Orange County’s Broken Bottles – guitarist Darren Sullivan, drummer Drew Rowlett, bassist Travis Rich, and the charismatic singer/guitarist/primary songwriter Jes the Mess, with whom I spoke – have been around since about 2000 and have created a true tour de force with their debut full-length ‘In the Bottles’ (TKO) produced in part by Kerry Martinez of U.S. Bombs/Shattered Faith fame. Comprised of 12 mid-tempo, darkly fun, sometimes quirky punk tunes highlighted by Jes’ distinctive vocals, this album is original and refreshing.
Jes, who writes all the music and lyrics (and “draws all the pictures and goodies and whatnot” on the sleeves), wrote some of the material on ‘In the Bottles’ when he was around 18 (he’s now 26). About this long span of time between first creating the songs and recording them, he divulges, “I hold on to things for years and change things up and then re-change and then go back and add words and sort of get everything all lined up, fixed up, until it’s the final product.” And he says the new album is a marked improvement from the band’s earlier releases. “Things have gotten more mature along the way – I can tell you that…From the beginning, [the music] was more trashy,” concluding, “Things are starting to clean up, as I clean up…It kind of went hand-in-hand.” The frontman believes that the overall feel of the full-length is “a little pessimistic.” Ah, and herein lies the rub…
When I mentioned to Jes my impression of their record – that it’s quite dark-sounding which is definitely a good thing (think ‘Dance with Me’-era TSOL, the slower, moodier D.I. stuff like “Richard Hung Himself” and the great “Venus de Milo”) – it elicited an odd but thoughtful “okay, but just don’t hurt yourself or anybody else.” Yeah see, that’s not what I was getting at. Whereas I meant dark musically, he was thinking more in lyrical terms, I suppose, that it’s depressing or something - that “you need to be on Prozac to listen to the record.” He explains his reasoning thusly: “[The record is] dark because the world around me has been cruel. It’s a cruel world and I just had to write the record.” However, he reassures that he’s trying to have a more positive outlook on life.
In any case, the innate darkness of the music is tempered with somewhat humorous subject matter and not-too-serious lyrics like the fun “Runaway Mansion” and “Gothic Chicks” with lines like “‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ was everyday for you/You dress and you look like it’s 1982/Halloween was everyday when gothic chicks were cool.” But, yes, some of the songs are a bit “dark” thematically as well, like the – uh – interesting “Bloody Mary”, with a chorus of “I popped her cherry in the cemetery,” and the memorable line: “Just lay down in the cemetery and pretend like you’re dead.”
Another standout offering is the sardonic and mocking “Pink Swastika”, a song about being a “homosexual and a nazi too!” So, just what made Jes pen this song? He explains that in Orange County, he “saw a lot of sort of racist activity at certain hardcore events…and I basically wanted to retaliate with music: insulting the swastika and insulting your belief as a racist.” Further, he declares it’s also a fuck-you to “people trying to be hard-ass, like tough guys…I just saw a problem with [them] fucking up the scene, so it’s like why not insult them?”
And how could I neglect to mention the highly controversial (!) “Kelly Osbourne”, which previously appeared on their 2003 ‘Not Pretty’ EP, yet I was hard-pressed to get some much-needed insight into this composition. Briefly, in the song Jes speaks of his failed attempts to contact Miss Osbourne about a supposed porn he was in with her, and his ensuing troubles: “She’s got a lawyer and I heard she’s gonna sue/I have no money and I don’t know what to do.” Basically, all I learned was that Jes’ OWN lawyer advises him to just reply with an irritating (at least to journalists) “no comment.” Truthfully, I don’t know if all this is for real or not. He seems so serious about it…but for some reason I’m still a bit leery…Actually, it’s funny: that’s one feeling I experienced during a good part of our conversation – unsure if I was being told the truth, mainly because at times in the background I could hear his bandmates laughing – but maybe I’m just paranoid. Perhaps Jes was being truthful throughout…but I digress…
The band made a video for another awesome song on the record – the first single – “Drinking in the Rain”, a song that begins with eerie storm noises and a foreboding bassline. About shooting the video, which basically is footage of them in a room performing the song, Jes says they had a good time and that it came out all right. The band would have liked to include other things but it just never came to be. This video is featured on the limited edition CD single, which is backed with a song not found on ‘In the Bottles’ entitled “Lose Every Battle”, an offering I thought to be pretty good and apparently the rest of the band thought so too, as they had wanted to put it on the album. However, it’s one composition that doesn’t sit too well with Jes who believes “it’s still very dark, [but] seems kind of basic and [there’s] not really much to it.”
Already Jes has some ideas for new material. “I don’t write anything down; it’s all in my head. But I’ve been creating things this whole time,” he reveals. He’s hoping the follow-up to ‘In the Bottles’ will come out within the next year. Broken Bottles also have some serious touring planned for this year, including their first trek to Europe with The Stitches and a West Coast tour (also with The Stitches) that commences April 27th and continues through May 9th. Of course, I had to ask about prospective East Coast dates, and got an excited reaction: “Yeah! I want to, I wanna tour as much as possible.” But who knows when/if it will happen, which is unfortunate because they would surely fare well playing any number of clubs in NYC. Around here, we could definitely use a good dose of the Bottles’ unique brand of punk.