participate in the show, Brescia wasn’t interested in using his real name. “I kind of wanted to remain an alias if I could,” said Brescia, “I kept telling Audrina, ‘Say my middle name,’ which is Robert, ‘So just say Bobby.’” As could be expected, Patridge slipped. “Production was like, asking for Bobby and she was like, ‘No, Justin. Oh yeah, Bobby!’” But the new moniker eventually became an asset, as it allowed Brescia to tell whether someone was talking about The Hills version of himself, or his real world self. “Sometimes you would get to hear the syllables of those two names and I would be able to understand right off the bat that they were talking about me,” said Brescia.
And there was certainly a lot to talk about. On the show, Brescia was part of a tumultuous on-again-off-again relationship with Patridge. He was shown as a callous guy who was constantly leaving Patridge in the lurch. But according to Brescia, one of the major scenes of his relationship drama with Patridge was complete fiction. In season three, Brescia supposedly had brought Patridge on his motorcycle to a party in Malibu and then ditched her there with only her helmet to keep her company. “It was the first time I was like, ok, this is for real a machine now.”
As Brescia tells it, he had been asked to come by on one of his days off to film some scenes of himself driving off into the sunset on his motorcycle. After he had finished, the producers convinced him to stop by a party that was going on at the same time, even though he was ready to be done working for the day. He decided to stop in and say hi, and then head home. Once the episode aired, Brescia was all over the tabloids, “‘J-Bobby leaves Audrina empty handed at a beach party.” And then they’d show me the clip and she’s holding the helmet crying. I’m like, I just came to do those scenes and leave,” said Brescia, “We didn’t come together, we didn’t leave together, she came in her Mercedes and left in her Mercedes and I just came to work.” Brescia was hurt by this portrayal of him as an asshole, “I was bummed because I would have never left her if we came together at all, there’s no way. I’m not that type of guy.”
As for his relationship with Patridge, Brescia made it clear that it was a creation of the show. “Were we like boyfriend girlfriend? No, we weren’t. We worked a lot, we had some moments, we spent a lot of time together,” said Brescia. “Beyond most we became really, really good close friends.” But that’s not to say that their friendship wasn’t beneficial. “We were just supportive of each other at a time where something like that, you don’t really have the most support. We could talk about it and you couldn’t do that with most because it would be leaked. There was no trust, so we had trust. It never evolved into anything too heavy, but we definitely went through an experience of doing TV and filming and traveling and having laughs and she’s still a dear friend to this day.”
The show’s scripted format and focus on drama eventually became stifling for Brescia. He had learned to work the system and was used to the fictionalized storylines, but he hoped that the show would move in other directions. “It was a drama based show, so if you didn’t have drama you didn’t have a show. But I feel like there was a lot more of the arts that could have been shown and a lot more humor that I think we got towards the end that started to lighten it up,” said Brescia. “My mom always said, ‘Love is life and laughter heals.’”
Of all the indignities forced on him by The Hills, Brescia seems most upset about the bad boy image put on him by the show. “They were really digging for the bad boy that wasn’t ever going to be seen. They would have never got that out of me.” It’s hard to argue with him on that point.
As we left the cafe that day, Brescia insisted on buying my coffee and hugged me goodbye. He was on his way to one of his client’s apartments to cut hair. Even after four years on one of the most watched MTV shows, Brescia has stayed true to his two passions: music and hair. The Hills might make him seem like a bit of a clown, but Brescia is clearly in on the joke. As I finally stood up to leave, he encouraged me to check out the songs on the CD they had brought for me. “I think some of the lyrics, you might get a little more of me than I understand how to explain myself,” said Brescia, “Sometimes people can’t do it verbally, they have to do it other ways.”