There are two things I remember about Jesse Edwards: he had very good posture and held a knife to my throat in a Safeway parking lot when I was 15. It pretty much scared the fuck out of me even though I knew it was just a joke, because even back then it was obvious Jesse was fucking crazy. His older brother Travis (aka TRED) was Seattle’s most notorious graffiti writer, and Jesse definitely held his own. As the founders of the crews BTM and 3A they still command universal respect across the country as two of the hardest bombers and most dedicated figures in the graffiti world. That’s not to say everybody LIKES them, because that’s definitely not the case, but everybody does give them the respect they deserve after nearly 20 years of time served.
I wasn’t really friends with Jesse and his brother in high school, we just hung out with a lot of the same people. Even so, I’ve loosely kept tabs on him over the years and I’m real stoked to see that he’s not just crazy/scary SEEDER BTM but an up-and-coming fine artist who’s getting a lot of press and making a name for himself. After coming across a ton of BTM tags on a recent trip to New York, I figured I would see what’s up with him…
[most photos from TRED's MySpace, anything in quotes is his caption]
The last memory I have of you from high school was when you held a knife to my throat behind Safeway. What have you and Travis been up to since then?
[laughs] Man, I don’t remember that. Did I really do that?
Yeah. But I knew it was a joke so whatever.
Fuck. Sorry, I did some stupid shit. Well, we moved to Mountlake, then back to Seattle. My brother was making a lot of money for a while selling coke, but you know… that stuff never really lasts, so we moved back. He got popped for graffiti, but luckily he never got into trouble for any of the other stuff really. He got into rehab– put himself through it– and straightened his act out, so now he’s pretty much a happy camper. He’s working on getting his Class A big rig license, so he’ll be a fuckin’ truck driver! [laughs]
Man, I’d be pretty stoked if I got a delivery from TRED ONE.
[laughs] Yeah! He was a pretty bad guy for a while there, hanging out with all the United Latinos downtown selling drugs and shit, he was pretty hooked on dope and it was kind of embarrassing. But now’s he’s fuckin happy as can be. He’s gotta weigh at least 210 pounds now, short little fucker.
I was just thinking about how crazy it is that so many talented people went to our high school around the same time we did (including MLB pitcher Adam Eaton, Todd from Champion/Betrayed, people from CBS, and some other random assholes), do you ever think about that?
Absolutely. The tiny, boring town thing probably has a lot to do with it. There’s not a lot that you can just consume and be entertained by, so we had to make a scene, make some action. Instead of just going to New York or whatever and just being like “Hey, there’s a show here, let’s just go there,” you gotta do it for yourself if you grow up in Snohomish, you know? Maybe. I dunno. That’s just my idea. I’ve heard that from other people too, though. Like TWIST was saying that there’s something about the Northwest.
You can imagine how big of a culture shock it was for me to move from Snohomish to Cleveland when I was 18.
Yeah dude. I mean, I got shot at when we were out bombing once. They don’t do that in Washington.
Oh, right. Yeah they do that kind of shit out there. I don’t think I’d shoot at someone if they were tagging my shit- well, actually I might. But I’d just try to scare ‘em, not kill ‘em. Shoot to stun!
I wasn’t as close to it as you were, but you came up in that whole scene centered around Westlake [a mall that was at the heart of Seattle skateboarding in the early 90s]. How did that shape you?
Fuck dude, Westlake was tight. We’d go down there, skateboard with people from Tacoma, Seattle, all over. It was cool until like 92 or 93 when they shut it down. Then they started building skateparks, all the kids went to those, and it was a whole other era. Westlake was some Wild West type shit.
It’s pretty impressive how many of those people are still around. I was walking around New York last week and saw a bunch of people who were up out there- SOBER, SMOKE, SEEDER, shit I remember from like 9th grade.
Yeah man, it’s a fuckin’ free-for-all out there. And as long as you’re not drinking while you’re doing it, chances are you’ll get away with it. It’s when you go out with like fuckin’ 4 or 5 people, drinking and getting loose that you’re in trouble. Go out lone wolf and be a little stealthy and you’ll probably be ok. Two is great, so you can have a lookout.
I saw a SEEDER throwup on a truck and it kind of blew my mind, like “It’s fucking 2009, I’m in New York City, and I just saw a SEEDER throwup, what the fuck.”
[laughs] Yeah… that guy gets around!
Your brother got busted for graffiti in 94 or whatever. It was all over the news and everybody at school knew about it. How did that affect your life?
Oh, I didn’t really care. It didn’t affect my life at all, he just did his time, got out and moved on to more serious crime! They made a big deal out of it, just because it was the first time someone really got up like that in Seattle.
