It's been a decade since legendary '90s Southern California ska-punk band resurrected after the death of frontman Bradley Nowell with the help of, at the time, early 20-something-year-old Bay Area native Rome Ramirez. With huge shoes to fill, Ramirez, a huge Sublime fan, took on the opportunity of a lifetime.
But even though it's been 10 years, and Ramirez acknowledges that some bands don't ever make it to 10, he says it's only been recently that he feels the band has taken a life of its own, in part because he's grown up. Blessings, the band's third album, is a sonic result of both those things.
"The album lyrically kind of just encompasses the whole journey, like the whole 10 years of just everything, from my perspective at least from being a kid and then to traveling the world and having a kid," Ramirez told the Recording Academy.
Ramirez joined after founding member and bassist Eric Wilson asked him to join the band. Since then, founding drummer Bud Gaugh has left the band and other drummers have taken over duties, but for Ramirez things have really come together for the band since former Tribal Seeds drummer Carlos (C-Los) Verdugo has hopped onto the drumming seat.
"That's when we started writing everything kind of for this next record and I kind of cooled it on the partying and everything started to make sense," Ramirez said. "People started growing up, things started kind of aligning into being just more of like a brotherhood, which allows you to just create so much better. "
The Recording Academy spoke more with the band about their latest album Blessings and the work that went into it, rocking out with Post Malone, songwriting challenges, their dynamic as a group and more.
So you shared a stage with Post Malone last month. How was that?
Rome Ramirez: Crazy. Post Malone is a very talented man and he's a big fan of Sublime. [He's a] 24-year-old kid on top of the world and it was really cool for him to reach out to us and ask us if we wanted a jam. So we said, "Heck yeah." We had to learn like 20 of his songs. It was a rad experience.
How was learning those songs so quickly?
Rome Ramirez: There was a process.
C-Los Verdugo: That was some work.
Rome Ramirez: Not going to bullsh*t you. It was a process. But you know, our better half isn't here, Gabrial McNair, and he's our keyboard and horn player, and he really helped us out with just breaking down like the sections. He's a musical guy, where we're kind of just like, "Play it by ear, guys." You know? So he kind of helped us like, "Hey, [these are] the sections." But it was rad. It was a really awesome experience. We got to fly down to New York. And you know, man, when you're dealing with superstars like that, there's just bunch of press everywhere and camera crews on camera crews, filming camera crews. So it was really cool to just kind of get to be around that and get to jam in front of so many people.
You covered one of his songs, "Goodbyes." Why that song?
Rome Ramirez: Because of Young Thug's verse. It was awesome. We really liked that one. It was really close to "Santeria" too, chord-wise, and we could squeeze in the solo in the middle of the song and nobody would know, and nobody does. But yeah, it's pretty rad. So it felt like really close to a Sublime song that Eric had wrote. So it just felt like we should do it.
What did you like about the Young Thug verse?
Rome Ramirez: It's just crazy. It's like sporadic. It doesn't sound like it belongs and it doesn't when you hear it like once, but when you hear it again, you're like, "I think I like it." And by like the third time you're like, "This is like the coolest part of the song. It's tight."
You have Blessings out. You've said this album is dedicated to the fans. Tell me more about that.
Rome Ramirez: Well, I mean, so we've been doing this for like 10 years. That's how long I've been jamming with Eric. The album lyrically kind of just encompasses the whole journey, the whole 10 years of just everything, from my perspective at least from being a kid and then to traveling the world and having a kid. Just the whole story of that. And I don't know, all of the pressures from just outside forces, whether it's your family or your friends or even people in the music business. So I just felt like I haven't really talked about that ever. I don't know why, but it seems like you should. So I decided to, and I was like, "Fk, that sounds good."
I just really wanted to talk about that. I feel like there's a lot of people who would dream to kind of be in the situation that I'm in and [if] they listen to the album, they can kind of hear about the journey. Maybe it'll inspire them or maybe it'll persuade them not to do this. Who knows?
Were you consciously in a reflecting state of mind because of your 10-year mark?
Rome Ramirez: Well, in the process of writing it we didn't even think of that. Or I didn't even think about that like lyrically because some of these songs were kind of older and then I'd rework them over... This album, we had three years to write so it was kind of rad. But it just kind of made sense. Towards the end when we were kind of thinking about artwork and everything, that's when it was in the album title. That's when it was kind of like, "Yo, we should call this album Blessings." The title song really encompasses the theme of the record, as well.
What is it like to play with the band that you saw growing up and loved?
C-Los Verdugo: Dream come true.
