Deep Thoughts with Rob Rich of Rich People

Interview by Danielle Chelosky
Photo by Ian J. Bell

“I’m a coffee-tarian,” Rob Rich stated after learning about my vegetarian diet. Clad in a black sweater he claims he wears every day, he sat across from me in a diner a few doors down from the Amityville Music Hall dropping ice cubes into his cup. “I only consume coffee. Oh, and cigarettes.”

On his band Rich People’s official Tumblr page, Rich types away a new addition to his collection of diaristic blog posts. He begins his anecdote in a colloquial manner, like he’s recounting to his friend a moment of his day that stuck out to him. As the piece progresses, the tone naturally evolves to express a more insightful, grander perspective of life. He performs this process habitually at this point—he’s adjusted to this style of writing, the type that connects introspection to universal motifs of ethics, human nature, nihilism, and so forth. It also shines through in Rich People’s debut album Jacob’s Ladder, on which he sings as the lead vocalist and plays the guitar.

The self-conflicted LP was birthed in 2015 as the musical form of the internal transition from a numb miscreant to a self-loathing result of his actions. The music is imbued with the same literary elements that brilliantly drench Rich’s personal blog posts, only these lyrics are woven in a more concise fashion, leaving most of the meaning beneath the surface, where the analytical listeners may locate it. As catchy and common the local Philly band’s sound is, they pose a challenge of interpretation that most musicians neglect to include. The storytelling in “Cold Sweat” reads like a despondent Bukowski poem, and the few lines of “Perfect Friends” hold an emblematic significance that says more than a song with a typical structure of verses, a chorus, and a bridge.

Rich’s early influences can probably partially account for this carefully crafted lyricism: a chunk of Title Fight, a good bit of Brand New, and a tint of Joyce Manor. Yet Rich People maintain this original method of songwriting—coining “Introspective Alternative music” as almost their brand—which, although they did not invent, they mended to their tastings based on their own experiences. As introspective as Rich gets when exploring the intangible depths of his behavior, the record is also emphatic on pondering external answers as well. And thusly, Rich’s writing comes full circle.

“I’m not a writer,” Rich persisted. For him, writing is more of a tangible extension to his mind than it is a scheduled project. The stream of consciousness ambiance of his blog posts says it all—he’s writing for himself more than he’s writing for anyone else. “I don’t know if anyone will enjoy reading this, but I enjoyed writing it,” and that’s really all that matters in his writing process, which I call cathartic and therapeutic, but he insinuates as self-centered. Though he doesn’t expect to spark any major impact with his words, readers do reach out to him, typically people enduring similar mental struggles. “Maybe they’ll see me as an example,” Rich contemplated, with a small hope that they’ll view his personal progress as inspirational and even achievable for themselves.

After years of these, what Rich describes as “long-winded,” blog posts, he sat down for five hours and the literary companion to the new EP Grace Session sprung from his fingertips. “Bliss to Come,” the thirty-two page novelette, portrays exactly how much was on Rich’s mind when making Grace Session. He covers each track—some in a few paragraphs and some in a few pages—and expands on the meaning, whether he discusses old trivial memories or turning points in his life. Like all of his writing, he wrote it for the purpose of satiating his own artistic needs, but he also strove to inform analytical and curious listeners on all the contributing pieces that put together the EP. Lyrically, he can only fit so much into brief, singable lines. Eight songs were enough to express himself and paint the big picture, but “Bliss to Come” was his chance to show off each and every stroke. Stripped-down, intimate, and even longer-winded than the blog posts, it only amplifies the emotional vulnerability of Grace Session.

Grace Session is literally just an observation of two years of my life.” When first moving to Philly, “Fierce Grace” struck Rich and the rest of the EP blossomed from there. It symbolizes a different point on the Rich People timeline—from the era of miserable youth in Jacob’s Ladder to a more enlightened period, almost as if approaching a resolution. Rich illustrates it as the middle ground between their first LP and their upcoming LP, tentatively entitled Harmony.

Though Rich encourages fans to “listen as [they] please” to Grace Session, he does believe that the EP has late night driving undertones. “Very few lights, on the highway,” he envisions the ideal experience. “‘White Mark’ is like happy; you can probably be on the beach and listen to that song,” he laughed and then concluded, “maybe not.”

The upbeat and optimistic atmosphere of Grace Session took a while to achieve. The hardships rooted in Jacob’s Ladder are evident, and Rich won’t hesitate to dive into it. “A lot of it was just like a drug induced illusion—that everything was fine,” and everything was, in fact, not fine for him at the time. “I lived in a Honda Civic for a while but as long as I still had drugs that all seemed totally normal,” said Rich, whose past struggles with addiction are fairly prominent in all of his work. Moments of clarity hit him when getting clean, and from there he experimented with religion, read a variety of philosophical and lifestyle books, and regained trust in people.

At 23, he was introduced to a YouTube video that comprised “different metaphysical beliefs.” Catholicism was the most familiar religion to him growing up, and consequently became a source of discomfort and insecurity by the time he was 13. And once one religion rubs you the wrong way, your faith in the entire system of organized religion can dwindle. “I looked down on people for years who had any belief in anything,” yet years later he found himself fascinated with this video that provided a “buffet” of faiths. He even tried out reiki with his cousin. “Maybe it helped a little bit; I’m not sure.”

More importantly, from that same cousin, he was recommended a book. “I had never read a book cover to cover before in my life… and had no interest in reading books,” but after reading The Law of Divine Compensation, a self help book including spiritual principles, he was hooked and read every book the author had to offer. “There was one I read that was her book on feminism… and you know I’m not a woman… but it resonated with me,” he said. “A good chapter on parenting… I don’t have any kids either, but it was interesting.” As he made his way through each book, he also took interest in The Law of Attraction. “[These books] completely changed the way I look at life,” and for the past three years, this shift in perspective has transformed him into a different person. Through these reads and the idea of Good Orderly Direction, he settled on: “if you do good shit, good shit’ll happen to you,” and his biases on others’ beliefs diminished.

Rich People are still a small local band, and Rich is okay with that. He’s come to terms with laying low, discovering that “things that take longer to catch on are worth it in the end.” Rich People are cherished in the home of their Philly scene, and perhaps their influence will spread farther within time. Either way, the band is an outlet for Rich, and that is enough for him. | Grace Session