Sublime with Rome Counts Their Blessings
By Rebecca Scott & Josh Matthews
Photo by Andreas Ramirez
While Sublime is forever cemented in music culture, Sublime with Rome is writing their own story with an already rich history and a future that is looking brighter than ever. We caught up with the band’s lead singer of twelve years, Rome Ramirez, while touring across the western US en-route to perform at Avondale Brewery on July 29.
Rome, you were only 18 years old when you became the catalyst for reuniting the most famous ska-punk band of all time. The story of how you became the frontman of Sublime is the stuff of rock n’ roll legend. How did this come to be?
I was living in Los Angeles, and I started recording with some musicians, and one of them was a girl who was working at a studio in Orange County. The owner of that studio was really good friends with [Eric] the bass player of Sublime. I just met him by chance one day at that studio, and then I started to work at that studio, and I started to see Eric all the time, and we just became buddies, and we would jam all the time. He would invite me to his parties, and we would play music, and one day out of the blue, like three years later, he called me at like 2 in the morning and was just like, “Yo, would you be down to sing for Sublime?” And I was like, “S–– man, whatever you want. I’m super down!” From then, it was the whole next chapter in my life.
You were a fan first, right?
Yeah, they were my favorite band. For me, it was just surreal even knowing him. I can remember texting my friends, “Dude, I’m at Wilson’s house right now. You remember that picture we always see of Sublime? I’m looking at the real one! In the frame!” You know, it was things like that that were just super f––ing surreal.
That says a lot about you, though.
[Eric] saw something in me that kind of reminded him of himself. He’s extremely passionate about music. I’m extremely passionate about music, almost to a fault, you know? We let this s–– run our lives, so, anyone who’s like that has an instant in with Eric because he’s not really a man of many words. He doesn’t express himself that way. He communicates very strongly through the music.
If you could go back and give your 18-year-old self advice about how to play that hand, what would you say?
It’s really hard to say because we’re still here and everything’s running awesome. We all feel like we’re at the pinnacle of this band right now. We’ve never sounded better, we’ve never put out better music.
So it’s kind of weird to look back and make a statement because we’re so happy with where we’re at. First thing I would say, which I would tell anybody, is watch how much you drink because you can get yourself into some trouble.
It’s been, what, 12 years since you joined the band?
Sublime with Rome, as you are known today, this recent album and current tour, feels like a revival, and you’re most certainly having a moment. What do you attribute this to, and how have the veterans of the band responded?
I think it’s kind of all happening in different sectors. We wrote a song last summer that did really well for us on radio, and when you do something across radio, you have a lot of people listening to it, and they are affected differently by it. Then the blogs started to pick up. Then Sublime is releasing this crazy deep dive documentary about the band, going back over the legacy of Sublime. It’s by an award-winning director, and it did really well at Sundance. So we have that going on simultaneously, creating more hype around Sublime. And Lana Del Ray just did a cover of “Doing Time” by one of the biggest producers in the game. So now we have new fans given the chance of exposure to “Doing Time” and Sublime. It’s all these different things happening all at once right now. And music style even, with rap music now fading out as being the top genre streaming, now people want different stuff because of what’s been on the radio over the last 10 years. There’s now more of a demand for rock n’ roll and bands, and not specifically Sublime, but mix some hip-hop, mix some reggae with some punk rock and some rock, and it’s a great time for that. It feels like, naturally, the world is creating a time for Sublime.
You guys certainly cross-pollinate across genres better than most anyone I’ve ever heard. Let’s talk about the new album, Blessings. There are few albums that I can play at any given time, regardless of what kind of day I am having or where I am in life, and immediately feel good about things. Atlantis: Hymns for Disco by K-OS, Stephen Marley’s Mind Control are the two that immediately come to mind.
Now Blessings. It’s an optimistic feeling record. I hesitate to say it’s the “feel-good” album of the year, but it truly is, without the corny cliche’. How much of this album is a result of your influence, and what has inspired the group as a whole lately?
Lyrically, I have to attribute that to just growing up; having a family and having a child. Just growing up and looking back on everything and reflecting over the last 10 years of my life. Right now, for example, I’m looking out of the tour bus window, in the back lounge, and I’m looking at Las Vegas at 31 years old. Ten years ago, I was coming into Las Vegas to do residency for night clubs, playing Sublime. I’d go there, I would do one of the Sublime with Rome singles, then I would do “Santeria,” and we would party all night and go home. Ten years later and not much has changed except we don’t party as hard. But we’re still coming to Las Vegas to jam and play music, and this is my job! That’s just something that I look at from a macro perspective, and I thought, I need to write this down. I need to write about this. F–– writing about anything else. I need to write about this because if I can do it, then anyone can do it, and I think it’s a story that people need to hear.
One thing that stood out to me was how differently each track opened: a simple bass line, guitar riffs & birdsong, horns, etc…but it is a very coherent record. Can you talk a little about your process for writing and then developing these different elements? In past interviews, you’ve mentioned that you write lots of lyrics and chords, and then Eric arranges a lot of the sound combos/mixes. Is that still accurate, and was that always Eric’s role in Sublime? (Sandpoint Reader, July 12, 2018)
It’s kind of weird. Sometimes get sh–– for it, but I write songs in segments. Very rarely if ever do I write all the lyrics for something or start a song from the very beginning to the end. I may write the chorus first, and try to write the chorus as best as possible, or I’ll have an idea for a verse, and I’ll just start carving out a verse, and because of that, my songs can sound a bit blocky so to speak. I think that’s kind of the thing that you’re talking about. For me, it kind of helps me to be able to throw around the music throughout the songs. So I could make an awesome intro with some of the horns that I recorded in the chorus, or I can make like a really bad-a–– bridge with some of the music that I had in the pre-chorus. You see what I’m saying? So, it’s almost like Legos in production and songwriting. I think Eric works really well with that. It’s just been our way of putting together different ideas and different songs, and it’s natural for us to tackle songs like that. That’s how I usually start them when I’m by myself, and I have the frame for the song and the lyrics, and I’ll just bring them over to the guys, and Eric will do his thing.
