Kate's Notes

Tuesday, March 13, 2007



Sublime (born 1988, though some say 1986) was a native Long Beach, California, dub, punk, funk, reggae and hip hop band that broke down all musical barriers over their short-lived existance. Consisting of three members: Bradley Nowell (vocals and guitar), Bud Gaugh (drums), and Eric Wilson (bass guitar), the band released just two albums during its first seven years, finally achieving major mainstream success with their self-titled, third album and their hit single, “What I Got.”

Tragically, a month before Sublime's third album gained national recognition, Nowell the singer and soul of the band, died of a heroin overdose; subsequently, the group disbanded. However, Sublime's music continues to live on through their fans, defining a generation. Nowell's passing was more than just unfortunate to his friends and family, but it was a loss to the entire music industry along the same lines of the other great musicians whose lives were cut short, including Kurt Cobain, Jimmy Hendrix and Janis Joplin.

Even after Nowell's death, Sublime's music continues to influence musicians and delight fans worldwide; they have gone on to sell 8 million albums to a fanbase that tragically lost a voice of a generation.

Early Life

Formed in 1988, vocalist/guitarist Bradley Nowell, bassist Eric Wilson, and drummer Bud Gaugh played their first gig on the 4th of July in 1988 at a small Long Beach club (a show which sparked the infamous Peninsula Riot). The group began aggressively touring around the area with an increasingly substantial following, especially among the surf/skate beach crowd. After four years of concentrating strictly on live shows, Sublime's first album 40 Oz. to Freedom was recorded in 1992. The LP was released on Skunk Records – the label formed by Nowell and Sublime’s manager, Miguel – and sold at shows, but it did not really take off until Los Angeles rock radio station, KROQ began playing the single "Date Rape" two years after its initial release.

Mostly due to this radio exposure, Sublime signed to MCA for 1994's Robbin' the Hood, which revealed an experimental ethic more in keeping with cut-and-paste dub than the well-tuned rage of the California punk revival. The album performed well on college radio and set the stage for the breakout success of their third album, which was to be entitled "Killin' It." On May 25, 1996, however, Nowell was found in a San Francisco hotel room, dead of a heroin overdose, and the band decided to scrap the original title, and still continue on with the release of the album under the self-title, Sublime.

Nolan proved to be the heart, soul and poetic mind of the group, and the band collapsed after his death, but the album was still slated for a July release. On the strength of the alternative radio hit “What I Got,” the album was certified gold by the end of 1996. Reviews of the Sublime album said that “The trio does have a surprising grace in its unabashedly traditionalist fusion of Californian hardcore punk, light hip-hop, and reggae. Switching between bracing hardcore and slow, sexy reggae numbers, Sublime display supple, muscular versatility and, on occasion, a gift for ingratiatingly catchy hooks, as on the hit single “What I Got.’”

“What I Got” reached #1 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart in 1996 and #11 on the Mainstream Rock Chart. Another single from the Sublime album, “Wrong Way,” reached #3 in 1997 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart.

A number of posthumous releases followed, among them 1997's Second-Hand Smoke, 1998's Stand by Your Van, and Sublime Acoustic: Bradley Nowell & Friends. A 3-CD/1-DVD box set of demos, rarities, and live recording, called Everything Under the Sun, was released on November 14, 2006.

In addition, the album Doin’ Time reached #87 on the 1998 Billboard Hot 100 in 1998.

Documentary: Bittersweet Success

A Documentary emblemizing Sublime, and Bradley Nowell was made in 1998. Even though the group’s reign was tragically cut short, drummer Bud Gaugh, bassist Eric Wilson, and late singer/guitarist Brad Nowell provided more than enough grist in their tenure as kings of ska-punk for a documentary – so much, in fact, that the final edit posed some interesting issues for Sublime documentary director, Josh Fischel: “Oh yeah!" Fischel laughed when he was asked if anything was caught on film for the recently released Stories, Tales, Lies, & Exaggerations that absolutely, positively could not be shown in the final edit. He continued, choosing his words carefully, "There's actually some highly illegal activity that I couldn't put in there!" Considering that a bowl and bag rest in Bud's lap during one interview sequence, the question is raised if the "activity" he's referring to would come with a stiffer sentence. "Uh-huh. Yeah, yeah," he answers and then quickly changes course. "I did have to do some convincing to get the whole Denny's story in there, too," Fischel said, referring to the band's revenge on the eatery that allegedly gave them bad attitudes along with bad service.