I learned about graffiti from being around the early BTM crew and that whole circle of friends. How did you guys get into graffiti, living up in Snohomish and all that?
Basically from Westlake. We met this guy SECT from San Francisco. My brother was hanging out with him, I kinda tagged along, and that was our little crew that he started back in 1991 or whatever. I was a youngster, I guess now I’m an OG. We’re just like a fraternity, only instead of Beta Theta Mu or whatever, we’re Big Time Mob. [laughs] We’re just a bunch of dudes, that’s it.
Oh, ok– that’s interesting because I ran into SECTER in 94 at Gilman, and when I told him I was from Snohomish he got real stoked. At the time that was really confusing to me but now it makes sense.
[laughs] Yeah man, he came up to Snohomish and hung out up on 128th. He’s kind of a weirdo but whatever. He’s on some weird fucking Taliban shit now or something. He’s Muslim now, pro-Taliban, he’s still at large and in charge. He’s definitely a lifer.
I always wondered how that SF one-liner style of tagging got up to Seattle, I guess he was the one who pollinated it?
He’s the master of that style. His tags are as great as they ever were, but his bubble letters… he’s doing some Picasso shit where he’s getting all abstract. He’s a great graffiti artist– not just a damager, he’s an innovator that comes up with some really great, new ideas.
That was a really cool time, where people like US and BTM were some of the first like skater/punk rock kids to learn about graffiti and get people like me into it. I really liked that because I’ve never been like Mr. Hip Hop or whatever.
Yeah, it’s weird. Punk rock wants to be like fuckin’ anarchists or whatever, hip hop is all “Yo we’re fuckin’ hardcore,” graffiti is just such a mix of all that and so many other things. I don’t even know what it is anymore, it’s just whatever you make it I guess.
A lot of people are putting up BTM and TKO now- ADEK for example. How did that happen?
That’s California people. He’s friends with those guys. I’m sure we’d be friends with them too if we went down there, but I don’t really go down there much anymore. I’m more interested in New York now. Graffiti runs a lot longer out there.
Tell me about BTM vs 3A. Obviously they share a lot of members and it’s still you and Travis, but they’re also different. What’s the story with all that?
What happened is that we had beef in BTM with some of the US guys. A few of us didn’t like them, but a few of them were cool, so BTM split for a while and it was BTM versus NCS or whatever. One time there was this big “battle,” [laughs] and we just followed around the NCSers, dissed all their tags, then we got in a little fight with them. Then BTM wasn’t really around anymore for 5 years or so, but these new kids wanted to write it. We were like, “Shit, you remember BTM?!” but those new kids are what brought it back to life. BTM was broken up for a while, got back together, really organic. People form relationships, break up, you know…
Graffiti drama shit.
So anyway, we had pretty much forgotten about BTM, but there were new kids that hadn’t. You know how it is, when you’re a little kid you look up to the older people- that’s kind of what these “new youngbloods” [laughs] were doing. We were like, “Yeah, go ahead, hit it up, whatever,” and they just like went nuts and fucked shit up in Frisco, New York, even like took it international. After we saw that we said “Fuckin a, right on!” Now it’s all over the place.
With graffiti and those younger kids, I try to always push the positive aspects of it. Some of them are just fuckin hardcore vandals, but if they have ambition to do something with themselves, I hope they do something more… constructive, you know? Develop some skills and try to do art or something, at least they can make some money at that. But whatever, they’ll do their own thing and find their own way.
Whenever I hear about BTM or 3A, nobody ever talks shit on you guys. Not necessarily because they aren’t THINKING it, but because they don’t think it’s a good idea to SAY it. I feel like that’s because you guys still have that real rough, 90s kind of way of doing things, do you see any differences between now and then?
Eh, I dunno, it’s all pretty much the same to me. If you go out disrespecting people, chances are someone’s going to get offended and wanna fight you or whatever, just the same as it always was. I don’t really care anymore. Even if it’s someone I don’t like, I don’t want to go out and make myself a target, you know? I might lay low and do what I have to do when the time comes, but I’m not really trying to put myself out there.
Especially when you’re in your 30s like we are, you have better things to do.
I’d like to think so! [laughs] Like when it turns into a bunch of grumpy old men being like, [silly voice] “Yeah, we’re gonna get those guys!!” it’s just fucking retarded [laughs]
It seems like you’re primarily representing yourself as an artist these days. Whats biggest accomplishment in that realm?
Well, I went to art school, and my biggest accomplishment artistically? I know how to paint! [laughs] Realism from life, that’s an accomplishment. But there’s more to it than that– I know how to put together a concept, to say something. How to arrange objects in a way that conveys something. I try to paint in a way that’s beyond just the medium, that means something. I know how to do that now.