Rome Ramirez: It's kind of crazy, to be honest. It is kind of nuts. I still think about that from time to time. It's kind of crazy to think about. Everything in my life now is because of Sublime. So it's kind of nuts. I love it, though. I'm so glad it happened to me and not my neighbor. I'd be so jealous.
Eric, how is it for you? To have fans join your band?
Eric Wilson: Pretty cool. I'm just glad to still play it, you know? Still attract people and talented musicians
Looking back, what have you learned as a band together?
Rome Ramirez: You got to be respectful, like your coworkers or your bandmate or your wife or just anyone. Got to be respectful of everybody and you got to make sure everyone's got a say. You know?
Eric Wilson: Trust.
Rome Ramirez: Trust. It's much like a marriage, much like a marriage. You got to know that when they go home, they're not all cheating around someone else.
In what way is it like a marriage?
Rome Ramirez: Playing with other bands, you know? That's a big thing. Family is everything. Obviously, it's crazy because it's...been 10 years. It's hard for bands to even exist for 10 years. Let alone a band with such a rich legacy like Sublime. And then someone like my a coming in and introducing it to a new wave of people and stuff. So it can be really kind like [tumultuous] grounds .. it can be kind of crazy to navigate through. And I think it's awesome. I think it's a blessing that we're still here able to rock it and there are still people showing [up.] We're still selling out shows and stuff and that's sick. We're really grateful for that.
Do you still feel the pressure to live up to Sublime's legacy?
Rome Ramirez: I mean, it's really just wanting to do a good a job of just making good sht. I just don't want to fk anything up. I'd hate to be the guy who writes like the worst album and people read back on Sublime in a hundred years and they're like, "There was that one time where that dude wrote this terrible album." So as long as I just don't do that and try and make good sht that Eric thinks is tight, too, that's all I really care about is just making sure that we're all proud.
C-Los Verdugo: I just do the best I can to show respect to the old album versions of Sublime and also the live versions. So giving respect to how the songs were actually made because those are songs that are going to be timeless and people want to hear them the way they are on the record. They don't want to hear my little things I could do, so I pay respect to those. But for our new stuff, this is all stuff that we're creating together. So that's special.
Rome Ramirez: Kind of we can fk around a little bit.
Eric, do the classic Sublime songs performed with the new band take on a new meaning for you?
At what point did Sublime with Rome start to take on a life of its own?
Rome Ramirez: Probably this album. Probably when C-Los joined the band. Honestly, probably it's right around that time. That's when we started writing everything kind of for this next record and I kind of cooled it on the partying and everything started to make sense. People started growing up, things started kind of aligning into being just more of like a brotherhood, which allows you to just create so much better.
Carlos, what do you think about that?
C-Los Verdugo: It's great, you know? But it's just a vibe, we'd just all get together. I think if it was someone that they vibed with it, it might be the same, but I just lucked out to be able to jump [on with] these guys.
Rome Ramirez: He's a good guy. You should hang out with him.
C-Los Verdugo: I fit well.
Rome Ramirez: We like him.
So what do you feel like makes you three strong as a band?
C-Los Verdugo: We all hang out together.
Rome Ramirez: Yeah, out of all the bands we go on the road with, we're the only ones that get along with each other. That and C-Los is a really good cook and no one sounds like us. That's the cool thing. That's like a really sick thing is like we always stand out on the bill, which I think is like rad because you have like your rap acts and you have like your rock and roll acts, and we can kind of float around and just do our thing. It's just something unique. It's a formula that they created that we get to benefit of kind of just rocking with.
What do you like most about working with each other?
Rome Ramirez: I mean, for me personally, I like how everything I do has to be kind of, at least in my end, I try and make it as cool as possible because Eric likes really cool shit. He likes particular cool shit. And you know, I could get used to listening to the same bands that I fucking grew up with. He actually listens and discovers more new music than I do, which is kind of rad. So, he keeps me on my toes as a fking writer, you know, to not always just be writing the same fking songs all the time. And come with it. Keep learning, keep listening and trying new stuff, for sure.
Eric Wilson: It's all about getting all the influences that you're into and then writing something that's from that and making it yours.
There are several parts to the album-making process. What is your favorite?
Rome Ramirez: The recording part. The writing part's a bummer. It's the work part, but the recording part's sick. It's so fun. Just getting [to] watching everyone record parts and getting tones right and, "Let's try that drum set instead of this one." Or, "Let's go through this compressor. Let's try this guitar." That part's fun as hell. I like that part.
C-Los Verdugo: I think the playback's always fun once you create something that's sounding solid and starting to form the song.
