It was three days before Christmas, and the rain poured down from the clouds, turning the evening from a deep blue to a deeper black. In Travis Rich's recording studio in Long Beach, just 14 days after the death of his brother, Jesse Rich, I sat cross-legged at a table behind stacks of photographs, music recordings and sheets of song lyrics that Jesse had created over the years, most recently for Broken Bottles. Travis lowered his head and turned toward me and asked, “Where do you think people go after they die?” You know, I responded, “People will live on forever, as long as you keep them alive.”
Jesse Rich's musical legacy lies in the Broken Bottles records that captured his restless creativity. Beginning with 7'' releases “Radioactve San Onofre” and “Bloody Mary” and continuing until this year, Rich and his band displayed a prototypically Orange Countian mix of punk attitude, refined musicianship and off-kilter humor. Topics include everything from skateboarding to gothic chicks to Orange County itself, reflecting the things that preoccupied Rich lyrically and personally in his life.
Long-time fans have already demonstrated an outpouring of emotion online, reminiscing about the music, lyrics and shows of the band they enjoyed so much, a fitting tribute to their fallen friend and musical hero. As for those who knew and loved Rich personally, his memory is certain to remain in their hearts and the music they will continue to make. Surely, Jess “The Mess” could think of no better remembrance than that.
Ace Davis: We met when Jesse was 14-years-old and I was 16. He told me that he played guitar and that he wanted to start a band. Right when we met, we started a band called the Dogs that was fast punk-rock, because we were pissed. We formed with singer Nate Holt, bassist Austin Holliman and drummer Drew Rowlett. We were just teenagers playing our music. Eventually, we went our separate ways, but Jesse and I kept writing songs. Jesse went to rehab for a year, but we both kept playing music.
Travis Rich: No one could visit him except for family at rehab.
Davis: But he would call me every day, and we would play each other songs over the phone. I said to him, “Dude, I got this killer idea to slow down the songs and do some down strumming. Let's hold the chord longer and do double time.” So, that made it sound more powerful and catchy.
Rich: I would visit Jesse and I always wanted him to teach me how to play bass–I wanted to play music, but I didn't know how. When Travis and Jesse wrote songs over the phone, I would come and visit him and he taught me how to play those songs. This went on for about four or five months. After, Jesse got day passes to get out of rehab, and we would play shows in Drew's garage.
Rich: He had a kind of a dry sense of humor. Some people thought it was funny and others were offended. [laughs.]
Davis: I think everyone has their own personal story about Jess, you know?
Rich: If we played a show, I would drive and he would always entertain us. Every once in a while, Jess would wake up and say, “Hey, let's get a hotel somewhere.” And I would say, “No hotel!” He would always want to get a hotel.
Seamans: That's the luxury touring thing to do.
Rich: Every once and while it would work out, but usually just floored it in the van. Jesse always loved to be on the road.
Davis: I remember when Jesse and I would always go wonder off together. He was always stoked on being out of town.
Rich: When we were in Japan, he could only wander so far. This year our goal was to go to Europe. I don't know if it matters at this point, but we were saving up to go.
Did you all collaborate in writing songs?
Rich: Yeah, Jess and Ace would do their thing. But then we would all mess around and bounce ideas back and forth.
Davis: Jesse was really good at taking something and making it his own.
Rich: He would fit the vocals to the chorus of the song or the drums. He would arrange it in his head. The last practice we had with him was awesome.
Davis: I could play a part of a song and Jess would already know where I was going with it. He would always know how I wanted something to sound and then make it better.
Seamans: These two played as one.
Davis: We saw things from the same perspective because we had been through so much, you know? Jesse was such a rad guitar player.
Did Jesse have a problem with drugs his entire life?
Davis: Well, we were doing drugs when we were 14 and 15. Jesse was all or nothing.
Rich: He was compulsive.
Davis: We were fucking with drugs starting around at such a young age. It was always one big party for Jess. But he never had any money to buy drugs.
Rich: Jesse once told me, “It's like being like a trash can, whatever gets thrown at me I take.” Pills, heroin, speed…drugs are everywhere in Orange County (and all over the place)–it's ridiculous. There are so many people doing them and that's reality.
Not to bring up a sore subject, but how did Jesse pass away?
Rich: He was in a our old band room by himself and peaceful–he was very peaceful and relaxed. His hair was perfectly combed, and he was happy. He was actually dressed and ready to go on a date. He went to sleep and didn't struggle at all. [holding back tears.]
Seamans: It was definitely a mistake.
Rich: It wasn't his lucky day. He never said he wanted to go around and die. That was not his thing. It's been really tough reading about his overdose, but it's the truth. He was in his own world but never complained about anything.
How do you think Jesse would feel about all the support?
Rich: I think he is jazzed to see all the support.
Davis: You know what I liked about Jess? He was really interested in pop culture. He loved to watch MTV. He seemed like this wild guy, but he loved it. He had everything very controlled. I found a paper in his truck one day, and he wrote out his entire new look. It literally said on it: Dennis the Menace-meets-Dracula.
Seamans: His look always had meaning behind it.
Rich: All the love and support we have been getting from everyone is amazing. We've shared the stage with unlimited bands, and I'm so fucking stoked that people dug our music. And Jesse would be so happy to see it, as well.