Fourteen years after Sublime frontman Bradley Nowell died from a heroin overdose, the Long Beach ska-punk trio's surviving original members have decided it's time to revive the name and celebrate the group's musical legacy while attempting to add some new chapters to its story.
Bassist Bud Gaugh and drummer Eric Wilson have teamed with a 21-year-old singer and guitarist named Rome, with whom they will play a string of small-scale shows starting April 20 at the Hollywood Palladium.
FOR THE RECORD:
Sublime With Rome: An article in Thursday's Calendar about ska-punk band Sublime With Rome identified Eric Wilson as the group's drummer and Bud Gaugh as the bassist. Wilson is the bassist and Gaugh is the drummer. In addition, a Spanish lyric in the song "Caress Me Down," "Mucho gusto me llamo Bradley," was translated as "I'm very pleased to call myself Bradley." It should have been translated as "Pleased to meet you, my name is Bradley." —
"From the get-go my whole mind-set about bands has been that if you change a member, it's a different entity," Gaugh, 42, said from his home in Northern California this week. "Sublime was Eric, Brad and myself. Eric and I are the remaining members, and this is definitely original members playing Sublime music, as well as some new Sublime-style music."
The new trio, billing itself as Sublime with Rome, had a couple of test runs late last year, appearing at the Smokeout Festival in San Bernardino with headliner Cypress Hill, then turning up for an unbilled performance at KROQ-FM's annual Almost Acoustic Christmas show at the Gibson Amphitheatre.
After those shows, Nowell's widow, Troy Tendekker, filed a lawsuit seeking to prevent the threesome from performing as Sublime, although Gaugh said their differences have been settled and that "all parties are completely happy and ready to move forward."
On the Southland alternative music scene of the 1990s, Sublime stood out for its heterogeneous blend of ska, reggae, punk, hip-hop and rock, as well as for Nowell's lightly sandpapered voice in the Bob Marley- Jimmy Cliff tradition.
As the lead singer, Nowell was the band's focal point, leading many music fans to consider Sublime to be his band. He wrote the group's breakthrough hit, "Date Rape," the No. 1 most-requested song in KROQ history about a date rape perpetrator who gets his comeuppance in prison.
But many of the group's other songs, including modern-rock radio staples such as "Santeria," "40 Oz. to Freedom," "Wrong Way" and "Caress Me Down," were composed by the whole group.
Gaugh, Wilson and Rome make a convincing case that the new enterprise isn't about money. Sublime's recordings have continued to sell in impressive numbers, and have totaled more than 17 million albums in the U.S. during the SoundScan era, a big chunk if not the majority since Nowell died, leaving Gaugh and Wilson financially well off.
"We never got to play a lot of our songs live," Wilson, 40, said over sushi during an interview this week at a favorite downtown Belmont Shore restaurant, where he was joined by Rome. That's in part because Nowell died right before the group's quintuple-platinum third album, "Sublime," was released in 1996. "It's not about the fame, or the size of the crowds. I'd be happy playing a dive bar again if Brad could still be with us."
Rome, who uses only one name, says this represents a unique opportunity for a young musician who credits Sublime for inspiring him to pick up a guitar and play music when he was 12.
"My fantasy for years was to find a bassist and a drummer who could play like Bud and Eric," said Rome, who moved to Los Angeles from the Bay Area a few years ago to pursue a career in music. "Now to be playing with the two of them . . . sometimes I just turn down my guitar and listen. They've been playing together so long, their groove is never wrong."
Gaugh and Wilson both have children that they have to factor in to tour plans. Both also have turned away from the alcohol and substance abuse they all engaged in during Sublime's heyday.
"I don't even like beer anymore," Wilson said. "If I try to drink one, I just get sleepy."
He and Gaugh continued playing Sublime's music and other material for several years after Nowell's death as part of the group Long Beach Dub All-Stars. They went their separate ways in 2001. Gaugh moved to Northern California and has a cabin in Lake Tahoe and a house in Reno, where he can indulge his passion for outdoor activities including dirt biking, kayaking and hiking. He has continued to play music with his wife, Nicole, in a surf rock band called Del Mar.
Wilson also had been playing in a succession of area bands in recent years, among them Shortbus, when a recording engineer friend who had met Rome introduced them 2008.
Gaugh recalls a phone call he got from Wilson telling him about the young singer. "He said 'You've got to check this kid out. He's got a platinum voice, and he can play guitar like a [expletive]," Gaugh said. "When Sublime first started out, Eric and I had been playing in different bands, and when he met Brad through one of his endeavors, I remember he called and said, 'You've got to check this guy out. He's got a golden voice and he plays guitar like nobody else.
"When he called to tell me about Rome, it was almost word for word what he'd said about Brad," Gaugh said. "It was so uncannily close, it really sparked my interest."
Gaugh invited the pair to Tahoe for a visit, they jammed happily for several hours, and later arranged to play an unbilled opening set for one of Del Mar's performances in Sparks, Nev. The chemistry felt right, and they decided to continue.
As far as Gaugh is concerned, any and all of Sublime's material is fair game. "My feeling is, if it feels good, do it. If it doesn't, we won't."
Rome's one veto so far is "Caress Me Down," not because of the song's description of a sexual act with a girlfriend, but because of the lyric "Mucho gusto me llamo Bradley" (I'm very happy to call myself Bradley).
Rome says he didn't feel comfortable singing that line, or changing it to his own name. "The other guys were fine with that," he said. "They totally got it."