Don't Start a Riot

Fourteen years after Bradley Nowell's tragic death, Sublime (With Rome) are back and headed for a town near you

After the new lineup performed before an ecstatic crowd of teenagers late last October at Cypress Hill’s two-day Smokeout Festival in San Bernardino, DenDekker filed an injunction on behalf of herself and Jakob that led to a restraining order preventing the group from performing under the band’s original name.

“As Brad’s heirs, and with the support of his entire family, we only want to respect his wishes, and therefore have not consented to Bud and Eric calling their new project ‘Sublime,’” she stated in a press release a week before the injunction. “We have always supported Bud and Eric’s musical endeavors and their desire to continue to play Sublime’s music . . . [but we] feel compelled to take the appropriate legal action to protect Brad’s legacy.”

On Feb. 16 of this year, however, both parties announced they’d reached an out-of-court financial settlement that would allow the band to perform the entire Sublime catalog as Sublime With Rome. “Both parties are happy working together,” Gaugh says. “For business reasons, we had to keep the two companies separate and figure out how they are supposed to interact together. It was basically a way for a bunch of lawyers to make a bunch of money off us.”

John Gilhooley
Bud Gaugh, Rome Ramirez and Eric Wilson prepare for an all-polka album
John Gilhooley
Bud Gaugh, Rome Ramirez and Eric Wilson prepare for an all-polka album

DenDekker says she knows Nowell would want Wilson and Gaugh to continue playing the music they loved so much. “I know he loved Bud and Eric,” she says. “He would want the best for them, and I’m really happy at the response they’re getting at the shows. All the fans are singing along to all the words. There’s this spirit, like Brad is there for a second, and it’s fucking awesome.”

Gibson says she overcame her ambivalence when she finally agreed to see Sublime With Rome perform live at the Hollywood Palladium in April. “I was terrified,” she says. “I was so overwhelmed. The fans were going crazy. I remembered standing on the stage watching him so many times when I was younger, and everything was the same, except Brad wasn’t there. It was so surreal.”

Before the show, Gibson introduced herself to Ramirez. “I was so nervous I didn’t know what to say,” she says. “I was speechless, and he said he wasn’t trying to replace Brad and that the whole reason he was there was because of Brad, that he learned to play guitar because of Brad.” Gibson says she’s glad Ramirez is able to live out his dream of playing Nowell’s music. “I think Rome’s a good kid, and he’s really good at what he does,” she concludes. “It’s definitely bittersweet. It should be Brad, but it can’t be. Should it be Rome? Sure.”

It’s clear that Ramirez’s unbridled enthusiasm for Sublime’s music—and that it’s shared by so many other young fans—has brought a newfound sense of purpose and professionalism to the two surviving members of the band. Both Wilson and Gaugh say they’re humbled by the expense that has been brought to bear to ensure their upcoming tour is a success. “We’ve never had a tour that wasn’t totally fucked, so we’re not used to this,” Wilson says. “A lot of the times we played, we sounded really shitty because of, uh . . . circumstances.”

“People used to come to our shows and stand outside while we played our first song,” Gaugh says, “just to see if we sounded like shit before they went in.”

“Or to see if we even showed up,” Wilson says, laughing. “Sometimes a show would be, we’d just take mushrooms and laugh at our equipment, and that was that.”

Ramirez is the first to acknowledge the dilemma he faces in trying to fill Nowell’s shoes. “I’ve had people ask me how it feels to be compared to Brad for the rest of my life or tell me that I’ll never live up to Brad,” he says. “For me, personally, you’re just comparing me to my biggest influence because what got me into playing music was Bradley. You can compare me to him all day long, and I’ll just take it as a compliment. I am the biggest Sublime fan in the world.”

This article appeared in print as "Don’t Start a Riot: Fourteen years after Bradley Nowell’s tragic death, Sublime (With Rome) are back and headed for a town near you."

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