Ask singer/guitarist Rome what it was like to be fronting the band Sublime with Rome on his first sold-out tour, and you’ll get the kind of enthusiastic response you’d expect from a 21-year old who just got to sing 90 minutes a night of the best – and most underrated – songs to come out of California in the 90s backed by one of the best rhythm sections imaginable in front of thousands of people who never thought they’d experience the moment, and you’ll get the answer you’d hope for.
“Dude, its been fucking great,” he said a few days after wrapping up the 13-date trek that kicked off April 20 with two sold out nights at Hollywood’s Palladium and ended May 6 in Norfolk, Va. “The response has been amazing. Everyone has been so nuts in the crowd. We’re pretty fucking stoked.”
The tour is a new chapter in the story of Sublime, picking up nearly 15 years after the group’s first foray into music came to a sudden conclusion with the death of singer/songwriter Bradley Nowell. Established in 1988 in Long Beach, Calif,, Sublime consisted of the gifted but troubled Nowell, Bud Gaugh on drums and bassist Eric Wilson. The group’s 1992 debut album, “40 Oz. to Freedom,” remains a classic, deftly mixing hardcore punk, reggae, ska and hip hop. The group toured extensively, but in 1996 – just as its first and only No. 1 single, What I Got” was climbing the charts, Nowell died of a heroin overdose.
Released in the months after Nowell’s death, Sublime’s final, self-titled album, reached No. 13 on the Billboard 200. In the years since, the band’s legend and popularity has continued to grow, as a new generation discovers its three studio album and numerous live sets and hits packages which combined have sold more than 13.7 million copies in the United States alone, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
But Gaugh and Wilson never even considered reforming the band until Wilson met Rome; the chemistry was instantaneous. Last November the group made its first appearance at a festival in California, and while it received rave reviews from the fans in attendance, the return was marred by a dispute over the name with Nowell’s estate. But soon after, the quarrel was resolved and the newly dubbed Sublime with Rome began rehearsing in earnest.
The joy in the audiences at hearing the songs live was palpable at one of the New York shows. The majority of the crowd was too young to have seen the band with Nowell, but every song during the ninety minute set inspired a fervent sing-along and massive mosh pit. The band is notably tighter than during its hard-scrabble back-of-the-van days, and Rome, while sounding uncannily like Nowell, manages to display a distinct voice that bodes well for future recordings.
“They’re great songs, absolutely amazing songs,” says Rome. “That’s what I loved about Sublime from the get-go, that it sounded so different. It was so soulful but so poppy, it was so easy to understand. That was the stuff my pop listened to — rap, reggae and punk rock — but being a 10-year old kid I couldn’t really understand Bad Brains or Minor Threat. I couldn’t really get Doug E. Fresh yet. It didn’t make sense. But Sublime made sense, because it had that kind of candy coating on top.”
The singer also guests on the Dirty Heads’ current No. 1 Alternative hit, “Lay Me Down.”
The band will be a force on the road this summer, with a string of shed dates already on sale and more in the works. “The majority of the dates are outdoors, and its about taking the party outside, enjoying the weather, and getting the opportunity to see an incredible act that the majority of their fans have never been able too see,” says Corrie Christopher, the band’s agent at APA.
“The goal this year is to get them in front of as many people as possible so we can turn the questionable believers in serious believers because the band delivers live. I think a lot of people forget how many hits Sublime had and how ingrained they are in our musical history.”
But the new Sublime has no intention of remaining an oldies act. In June, the band will hit the studio for a week “and nail down some of the more worked-out songs, and possibly even finish one or two of them for a late summer radio release,” Gaugh says, including the new song “Panic” they introduced on the tour. The band also has three months at the beginning of 2011 blocked out to record a full album.
In fact, ever since Gaugh and Wilson met Rome and realized there was a musical connection, the plan was to not just revisit the old material, but to move ahead with new songs. “It was so real once Rome and Eric showed up, and we knew that no matter what we call it, we’re going to do something new. That was always the feeling.”