Last week, I had the honor and distinct privilege of interviewing the frontman of one of my all-time favorite bands, Sublime.
Now, I’d like to preface what you’re about to read by saying I’m not really the kind of guy who gets star-struck. I’ve never concerned myself with the lush lifestyles associated with the wealthy bougie bohemian-types who run around Hollywood Boulevard, and I certainly wouldn’t give a shit if I crossed paths with one of them in the street.
But, I’ll admit, I was nervous about speaking with Rome Ramirez. On one hand, I would have hated discovering that he was just another spoiled, dick head rock star. And on the other, the anxiety involved with getting to interview one of the most influential bands of my life was almost overwhelming.
In the end, I can say that Rome was legitimately one of the nicest, most humble people I’ve ever interviewed. He’s only a couple years older than myself, yet his tremendous talent and wealth of accomplishments are truly mind blowing, and the credit and reputation he has received in the music industry is 100 percent deserved.
We talked for a little over a half hour, he and I. And in that short amount of time, my perception of him completely changed. He went from possibly being some big-shot rock star, living it up, kicking ass and taking names, to an honest kid, not much older than myself, who came from the same environment I did; who, by fate, fortune, and an unspeakable amount of hard work, was given a shot at his dream. And he took it.
This is a good one. Enjoy.
Alright, well, before we start, I just wanted to take the opportunity to tell you that I lost my virginity to Sublime, so uhhh, thanks so much forreal for getting 13-year-old me laid!
Rome Ramirez: (Laughing) Well, chances are, when you lost your virginity, I was probably the same age. I lost my virginity to Bleach by Nirvana!
Wow, that must have been a very weird sex session.
Rome Ramirez: (Laughing) Yeah!
Alright, so let’s get into it. It blows my mind that you’ve been the frontman for Sublime for five years now! It honestly seems like it was only a year or two ago that Sublime announced that they’d be coming back, and that you’d be stepping up to the plate. Has the time passed as quickly for you?
Rome Ramirez: Time flew by! I seriously can’t believe it has been five years. So much shit has happened, so much shit has changed, and we’ve just done so many things and been to so many places. It feels like it was just last year that we were together and ready to play [the Cypress Hill] Smokeout for the first time. It’s a trip how fast time flies.
When it was first announced that you were taking over as Sublime’s frontman, you caught a lot of flack from some of the band’s most diehard fans. I’m sure it wasn’t very easy for you to deal with. How did you handle it at the time, and would you say things have since changed?
Rome Ramirez: Well, I never really paid attention to any of that, man. I know that sounds so nonchalant, but I’ve never really paid attention to that kind of shit. I was never the richest kid at school, so I’d get picked on for the clothes I’d wear. I’m not the most fit dude in the world, so I used to get picked on for how shitty I skated. I come from the world of not being “the guy,” of not being “the dude.” I come from the reject world. We’re just rejects out of Oakland, [Calif.] and people don’t really give us that much time or attention.
Of course people are going to attack me, because they’re just trying to protect the thing they love so much. And that thing is called Sublime. So I can’t really knock them for having such harsh feelings, because here I am stepping into something they hold so sacred.
But I’m no stranger to being put down and having my face shoved in the dirt, so when people would be like, “You’ll never be Bradley [Nowell]” I was just like, “Dude, you’re going to have to say a lot more to me than that to get me out of this band.” Because I come from that, I come from rejection. I am the product of rejection.
Obviously, you have some pretty big shoes to fill, and I’m sure that played largely into account when Sublime went into the studio to record Yours Truly. I read that you’re going back into the studio this November, and that you’ve already got some new stuff laid down. What kind of mentality are you bringing with you into the studio this time around, and how does it differ from your mindset for Yours Truly?
I’m very reflective. Yours Truly was five years ago, and at that time, it was just three guys. Bud [Gaugh] and Eric [Wilson] had just talked for the first time in like, eight years, and I just met these guys that grew up on my fucking wall… The energy was unique, to say the least.
But now, five years later, we pick each others’ noses and fart in front of each other, you know? Everything is out there. Now it’s about coming together and making an incredible album.
This time around, I really want to capture the essence of the New York Dolls, the essence of Iggy Pop and the Stooges, and apply it to the streets, with groups like NWA and that East LA rap sound — and then make it reggae. I think that if we go to the utmost, grimiest part of every one of the genres, and put it all together, we’ll come out with something very unique.
I’ve always wondered how it all happened for you. I mean, let’s face it — you don’t really have all that much in common with the surviving members of Sublime. So how did this all come to fruition? How was the auditioning process?
Rome Ramirez: I met Eric Wilson while I was at 17th Street Recording Studio, because he was a friend of the owner, Lewis Richards. We just became homies. And he would always have these dope-ass parties, and he’d always have his band rig set up. He had a [Iggy Pop] cover band called The STyMiES, and they’d play these parties.
