Nowell, along with bassist Eric Wilson and drummer Bud Gaugh founded Sublime back in the late 1980s in Long Beach, California, where the trio developed a unique sound that we now know and love, a masterful blending of ska and punk. Sadly, Nowell struggled with addiction and died from a heroin overdose in 1996, resulting in the group’s disbanding after releasing just three studio albums. Their final, self-titled album cemented Sublime’s place in music history with massive hits such as “What I Got,” “Santeria” and “Wrong Way,” which still fill radio waves today.
Over three decades and one lawsuit later, Sublime lives on under the moniker Sublime With Rome, fronted by the eponymous Rome Ramirez on vocals and guitar, Carlos Verdugo on drums and original Sublime member Wilson. SWR hit the road this week for a nationwide tour supporting their 2019 album Blessings. We caught up with Wilson on a phone call taking place outside their tour bus somewhere in Idaho.
The bassist says he didn’t actually like reggae or ska music back in the '80s at the time of Sublime’s inception.
“When I first started hanging out with Brad, I was listening to punk rock back then,” he says. “Brad started forcing me to play ska, and I finally got it and fell in love with it and have loved it ever since … It’s definitely a bass player’s band. If you play guitar in a reggae band and don’t sing, you’re gonna be bored to hell, honestly.”
Things became a little, erm, interesting throughout our conversation. There was so much noise in the background, it was difficult to understand Wilson — whether it was loud partying following the opening show of the tour or just the chaos of rehearsal and blaring music in the background.
“When it comes down to it, punk rock, reggae and hip-hop all have the same attitude,” he mumbles over the commotion. “When we started experimenting and fitting all of our different styles into one, it was very fortunate that you could actually listen to it. We pulled it off.”
They absolutely did pull it off. However, Sublime’s original run was tragically short-lived.
“[Nowell] didn’t kill himself; it was an accidental death,” Wilson says. "If something happened to me, I would hope that they would go on and keep the dream going.”
Once the dust settled after Nowell’s death, the surviving members felt they had more to say and more music to create. Thus, Sublime With Rome was born.
“For me, the goal was to get out there and play the music that a good portion of the United States and the world didn’t get to hear after Brad’s death,” Wilson says. “I do it because people come up to me all the time and tell me that my music has gotten them through hard times in life where they didn’t think they’d pull through unless they had one of our albums to listen to.”
Sublime With Rome takes this responsibility to heart by keeping Sublime's legacy alive, but the trio is not just a generic tribute band. Blessings is a far cry from Sublime’s self-titled album, so if you’re expecting that same sound, you may be disappointed.
“It's more modernized,” Wilson says of Blessings. “We’re growing as songwriters. Me and Rome had to learn how to write songs together like me and Brad did, and we’ve come a long way.”
“I don’t have much to say about the ‘plan-demic’,” he says. “It’s definitely a politics thing, you know, an agenda. It has nothing to do with science.” –Eric Wilson
Wilson believes that his late friend Nowell would be proud of where they are today as a band.
“If Brad were around today, I imagine we would be doing something like this because it’s been 30 years, and I don’t see us writing the same type of music we were doing back then," he says. "Our fans really enjoy hearing these new songs, too.”
Regardless of fan reception, Wilson says that they don’t write music based on what other people want to hear. Sublime With Rome did, not unexpectedly, get quite a bit of flack from fans who just wanted to hear Sublime covers when they first formed in 2010.
“Our new songs are super cool,” Wilson says. “They’re definitely not the same stuff as original Sublime, but … we’re writing songs every day on the road, and we’re just doing what we wanna do.”
The High and Mighty tour has been mostly unaffected by COVID-19 so far, but Wilson had some choice words about the ongoing pandemic.
“I don’t have much to say about the ‘plan-demic’,” he says. “It’s definitely a politics thing, you know, an agenda. It has nothing to do with science.”