Aside from editing out the antics of the rock 'n' roll lifestyle, Fischel faced his biggest challenge when it came to addressing the subject of Nowell's heroin overdose. "There was a lot of stuff with people talking about Brad's death. Bud [gave] a very graphic account of the night Brad died," Fischel recalled. "For a while it was in there. And I just thought, people don't need to hear this. Everyone knows how a heroin addict dies, or has some idea. Everyone's seen Trainspotting (referring to the graphic scene in which a man tries to detox from heroine).

"I have a lot of responsibility here," Fischel said, looking back at the consideration that shaped much of the film's final version. "This [film] is really how Jake, Brad's son, is going to remember his dad. The only way he's going to be able to see his dad as a musician and truly who he was is through this documentary and whatever other documentaries people make in the future. I just wanted to present him with an honest account, as much as I can, of who his dad was professionally. Because of the nature of Sublime, it spilled over into the personal, too. There's certain stuff that Brad's dad and son and wife don't need to hear."

In the end, a story involving the youngest member of the Sublime family, Jakob Nowell, influenced the direction of Fischel's film the most. "It started from a story that Troy, Brad's wife, had told me," Fischel said, recounting the incident that served as the determining factor in establishing Stories' tone. "She told me at Jakob's birthday party last year, a bunch of kids were there talking about what their daddy does or what their mommy does. Some kid [asked] Jake, 'What does your daddy do?' And some little girl turned around and said Jake doesn't have a daddy. He did drugs and he died. And then Jake turned to the little girl and said, 'I do too have a daddy -- he's in my heart.' After hearing that I was like, my God, he needs to know who his dad was."

Fischel and his film definitely show the many sides of Bud, Eric and Brad and the family affair that was Sublime. But in the end, Fischel saw his commitment to his late friend and a little boy as his ultimate responsibility. "So many people are going to tell Jake so many different things throughout his life," he said. "I tried to present Brad in as honest of a way as possible, without trying to lean too hard either way. You can definitely tell Brad had some problems and he didn't always handle things the best way. But at the same time he had a great heart and really loved the people around him."

Tribute Album

In late December 2004, Spearhead, Camper Van Beethoven and Ozomatli were named as some of the artists contributing tracks to the Sublime tribute album, Look At All the Love We've Found, which came out in the summer of 2005. Along with MC Gift of Gab, Spearhead take on "What I Got," Sublime's signature hit. "I decided to do the song because I am a fan," explained Spearhead's Michael Franti. "There was a sincerity about Brad's voice and lyrics that I always identified with. It is such a tragedy when there is a band that has as much promise as Sublime, and it gets cut off so short. I remember feeling the same way about Nirvana." Camper, who will cover "Garden Grove," got involved because Sublime had covered one of their songs. "There is a cover of 'Eye of Fatima' that's essentially Brad Nowell by himself on acoustic guitar," said bassist Victor Krummenacher. "It was a nice nod in our direction, and I thought that since Brad had enough respect to cover Camper, being part of this tribute album was more than fitting."


John Bush, All Music Guide
Sublime Movie Honors Nowell's Memory by Steve Gdula
Sublime Tribute Album Due: Spearhead, Camper, Ozomatli show their "Love" by Greg Prato


Blogger Antonio said...

Sublime was formed in 1986 when Eric introduced Bud to Brad just after he graduated.


-antonio aka bong leach

1:16 PM  
Blogger The Temp said...

Hey antonio, can you site a source for the 1986 date? If it's true that would be a great tidbit of information, and a great help. Everywhere else said 1988.

3:43 PM  

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