That's really interesting because when you're on stage when someone's listening to the album, they don't necessarily think about the engineers and the mixers.
Rome Ramirez: Yeah, those dudes are important. I mean, it's a huge part of the job. The better those guys are, the more time we have mentally and physically to just devote to the writing and the sound designing. And I think that's rad because when you got to kind of wear that hat, it's just more sh*t you got to think about in the kitchen. You just want to focus on the dish.
Speaking of behind the scenes people, how was it working with Rob Cavallo on this album?
Rome Ramirez: Dude, the GRAMMYs bought him a guitar because he's like such a crazy songwriter/producer dude the GRAMMY's actually bought him a guitar and I use that on a lot of the album.
Oh, fun fact.
Rome Ramirez: Yeah, that's a good one. But anyway, yeah, well, Rob and Doug McKean, the two guys who recorded and did the album, they're exactly what I was talking about in the question before. [It applies] to them because ... that's who I was thinking of when I was talking about that. Sht sounded good, like fast. And for me, because I can be such a stickler when it comes to that kind of sht. It was just really rad to just be totally big league. To like, "Quiet down a little boy, we got it from here." And it was like, "Dang. Okay. I could learn some sh*t."
They're the pros and it sounded so sick and I didn't have to think about none of that crap, mixing, or the mic, none of that stuff. Just the lyrics, just the melodies and the songs. And I'm sure the guys just had to worry about their sh*t, too. It makes it easier.
Going back to the songwriting part, why do you think it's a bummer to do that part?
Rome Ramirez: Well I don't mean a bummer, but I just mean you know how in every part of a job there's the part of the job [which is] ... the hard part? That's like the hard part for me [because] it's really easy to write just a song that doesn't mean anything. You'd be surprised how incredibly easy it is. And to really write music that makes you feel something, you have to go to places that you don't necessarily really want to visit or think about. And then you have to also make a song out of it. It's like one thing to just dig it up and think about it, but then you have to make it a song and then you have to make it sound good.
That whole process is work and then you have to do that like 20 times and then narrow it down to 10. For me, it's just I can't do [that process] often, I've realized. I write a lot of music and only some of it's good and it's because it's hard to do that and I can't do that very often. So for me, it takes a tremendous amount of focus and just honesty.
Is that still hard three albums in?
Rome Ramirez: Yeah. Well, luckily we just put this one out, so I won't have to do that again for a while. It's cool, though. It's my responsibility as a creator, as an artist. I shouldn't be putting out no wishy washy bullsh. Got to put out good stuff, great stuff that people [because it] might have an effect on people.
I also want to talk about ska. What do you guys love about that genre specifically?
Rome Ramirez: I think ska is rad because it's like Motown, but on like the two, you know? A lot of the times they're singing about some dark sh*t, but it's on a beat that is like just up.
Eric Wilson: It came from Jamaica, and all the coolest music comes from like poverty-stricken places like that. Or like the Cuban music, you know, percussion. That all comes from poverty. It brings everybody away from all that when they're playing, make them all happy, upbeat and stuff. It's really cool.
Rome Ramirez: They're all talking about wanting to leave the hood, and everybody's dancing, dude.
Going back to the album, is there a favorite song that you guys have?
Rome Ramirez: Yeah, mine's probably "Light On."
Rome Ramirez: Just because that song, it means a lot to me. Lyrically, that was a tough one to write. Just to get it right. And that kind of summarizes the missing part of being on the road and stuff and then at the detriment of watching your loved ones kind of grow older. And that's what that was about. So I think every time I play that song, I just think of my mom and my kid, so I'm going to rank that as number one right now.
What about you guys?
Eric Wilson: I like all of them.
Rome Ramirez: I like that.
C-Los Verdugo: I like that one, ["Light On,"] and "Black Out." "Black Out's" good. It's just a fun song to play live. I mean, it's kind of... it's pretty simple, but for me, it's just like I like the chords, I guess.
You're on tour, how has the tour been going for you guys? Do you enjoy being on the road?
Rome Ramirez: Yeah, totally. This is the fucking coolest shit in the world. Like, dude, I used to work at Staples before this. This is so much sicker than that. I'm like, no way. I got homies that are just trying to figure out what the hell to do with their lives. And they're like 35, you know? So this is the sh. Yeah, we're away from our loved ones and stuff. But man, what a good reason.
How do you guys stay energized and stuff on the road?
C-Los Verdugo: Sleep.
Rome Ramirez: It's crucial. Especially as a little older you get. More sleep, less alcohol.
C-Los Verdugo: Yeah, water. I'm not drinking so many IPAs.