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Sublime Making the Most of '40oz.' of Success

O.C. Pop Beat

May 04, 1995|MIKE BOEHM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONG BEACH — Sublime has moved up in the rock world lately, but the punkand-reggae band's progress has brought certain sacrifices.

With its topical but cartoonish song "Date Rape" jumping onto alternative-rock playlists around the country, Sublime was able to afford hotel rooms for the first time as it toured over the past three months.

But that meant traveling without Louie, singer-guitarist Brad Nowell's pet Dalmatian and, until lately, Sublime's touring companion on the group's low-budget, sleep-in-the-van road trips.

Louie, the cover-dog on Sublime's "40oz. to Freedom" CD, stayed home with Nowell's girlfriend, Troy Dendekker, and their other dog, a young Rottweiler named Bishop.

"Louie's like Brad's alter ego," Dendekker said last week as she stood near the patio of a waterfront restaurant, where Sublime had decided to turn an appointed newspaper interview into a lunch outing for its extended family. "He cruises through the audience, he's on stage. You can tell he likes the attention."

The Sublime entourage included a couple of girlfriends, two male buddies and three canines, in addition to the three band members and their manager-producer, Mike Happoldt. Home just a week after a long haul on the road, the band wasn't about to miss an opportunity to mix business with pleasure.

Luckily for the other restaurant patrons, Louie showed a lot of composure for one of his hyperactive breed, and the 100-pound Bishop was more apt to whine for his master's company than to display any stereotypical Rottweiler-ish aggressiveness.

(Sublime will play for an audience of 10,000 on Saturday, capping the opening day of the Board in South Bay weekend punk-rock and skateboarding festival in Carson.)

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If you examined Sublime's album art, song lyrics and publicity photos, you might assume that Nowell, bassist Eric Wilson and drummer Floyd (Bud) Gaugh were much taken with the pleasures of drinking alcoholic beverages, smoking pot and keeping dogs. (Wilson also came to the interview with a pet, his little basenji-terrier mix, Toby.) Hanging out with Sublime for a while does nothing to dispel the impression that this is a band that believes in the punk ethic of not making a great separation between life and art.

It's telling that the first words on Sublime's hot-selling "40oz." album--"Punk rock changed our lives"--come from the sampled voice of D. Boon, the late singer of the Minutemen, the adventurous early-'80s punk-alternative band.

Like the Minutemen, Sublime's Nowell, Wilson and Bud (as he prefers to be known) took punk as a starting point but defined it broadly. The band has its fast, thrashing moments--the tattooed, buzz-cut Bud joked that the more violently the mosh-pit churns, the more relentlessly Sublime is apt to play.

But reggae is the real foundation of Sublime's sound, rap is a liberally applied spice and Nowell's soulful singing and ear for pop melodies are its most distinctive and promising attributes.

Nowell, a man of many dimpled grins but few words, started playing punk rock with the massive, pink-faced Wilson about 12 years ago, when they were teen-agers in the Long Beach neighborhood of Belmont Shore.

Nowell's home-builder father (a guitarist known for strumming Jim Croce songs at parties) and his mother (a piano teacher and classical flute player) gave him his first guitar lessons.

"They've been supportive," he said, although "my mom doesn't like all the F-words" that crop up in Sublime's songs.

By age 10, Nowell was listening to Bob Marley's music. He moved deeper into reggae as he listened in his teens to Jamaican specialty shows on the radio.

"He was making me play (reggae). I didn't want to play it," Wilson, 25, recalled of their early bands. Nowell, 27, says he didn't press the point.

"I was trying to get them to do 'Cherry Oh Baby,' (a song popularized by British reggae band UB40), and it didn't work. They tried, but it just sounded like such garbage," Nowell said. "We were horrible."

Nowell went off to UC Santa Cruz for two years, then transferred to Cal State Long Beach to study finance. He says he is one semester short of a degree, but "I have all the hard classes left. . . . I doubt I'll ever go back."

With his return to Long Beach in 1988, Sublime was formed. Wilson brought in drummer Gaugh--pronounced "goff"--a boyhood neighbor who had been taught to play by Wilson's father, a big-band jazz drummer who died three years ago.

"Date Rape" was one of the first songs the band worked up in sessions at Bud's garage. Out of the garage and into various back yards, Sublime established itself by playing as often as it could, usually at private parties.

"We played some pretty rough neighborhoods," Wilson recalled. "You'd have to be afraid of your own safety. Gangster kids would show up at the parties, and there would be trouble. Somebody got stabbed one time."

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