Most people either came up doing graffiti, then do wack shit like graffiti letters on canvas, or they were never a legit writer in the first place and just did fine art in the streets. You’re pretty rare in that you are completely credible in both worlds, how do you manage that balance?
Thank you, I appreciate that. Street art belongs on the streets, fine art belongs in galleries, and I’m not trying to mix the two. I started out with graffiti, but then I saw some people getting big money for their paintings and said, “Fuck, I don’t wanna work in a movie theater, I wanna get paid like THAT.” But it’s a whole different world… on the streets, it’s kinda like the top dog is gonna get the biggest chunk of the kill. Graffiti art is real cool because there’s no money, it’s just about doing something because you want to do it. Fine art is more about who you know, so it’s a weird transition.
Well art fags love graffiti, so you can always play that card.
Dude, if I knew how to playing that fucking card I would! [laughs] Fuck, if it gives me some credibility or whatever that I was a little hooligan and I have the scars to prove it, that’s fine, whatever. I just want a piece of the action. If I can turn all that shit into something positive, then more power to me.
A lot of them are rich pussies who think it’s cool to be all gritty and raw or whatever.
Yeah, some people are like “I want to be GRIMY, the GRIMIEST!!” But you know, I was doing the grimy thing when I was living in the hood in Seattle in the low-income housing, and nobody gave a fuck then. I’m trying to paint something pretty because I’ve seen the grimy shit for so fucking long that I don’t like it anymore. I wanna look at something NICE. I can appreciate painting a bowl of fruit now because I’ve seen so much fucked up shit every fucking day. I’m like an old grandma or something, I’m like [granny voice] “A pretty bowl of fruit, that’s so NICE!” Some flowers, that’s good to me.
Right?? I don’t wanna go to some grimy, “authentic” dive bar, because–
Why would you?? When you’ve been through a lot of grimy shit, the thrill is gone. A lot of people seem to be to compelled by that stuff, like they’re “keeping it real” or whatever. The world is a fucked up place, just take me away from that for a minute. Everybody has a dark side, but if you can rise above that through your art or whatever, you can be “enlightened” or whatever.
You remind me of Ego from AOD/4DC in that you’ve both been around, done and seen a lot of shit, but you’re focused on positive things and the future while a lot of other people just live in the past or dwell on negative shit.
Sure. A lot of people we know are still real into drugs and shit, they’re basically just career criminals.
It’s a bummer. I’m not judging them for it, but…
But I know people who will! They’re called judges! [laughs]
So where do you want to go from here? What do you want to do with your art and background in graffiti?
I’m actually trying to make a TV show, I wanna be the Bob Ross of my generation. That’s my ultimate goal. To have a painting show is the best idea I’ve ever had. It’s basically just a how-to thing, I show them how to do oil painting, graffiti, whatever. It’s for the kids, you know? BTM’s for the kids! [laughs] It’s helping people from ages 2 to 92 better themselves. If you’re 93 you’re fucked I guess.
Since this blog is called Stuff You Will Hate, how do you deal with haters? I’m sure you’ve had your share of them.
Oh yeah man, I have! I used to argue with them, now I just don’t pay them much attention. As long as they’re not like in my face, then fuck dude… I don’t care, you know what I mean? Like on the internet, people talk a bunch of shit, and I used to talk a lot of shit back. But then you like look back at the fuckin’ blog or whatever, and you’re like “Why the fuck did I do THAT??”
[laughs] But I try to find out who the haters are on some behind-the-scenes kind of shit. I don’t play into their shit– look, I’m not gonna leave a trail digitally, you know? Like, “I’m coming to get you, fucker!” on Twitter or whatever. If I’m gonna do that, I’m gonna do it, but I don’t need to talk about it. I just fuckin ignore them, but then if you figure out who they are, just fuckin’ blast em with a shotgun, kick in their mom’s head or whatever, but don’t leave any fingerprints! [laughs] That’s my advice to the kids!
Well good talking to you, anything else you want to add?
Live a positive life, stay off drugs. I think everything in the world has a place, and I’m just trying to find my place. That’s all.
Keep your eyes peeled for Jesse’s TV pilot in the clips above, and check out his site for more details on his art. And every time you see a BTM or 3A tag, remember: when you’re in Snohomish, watch your fuckin’ back! (Someone might drop an antique on your head)
Vice piece about Jesse and his party bus adventures
Seattle PI article from 93 about Travis’ arrest
Video: TWIST gives props to BTM (starts around 10 minutes in or something)
The Stranger article on Jesse and 3A– pretty funny shit