So Eric continues to arrange and play that role?
He still has the final call over the arrangement of everything. He doesn’t really touch on the lyrics, and he lets me do what I do with melodies and stuff, but as far as the arrangement goes, I’ll have a song in pretty good shape, and then I’ll bring over to him, and it’s “What are you hearing, Dog? What are you thinking?” He’ll say, “Let’s speed this up, let’s slow this down, let’s do this half time, or let’s do this double time, let’s go ska right here,” or he’ll say, “Instead of bass right here, I want to try this new bass synth that I got.” He’s into all that kind of s––. After the song is kind of formed, sonically he has a lot of input.”
Could you talk about working with Rob Cavallo and how he has made a mark on this album?
I’m really used to kind of doing the blunt end work of producing for the band, but in this situation, it was just f– rad because he is the producer’s producer, just a legendary rock producer. For me it, it humbled me and put me to the side, and now I’m like, “Okay, I have this real beast motherf––er in here doing some crazy s––.” What I thought he would do is not really what he did. He brought a whole other value to the band, which helped us focus on the strength of the song and capturing what we do to the best quality possible. I’m so involved in the song, and that’s where my heart is, in the song, and after we’re done with one song I want to move to the next song. Where I may want to record the guitar part and move on to the vocals, Rob is like, “No, let’s record the best guitar part.” And it sounds stupid, but I’m questioning ‘why?’ It’s just a guitar. We just need a skank guitar, right? But not after when he does it. It’s the right amp with the right guitar. He’ll say, “Yo, lay back on the feeling,” that kind of stuff that doesn’t really exist in today’s modern music. And I know he played a huge role in why the album sounds as big as it does. Because of the way he’s able to capture these sounds and really have the band playing at its full efficiency.
Earlier, you eluded to a bit of a return in our culture to the musicianship of rock n’ roll and the rock band. We feel that musicianship, in combination with a real culture of collaboration here in Birmingham, is what’s driving our local music renaissance. Can you talk about what collaborating with other artists and other bands has meant for y’all? What role has it played in your process of developing your sound and your goals?
It’s imperative. You have to collaborate. F––, why wouldn’t you? We’re in music! But rock music kind of suffers from that I feel like. One of the reasons that rap music became such a dominant genre over the last 10 years is because of the ability to produce the music for relatively cheap and get it out into the world faster and in abundance, but mainly because of the collaboration behind it. There are so many people collaborating with other people, collaborating with other songwriters, with other producers, someone who sings the hook versus someone who just dropped a rap verse. It creates more people, by default, and it gets heard by more people. I think Sublime was one of the first bands that I ever heard that was a rock band but would have a random rapper, or have Snoop Dogg do a remix. It was really open-ended. I think that’s what made Sublime super dope, too, because they collaborated so well with so many other styles and other artists from different genres. It just brought way more eyes and ears to the band. I think we’re seeing that happen today really well.
How has the balance between your passion for music and your drive to make your living off of your art shifted, if any?
Only in the sense of having to think about providing for my children. You have to be mindful of where art and commerce intersect. That’s where you have a career. It’s not f––in’ full time, stay out all night, hang out in the studio, just making songs. You have to have some kind of business behind it, as well. And the older you get, at least in my experience, the more time and focus you put on to the other side of the equation, the business side. But you can’t let that be a detriment to the creative because that’s the thing that really pays the bills, you know. I always try to keep that balance of not taking myself too seriously, but at the same time, being smart. Being with a good label helps as well. My brother and I have 6 or 7 artists signed, and it keeps me involved with the youth and peoples careers who aren’t on tour buses and aren’t smashing stages, so the fire is always around me. The passion is always around me, and I think that helps me become a better songwriter, a better producer and frontman alone, you know?
We are pumped about y’ all coming to Avondale Brewery on this tour. Talk about the kinds of venues that you like to play and the vibes fans can expect from seeing you live?
I like playing the smaller clubs, or the giant f––ing festivals. They’re super extremes, but I don’t know, I get a kick out of playing the really small punk rock kind of shows or those really massive YouTube sized shows.
So, in the week leading up to your show, we are doing something that we’ve never done before. You’re taking over MusicBham’s Instagram. What can our followers expect to see from you in that week?
Honestly, it’s just kind of the day-to-day, a look into what we do you know? You’ll see us roll into town, maybe consume some marijuana, maybe consume an alcoholic beverage or two, talk with some friends, maybe some behind the scenes of backstage, a look into what our hard-working crew does, and a look at the lifestyle. And if you like it, then maybe you should
go and start a band.
I read a perspective that “current-day weed culture is somehow even lamer than ‘90s weed culture-give me ponchos and gravity bongs over weedtrepreneurs and CBD lattes any day of the week”. (The Fader)
So, the essential question is ‘bongs or lattes?’
Give me f––in’ bongs all day!