Who Sounds like Sublime?
In the wake of an entire generation of music that originated in San Francisco came the punk era of the 1990s, punctuated with notable acts like Sublime.
Also a product of The Golden Gate State, the three-piece band Sublime epitomized the punk-rock scene of Southern California and combined elements of brass-driven ska and reggae-rooted rhythms with thrashing yet bluesy punk styles to create a still-distinct sound.
Lead singer and guitarist Bradley Nowell’s songwriting further separated the band from others on the scene, with explicit lyrics about prostitutes, drugs and alcohol, police brutality, and life in Southern California reflective of the rap scene also emerging in Los Angeles around the same time.
If You Like Sublime, You May Like…
Sublime combines elements from various and often traditionally conflicting genres. Most notably, the SoCal band is known for canonizing what many refer to as the Third Wave of Ska, which took place during the 1980s and 1990s.
The musical movement was punctuated by calypso-sounding jazz popular in South America mixed with heavy, walking bass lines synonymous with reggae and hip-hop genres.
Bands like Sublime also draw influence from the music of the 1960s and 1970s, with heavy overtones of rhythm and blues featuring long electric guitar solos and fast, loose, driving melodies. Some songs even feature scratching and sampling from guest DJs laced over select tracks.
However, due to the untimely death of Nowell shortly before the release of the band’s third and final studio album, the overall sound of Sublime remains congruent but largely unevolved between the three releases. Fans of Sublime often rave about the ubiquitous qualities of the band’s music, which still appeal to new generations of listeners, while casual listeners may find only a handful of songs to be interesting. Music lovers who enjoy artists like Sublime often take an interest in the following bands:
- Bob Marley
- No Doubt
- The Mighty Mighty Bosstones
- The Grateful Dead
After the unexpected death of Bradley Nowell prior to the group’s 1996 eponymous release, the band split up indefinitely, only to reform in the late 2000s with a new lead singer and guitarist under the name Sublime with Rome.
During the 1990s, the power-trio group regularly played major music festivals and was billed as a headlining act on the well-known Warped Tour series along with bands like No Doubt and Social Distortion. They also played for other tours with fellow punk acts of the time like Butthole Surfers, The Melvins, Firehouse, and The Ramones.
The 90s ska-punk group began as a two-piece band in Long Beach, CA, called The Juice Bros. The duo consisted of bassist Eric Wilson and drummer Bud Gaugh. Originally without Nowell, Wilson and Gaugh played together until adding the lead guitarist in 1988 to officially form Sublime. After reforming in 2009, the group introduced front man Rome Ramirez, or Rome, to replace the late Brad Nowell. When Gaugh left the band in 2011, he was replaced by drummer John Freese.
Shortly after forming, Sublime created a self-owned record label in 1988 called Skunk Records, under which the trio launched their first album 40oz. to Freedom in 1992. However, in the meantime, the group primarily concentrated on touring and honing their musical style.
The band’s first show, which took place on July 4, 1992 at a Southern California night club, was somewhat indicative of the troubled and chaotic legacy the three bandmates would leave behind, as attendees and historians often claim that the show turned into a riot.
In 1990, Brad Nowell adopted a Dalmatian puppy named Louie, often referred to as Louie Nowell or Lou Dog, that eventually became the unofficial mascot of the band. Lou Dog spent most shows wandering around on stage or through the crowds while Sublime played. Nowell regularly mentions the animal in his song lyrics.
Following extensive touring over the better part of four consecutive years, Sublime officially dropped 40oz. to Freedom using Nowell’s self-created label. The album was met with a lukewarm reception initially.
It wasn’t until the legendary Los Angeles radio station KROQ began playing the upbeat, ska-heavy single “Date Rape,” which features humorous lyrics about a man who abducts a woman and coerces her into using alcohol, only for the woman to later enact revenge by filing charges and having the man put behind bars, that Sublime really took off. Originally released in 1991, the single has become one of the band’s most popular songs and eventually helped the group sell over 2,000,000 copies of their debut album.
