Rome Ramirez grew up idolizing Sublime back in the mid ’90s, but he never thought in his wildest dreams that he’d be performing on stage with the reggae-rock trio -- especially since the group disbanded upon the death of charismatic front man Bradley Nowell in 1996.
Now, in present day 2011, Ramirez is breathing new life into the genre-bending juggernaut. The two remaining founding members -- bassist Eric Wilson and drummer Bud Gaugh -- recruited the 23-year-old and together, under the name Sublime With Rome, they are picking up where they left off fifteen years ago.
For Ramirez, the reality of performing alongside his childhood heroes is just starting to set in. “It’s fucking surreal. It’s even cooler getting to know these guys. They’re so fucking cool and so down to earth,” he explains. “Playing on stage with them is fucking awesome. [It’s] a dream come true. But just having two more real brothers and best friends in my life means even more to me because those guys are real fucking rad dudes who all got each other’s back and it’s like a family. I’m definitely honored to be friends with them.”
He is just as honored to record “Yours Truly” with them -- the band’s full-length and first original effort featuring the new incarnation of Sublime. Produced by Paul Leary, best known as the guitarist of Butthole Surfers, the 12-track collection features that classic Sublime flavor. Just as surprising, Ramirez sounds dangerously similar to Nowell. That vintage resonance comes across sharply on “Lovers Rock,” “Same Ol’ Situation” and the leadoff single “Panic.” The trio also collaborated with the “Black And Yellow” rap phenomenon Wiz Khalifa on “Can You Feel It.”
In order to pull off a quality album the three could be proud of, they needed to stay true to the roots of Sublime and Fueled By Ramen seemed like the only record company that truly understood what the Californians were looking to accomplish.
“They were the best decision for us because they let us run with our creative reigns,” Ramirez says. “Most labels kind of have these little car salesman pitches and plans for us, and they don’t really focus too much on the music at hand whereas Fueled By Ramen … the owner John [Janick] would come check out the shows, always ask how the band was doing and how the songwriting was going. They let us do our music thing and they handle the business -- like the way it should be.”
“Yours Truly” comes fifteen years after the release Sublime’s self-titled album -- the group’s best-selling commercial effort to date. Unfortunately, Nowell wasn’t alive to witness the success of his masterpiece.
Sublime originally formed back in 1988 with Wilson, Gaugh and Nowell. The trio from the L-B-C created a signature hybrid by weaving elements of reggae, punk, ska and hip-hop. They wrote heartfelt compositions with a witty flare and incorporated Spanish into their lyrical content, which further escalated their profile.
Though full-lengths such as 1992’s “40 Oz. To Freedom” and 1994’s “Robbin’ The Hood” have become cult sensations, it was their self-titled album -- their first major release off MCA -- that catapulted the California rockers to superstardom. It was unveiled in July 1996 and went multi-platinum thanks to songs like “Doin’ Time,” “Santeria,” “Wrong Way” and “What I Got.” Two months before its release, however, Nowell died of a heroin overdose. He was only 28.
Wilson and Gaugh disbanded Sublime immediately thereafter. Although the duo launched the Long Beach Dub All Stars with other Sublime collaborators, they made a minimal impact and the venture dissolved in 2002. The two would go their separate ways and focused on other projects that had only marginal success.
Then, in 2009, Rome Ramirez entered the picture. Ramirez was at a recording studio in Orange County when he met Wilson. The two hit it off, jammed together and eventually played a couple of Sublime songs at some of the bassist’s parties. That would lead to Wilson asking him a question that would change his life forever.
“He called me over one day and straight up asked me, ‘Would you be interested in playing in Sublime? Me and Bud want to get back together,’” Ramirez recalls. “And I was like ‘Hell yeah! That’s your call, but I’d be honored to.’ So we went up to go see Bud, met up and jammed for hours. We played everything and it felt like we were together for years. It didn’t feel awkward. There was no learning curve or nothing. It just felt we had been there for a while and that was the first time I ever met Bud Gaugh, let alone jam with him. Shit, I was so nervous just shaking his hand in his living room.”
While the three were originally promoting themselves as Sublime, the estate of Bradley Nowell threatened the trio with a lawsuit regarding the use of the Sublime name, forcing them to change it in October 2009. But within months, they reached an agreement to go under the moniker Sublime With Rome. As Ramirez says, “It was a miscommunication. They settled it outside of court. Now, we’re all on the same team and everyone is real happy.”
But given the band’s illustrious history, it’ll be difficult for some fans to accept this new incarnation of Sublime. Ramirez is aware some folks won’t take well to Sublime With Rome based on principle, however, that’s something he’s alright with.
“I don’t think it’s very realistic to think that anyone has 100% support of everyone -- especially in situations like this,” Ramirez explains. “I can’t necessarily blame somebody for disliking this project because of their huge love for Sublime with Bradley [Nowell] -- the original writer. Everybody protects the things they love and that’s what they’re doing. They’re very protective of the band that they love, the band that got them through good times, bad times and all the fun times. So in essence, I would just love for them to come down to a show, listen to a couple of songs off the record and listen to it with an open ear and an open mind.”
Ramirez doesn’t have any hatred in his soul. Just like Bradley Nowell, lovin’ is what he’s got. Remember that.
- Rome Ramirez – Vocalist/Guitarist
- Eric Wilson – Bassist
- Bud Gaugh – Drummer
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