In Name Only - Slam Magazine
Slam Magazine - November 1, 1995
By Jamie Tierney
In Name Only
Sublime is a band that tries to hold many different hats on its head. It is a group dismissed by many as simple raucous party band that can only boast of a glibly offensive one hit wonder called "Date Rape." Yet when putting aside these elements of the band, Sublime's taste for the eclectic, innovative and experimental is what really shines through. Sublime has a special place in the ranks of up and coming young bands.
Is Sublime a punk band? Well yes it is. Songs like "Hope," "New Thrash," and especially a cover of Bad Religion's, "We're Only Gonna Die for Our Arrogance," pound and rip along with an unpolished edge. Sublime is a major contributor to the aggression inducing surf, snow and skateboard videos and these tunes fit right with those of such bands as NOFX, Face to Face and Unwritten Law. Sublime's Singer/ Songwriter /Guitarist, Brad Nowell says of the album the band is working on now, "the new punk rock songs are f----king way hard."
Is Sublime a hip-hop band? Well yes actually it is that too. While Nowell usually stays away from rapping, (which is a good thing considering the quality of his few attempts,) big loopy beats constantly come to the fore within Sublime records. Sublime are also prodigious samplers, tossing in bits of everything from Zeppelin and the Doors, to Eazy E, to the Minutemen, to cheesy movies from the seventies and the ecstatic screams of women in porno flicks. The bass heavy beats and creatively sampled rhythms bring to mind the sonic sojourns of bands like Cypress Hill and The Beastie Boys. The new album Nowell claims will have a more old school feel with lots of turntable scratching.
Despite the other influences, however, Sublime is really more of a nineties reggae band. Before joining Eric Wilson and Floyd Gaugh to form Sublime in 1988, Nowell toiled in a number of straight reggae bands while a student at UC Santa Cruz. With Sublime, Nowell is attempting to update the classic lilting reggae sound of folks like Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, by delving into faster dancehall rhymes and by sometimes using electronic bass and drums. He says that there is a big underground movement afoot both in Jamaica and large cities like New York of new style reggae bands right now who are completing the synthesis between hip-hop and reggae. Nowell says the best term to describe Sublime's version, which mixes in punk as well is, "garage hall."
But where did a California surfer white boy get so down with the cutting edge of a strongly foreign accented and strongly black style of music. Nowell gives the credit to his hometown of Long Beach. "I am always telling people in interviews that our influences come from living in a multicultural town... I got into reggae from listening to the Jamaican immigrants that come to Long Beach and I learned the way hip-hop is made from living downtown and making beats. The people loved me there. Guys would come in off the street and rap over my beats."
While Nowell is very earnest in speaking of how he came to love the music, he is very wary of being called a Vanilla Ice or a Daddy Snow, a bleached imitation of the real thing. "I have a lot of self criticism when I sound like a black person or when I accidentally find myself singing like a damn Jamaican," Nowell says. For the most part, Nowell succeeds in staying away from patois and ghetto slang. This element could help give Sublime the credibility the Beastie Boys often receive for faithfully creating a "black" style of music while still sounding "white."
Sublime came to prominence early this year when LA radio station KROQ put their song from 1992's "40 Ounces to Freedom," "Date Rape," into heavy heavy rotation. The tight ska ditty about crime and punishment tossed out memorable and shocking lines like, "If it wasn't for date rape I'd never get laid," and became an instant west coast alternative radio staple. However while the song was a major radio hit, the video was only shown twice on MTV. Nowell claims the video, which featured porn star Ron Jeremy in a dual role as both the judge and the prison rapist, "wasn't up to MTV's exacting standards." The song also drew harsh criticism from many feminist groups who believed it treated the serious subject of date rape much too lightly.
Trouble has hit Sublime from other directions. They were banned from KROQ after smoking joints and drinking tequila shots during an on air interview with DJ Jed the Fish. They were also nearly kicked off last summer's cross-country "Warped" tour after some serious misadventures. Nowell says he got involved in a few drunken fights and the band's drummer was arrested for drug possession twice along the way. Nowell's dalmation even bit two audience members during a show. Nowell casually sums up the problems with the tour saying, "normal s--t that happens when you're drunk, happened every day."