Of all the superfan wish-list items, the second coming of Sublime ranks way high. Maybe not Marley-back-from-the-dead high, but nobody — especially drummer Bud Gaugh — thought the SoCal crew would survive the death of singer Brad Nowell, who overdosed in 1996.
That was before Sublime bassist Eric Wilson bumped into this Rome guy one day in 2009 in the band’s Long Beach studio. Wilson was so jazzed about the encounter he immediately called Gaugh. “Not that Eric’s a music snob but he’s such a talented musician that for him to hold somebody in that regard I was like‚ ‘Whoa! Maybe this is something I should look into.’” Gaugh says on the phone from Reno.
So after all three men convened for an informal jam, it was clear Wilson had not been exaggerating. “I closed my eyes and opened them expecting to see Brad, practically,” Gaugh recalls. “Rome’s voice is different, but it was close enough to bring up those feelings and I was like, ‘Man, this is real.’;
If you thought core fans would have second thoughts about this new iteration of the band, the positive ju-ju and 420-scented air on the night DRUM! caught Gaugh and company tearing it up at the Fox Theater in Oakland last year said otherwise. Rechristened Sublime With Rome, the reggae-punk rocksteady jamz are mostly about relationships, and maybe some One Love politics thrown in. Rome Ramirez slices cleanly on his guitar as he croons self-penned lyrics with breathy swagger.
New album Yours Truly opens with “Panic,” a buzzy anthem that’s got to be tiring Bud’s right hand (“I’m kind of like Popeye a little bit on that arm”). A super-controlled right foot goes into funky overdrive on “Murdera.” As far as kick-foot strength requirements go, the skank beat on “Paper Cuts” has to be killing his Tibialis anterior muscle. “I had a double kick pedal for awhile,” Gaugh says. “But I found I was overusing it.”
Tracked in one or two takes per song at Sonic Ranch Studios in Texas, the tunes on Yours Truly were mostly collaborative but some were material Rome brought independently, which “was then run through the Sublime-inator.” The album is so slick and tight it’s hard to believe it was recorded live mostly without a metronome. “I find that recording with a click I tend to concentrate on the meter more than the creative aspect of things and it gets stifled at times,” Gaugh says. “But some of the songs we wanted to have to a click for more of like a dancier club-type song.”
Yours Truly also has electronic drum sounds played in real time, such as the echo-y “timbale” produced by a DTX pad left of the hats, and others on a kick pad underneath the floor tom (he also has acoustic timbales). But for all the genre signifiers, Gaugh is really your solid, straight-ahead rock and punk player more than he is a dub purist (cf. Carlton Barrett, Sly Dunbar), which brings us to reggae drumming’s myths. “In a lot of ways it closely resembles the swing style of country music,” Gaugh says. “And then especially with rock-steady it’s just like old country — half-notes on the kick and the snare: ‘Boom, ka. Boom, ka. Boom, ka.’”
Gaugh started jamming with Wilson as far back as 1980, just after the future Sublime bassist moved in next door into the Belmont Shore neighborhood of Long Beach. Gaugh got lessons from Wilson’s dad, who taught him jazz and Afro Cuban licks, and how to read, studying mostly out of Rubank Fundamentals, a classic method book from 1946.
The kernel of Sublime was there even before the band made it official with the addition of Nowell in 1988. While the singer’s drug problems are well documented, Gaugh’s own fondness for opiates predates it by a few years. In 1993, after the release of Sublime’s debut, 40 Oz. To Freedom, the drummer left the band and checked into Set Free, a Christian rehab center in Anaheim, California. Only three months into the rehab stint, Nowell and Wilson begged him to come back, but he turned them down cold fearing a backslide into addiction.
Besides, he was actually enjoying himself in his clean-and-sober environment. “They were not your everyday Christians,” Gaugh says of Set Free. “The pastor was a biker with tattoos, a reformed heroin addict who found God in prison. I ended up riding with them in their motorcycle club for a while, too.”
Once Gaugh finished the program, he started up a Christian reggae band playing all over the States. “We played popular reggae songs and changed the words into something that would edify Christ.”