Thanks to regular airplay on L.A.’s KROQ, Sublime enjoyed chart-tracking success leading to nationwide exposure over the next four years, resulting in hungry a fan base and two new studio albums, the first of which, Robbin’ the Hood (1994), fell under Nowell’s personal recording label, and the second, Sublime (1996), under then-massive MCA Records, now operating as Universal Music Group.
In between the release of Robbin’ the Hood and Sublime, the group toured as a co-headliner for the 1995 Vans Warped Tour, further expanding the band’s fan base. However, the headline tour, along with subsequent recording sessions in Austin, TX, for the third and ultimately final album released by the band, was highlighted by wild and prolific drug use, most notably Brad Nowell’s penchant for heroin.
Rolling Stone and other magazines covering the band at the time reported interviews of the band members talking extensively about their partying and drug habits, including one incident where Nowell pawned the group’s equipment before a show to pay for a score.
The riotous and unrestrained behavior of the three men from Long Beach finally caught up to the band when Bradley Nowell was found dead of an overdose in a San Francisco hotel room on May 25, 1996, just a little over two months before the release of Sublime, which was the group’s first major-label record. He was 28.
Sublime released the eponymous album as planned, despite the tragedy. Moved by the singer’s death, fans showed a massive outpouring of sympathy for Nowell and the surviving band members, resulting in huge airplay, record sales, and chart appearances. The first single from the album, “What I Got”, reached No. 1 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart, with the album itself peaking in the Top 20, at No 13. In total, Sublime has sold millions of copies worldwide and is certified five-times platinum by the RIAA.
The band then went on a long hiatus lasting 14 years before reforming under a new name, Sublime, and featuring a different lineup. Under the new act, original members Eric Wilson and Bud Gaugh teamed up with Southern California guitarist and singer Rome Ramirez, who goes by the stage name Rome.
Together, the new trio began touring, primarily playing songs from the band’s original repertoire as well as new songs that eventually came to comprise the first Sublime release since the mid-1990s, called Yours Truly (2011).
New fans eager to see the band live enjoyed the reunion and helped the new release reach No. 9 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart. Sublime dropped another new album in July 2015 called Sirens; however, the release saw the exit of original drummer Gaugh, leaving bassist Eric Wilson as the only remaining member. Drummer John Freese of Devo, Nine Inch Nails, and Guns N Roses fame has since replaced Gaugh in the band.
Sublime’s music is widely considered to be punk mixed with elements of reggae, ska, and classic rock. The raging, racing paces of their songs as well as the distorted and often dissonant effects applied to both their music and singing provide ethereal and soulful harmonies accompanying bombastic and bouncing rhythms and hard, fast drums.
Nowell’s vocals mirror the sharp and flying patterns of the jazzy time signatures, often incorporating shouting and whispering for effect, in addition to more tuneful, melodic singing and spoken-word deliveries, which demonstrate the wide-ranging and contrasting styles of the band.
The three-piece act historically consists of a guitarist, bassist, and drummer, with guest DJs occasionally on tour but primarily used in the studio. Sublime with Rome often brings a DJ onstage during live performances.
- 40oz. to Freedom (1992) – A raw, thrashing introduction to the band’s versatility in style and songwriting. The release offers notable tracks like “Date Rape,” “Badfish,” and two popular covers: “Smoke Two Joints,” originally performed by The Toyes, and “Scarlet Begonias,” an updated version of The Grateful Dead classic. The album went double-platinum after the death of Nowell nearly four years later.
- Robbin’ the Hood (1994) – Widely considered to be the lesser of Sublime’s three studio albums, the record features overdubbed snippets of a schizophrenic man talking overlapping mainly acoustic tracks. “Saw Red” serves as the most noteworthy song on the LP and features guest vocals by Gwen Stefani.
- Sublime (1996) – Released two months after the tragic death of original lead singer Bradley Nowell. The eponymous album represents the biggest commercial success for the band, with more than 5 million copies sold around the world to date. Popular tracks include the chart-topping “What I Got,” “Wrong Way,” and “Santeria.” A first-hand lyrical account of the L.A. race riots of the 1990s is included in “April 29, 1992” as well as the summer anthem “Doin’ Time”.