By Alan Sculley
For the third time in three albums, Sublime with Rome traveled to Sonic Ranch near El Paso, Texas, to record.
It’s a studio the band—vocalist/guitarist Rome Ramirez, bassist Eric Wilson and drummer Carlos Verdugo—likes because it’s isolated and allows musicians to really concentrate on the project. They’re shaded from the distractions of 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 says.
The recording location, however, is the only thing the new album “Blessings” has in common with the previous collections. Sublime with Rome’s first two albums were done in a rush. “Yours Truly,” released in 2013, had to be finished in about six weeks. The 2017 sophomore effort, “Sirens,” had a similar urgency.
Having been busy with touring, Sublime with Rome 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 where various parts were being recorded simultaneously to finish “Sirens” on time.
The experience in making “Blessings,” which was released May 31, 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 says. “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 prepared for album No. 3.
“I’ll tell you this, when you have songs that are already getting your professional circle excited, you know already that in some sort of way, your part as the ‘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 sense of confidence helped ease the creative process. They could start to create freely with the pressures of trying to score a commercial success, he adds.
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 says. “Then you have to not listen to the music because you don’t want to get burned out on it before it comes out. Some of these songs we recorded a year and a half ago or a year ago.
“But luckily you’re able to put out a thought-out piece of material,” he says.
Making an album the group can stand behind is a valuable thing for a group like Sublime with Rome, which has a three-decade legacy to live up to.
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 the self-titled album, “What I Got,” became a chart-topping alternative rock hit. Before it finished its run, the “Sublime” album went five-times platinum and helped cement Sublime’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 version 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.
Now comes “Blessings,” which was preceded by a trio of reggae-centric singles, “Wicked Heart,” “Spiderweb” and “Light On.”
The album found Sublime with Rome making one other major change, bringing on Rob Cavallo (Green Day, Goo Goo Dolls) to produce after working with Paul Leary on the previous albums.
Ramirez says 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 says, noting “Blessings” represents a significant step up sonically over the first two Sublime with Rome albums.
Ramirez also says “Blessings” might be a bit more reggae oriented than the first two albums, but there’s also plenty of musical variety.
With the album finished and the band beginning to play shows, one of the major challenges is crafting a set list that retains the back catalog songs fans want to hear while figuring out which new songs are connecting best with audiences.
One thing the group won’t do to make room for new material 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 people’s throats. People come out to have a really good time and hear some of their favorite music,” Ramirez says. “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.”