PICTURED: Sublime With Rome (from left: Carlos Verdugo, drums; Rome Ramirez, vocals and guitar; and Eric Wilson, bass) will perform at the Ventura County Fairgrounds on Saturday, Oct. 9, at 2 p.m. Photo by Andreas Ramierez
by Alan Sculley, Last Word Features
For the third time in three albums, Sublime With Rome went to Sonic Ranch near El Paso, Texas, a studio Rome Ramirez (vocals, guitar), Eric Wilson (bass) and Carlos Verdugo (drums) like because it’s isolated enough to allow bands to really concentrate on the business at hand instead of getting distracted during recording by nightlife and other recreational opportunities.
“I think Eric really likes that kind of rhythm out there, like no distractions. I’ve grown to love it as well,” Ramirez said in a phone interview.
But being at Sonic Ranch was about the only thing the making of the group’s latest album, Blessings, had in common with the previous pair of albums.
The group’s first two albums were done in a rush. Yours Truly, released in 2011, had to be finished in about six weeks. The 2015 sophomore album, Sirens, had a similar urgency, although the circumstances that put the band under the gun were different.
Having been busy with touring and unable to find time for writing before the trio was due to start recording, they arrived at Sonic Ranch with virtually no material written. An initial recording session yielded practically nothing, and it was only during a tour in Brazil shortly afterward that something clicked and songs started to come together. Still, the band had to rent out two rooms, recording some parts simultaneously, in order to finish Sirens on time.
The experience making Blessings (released in May 2019) was a 180-degree change.
“It was so different. It wasn’t like, ‘You need to make an album’; then ‘You guys need to make an album right now,’” Ramirez said. “It wasn’t even like, ‘Do you guys want to make an album?’ It was like, ‘We want to make an album (now).’ And all of the songs were written beforehand.”
What’s more, the group was hearing positive things from management, the record label and radio promotional people about the songs that were in play for album number three.
“I’ll tell you this, when you have songs that are already getting your professional circle around you excited, you know already that in some sort of way, your part as the quote-unquote business owner, if you want to look at it like that, you’ve fulfilled your part of the obligation. That creates such a less stressful environment. Everybody was really excited: radio programmers, management, the record label.
“Having that sort of, I don’t want to say confidence, because it comes with a certain connotation, but having that sort of confidence, for lack of a better word, really does help ease the creative process where you can now start to create freely without any pressures of trying to make it big (commercially) or trying to make everyone happy,” the singer/guitarist said.
In all, Sublime With Rome spent a year and a half making Blessings, which brought out a different kind of feeling for the band as well. As Ramirez noted, cranking out an album in a matter of weeks can be fun, despite the deadline pressure, and stretching out the process has its drawbacks.
“This one took so damn long, oh my God, you just want to be done with it,” Ramirez said. “Then you’re kind of like, you have to not listen to the music because you don’t want to get burned out on it before it comes out.
“But luckily, you’re able to put out a thought-out piece of material,” he added.
Making an album the group can stand behind is a valuable thing for a group like Sublime With Rome, which has a considerable legacy to live up to that goes back three decades. That’s when original Sublime, with singer/guitarist Bradley Nowell, Wilson and drummer Bud Gaugh, formed. That group’s run was cut short in May 1996 when Nowell died from a heroin overdose — just as a self-titled third album was ready for release.
Nowell’s death brought a wave of attention to Sublime, and the lead single from that album, “What I Got,” became a chart-topping alternative rock hit. Before it finished its run, Sublime had gone five times platinum and helped cement the band’s place as one of the pioneers of what is now a thriving reggae-rock genre.
For a decade-plus, Nowell’s death looked to have ended the Sublime story. But in 2009, Ramirez crossed paths with Wilson while they were both working in the same studio. Ramirez, who is nearly 20 years younger than Wilson, was a major fan of Sublime growing up. The two began jamming together and over time became friends.
One day, Wilson asked Rome if he’d want to sing in a new edition of Sublime should Gaugh sign on for the project. Ramirez jumped at the chance, and with Gaugh on board, Sublime (soon renamed Sublime With Rome after Nowell’s family objected to the band using only the Sublime name) was in the studio working on Yours Truly.
The debut album was a significant success, spawning a top five alternative rock hit with the song “Panic” and giving Sublime With Rome a strong measure of legitimacy.
Gaugh dropped out of the band in 2011, with Josh Freese — who is also one of rock’s most sought-after session drummers — taking his slot for the Sirens project. (Verdugo, formerly of Tribal Seeds, replaced Freese in 2017.)
Sirens didn’t generate a hit song on the level of “Panic,” but the album debuted at No. 2 on Billboard magazine’s Alternative Albums chart, and Sublime With Rome saw its audience continue to expand, to the point where the group could consistently headline amphitheaters.
Blessings, released four years later, was preceded by a trio of reggae-centric singles, “Wicked Heart,” (which cracked the top 35 on Billboard magazine’s Alternative Songs chart), “Spiderweb” and “Light On.” The album found Sublime With Rome making one other major change, bringing on Rob Cavallo (known for his work with Green Day and the Goo Goo Dolls, among others) to produce after working with Paul Leary on the previous albums.
Ramirez said Cavallo and his engineer, Doug McKean, lived up to their reputation for creating exceptional-sounding recordings.
“With what Rob has in his head and the way he can communicate with Doug, they are a deadly dynamic duo,” Ramirez said, noting that Blessings represents a significant step up sonically over the first two Sublime With Rome albums.
Ramirez also said Blessings might be a bit more reggae oriented than the first two albums, but there’s also plenty of musical variety.
With touring resuming as the country opens back up, one of the major challenges is crafting a set list that retains the back catalog of songs fans want to hear while figuring out which new songs are connecting best with audiences. One thing the group won’t do, however, is stop playing the key songs by the original Sublime lineup.
“You know, we’re entertainers. We’re not out there to prove an agenda or shove anything down peoples’ throats. People come out to have a really good-ass time and hear some of their favorite music,” Ramirez said. “You put on a really great show and play songs that everybody loves . . . That’s kind of always been the M.O. from the start.”
Sublime With Rome performs with Dirty Heads on Saturday, Oct. 9, at 2 p.m. for Surfer’s Point Live at the Ventura County Fairgrounds, 10 W. Harbor Blvd., Ventura. For tickets and more information, visit www.surferspointlive.com.