One day — I think it was Halloween — he was like, “Hey dude, Kelly Vargas is here. Would you be interested in playing a couple Sublime songs?” I was just like, “Dude, fuck yeah, man! No problem! Let’s do it!” So we played a couple Sublime songs for the party and it totally went off. Everyone was having a blast! And then every party he had from that point on, we just kept doing that. [Editor’s Note: Kelly Vargas was the drummer of sublime from 1992 to 1993]
And then one day, him and our soon-to-be manager sat down and came up with the idea, and he just called me up and asked if I wanted to sing for Sublime. At first I was just like, “What the fuck are you talkin’ about?” And he explained that he wanted to start the band, and that he’d call Bud, and that we would do that. I was just like, “Yeah, of course, whatever you want!” So he called Bud up and we went over to his house and started jamming. The guys hadn’t talked for eight years!
It would be an awesome story if I could tell you that there was like, a line around the block and we all had to audition, but the reality is that these two guys didn’t even fucking like each other. And Eric saw something in me and said, “This is fun, I think I could do this again. I was robbed of this opportunity the first time around, but I think I could do it.” And he called Bud and said, “Dude, just listen to this kid. I’m coming over, just listen to this guy.” So we drove down to Bud’s house and we just started jamming.
I spent all this time as a kid listening to Sublime, and when you do that for so long, you start to develop these little back-stories about the band members (or maybe it’s just me?). Anyway, whenever I’d see Eric Wilson on a live recording, he always struck me as the guy on the sidelines, smoking a cigar, just hanging out… Kind of like that uncle that you love, but would really never want to fuck with. How would you describe him? Was I close?
Rome Ramirez: (Laughing) Eric Wilson is the last punk rocker on Earth. He’s the last true one. He’s a real rock star, and he’s always been a rock star. He’s not social, he doesn’t care about you, he doesn’t want to meet you, he doesn’t like hanging around with a bunch of people, and all he wants to do is fuckin’ play music. That’s all that guy likes to do.
That’s Eric. He’s the biggest genius in the world, and he’s anti-social, but he’s very much the kindest dude you’ve ever met. He will literally give you the shirt off his back; he’ll go to the furthest distance just to help you out. But it takes a while for him to open up like that.
I always just had the mentality that he had a heart of gold, but just wasn’t a guy you’d ever want to fuck around with or cross up.
Rome Ramirez: Oh yeah! I mean, I’ve never seen Eric dish out anything really, but I heard a story about him punching somebody once, and it wasn’t pretty.
Hah! Yeah, I always figured that’d be the case. So you just finished up your own solo record. I heard the release of “If The World,” and it sounds promising, but I was blown away by how entirely different it is from what I’d normally expect from you. I like the energetic melody and punchy percussion, but it’s very poppy, very dance-y. Would you say that’s what you were going for with this album, or can we expect something different from the rest of it?
Rome Ramirez: That’s actually the only song that sounds like that on the entire album. In fact, it’s pretty funny that you’d pick that one, cause the other nine songs are all… Well, I was listening to a lot of The Clash and Bow Wow Wow while I was recording, so everything has a guitar solo over it, and lots of layers of drums, and I had Josh Freese and Michael McDermott from the Bouncing Souls come by. (Interviewer’s Note: at this point, I rudely interrupted him and screamed, “YEAH! JERSEY REPRESENT!” — always gotta keep it real.)
Yeah! That’s my boy right there! But yeah, it’s very versatile as far as production goes, and “If The World” definitely stands out, because it’s a very intimate song. If you hear the rest of the album, it has more a youthful swing to it.
When Sublime With Rome first came back, the news broke that you were signing with Fueled By Ramen, and I was immediately skeptical about that move. Is there any particular reason why you went with them? Have you ever considered releasing stuff on your own label? I hear that’s the trend with the industry right now, seeing as recording equipment has become so publicly available.
Well, any band needs to sign to a label for two reasons:
- They’re going to pay you for your record.
- You have some strong people in that building who will fight for your shit.
Those are the only two reasons why you sign to a label. Other than that, you don’t need them. Like you said, technology is very available right now for people to put out their own records and print their own CD’s.
But at the end of the day, a label puts a force behind you that’s going to work for you, and how much money they’re going to dish out for you to put out a record.
At the time, we reached out and were talking to everybody. But Fueled By Ramen had a guy named John Janick. John Janick started Fueled By Ramen. He’s responsible for a couple small bands you may have heard of: Gym Class Heroes, Fun — a couple of them.
So anyway, he saw something in Sublime and was like, “Dude, get me an album with you guys, and I have a grand plan.” We signed to Fueled By Ramen, and that guy was a good dude who could make plenty of power moves. But shortly after we signed with them, he was given the opportunity to take Jimmy Iovine’s role at Interscope Records. Of course, he had to take advantage of such an amazing opportunity. So now we lost our powerhouse, our gladiator in the building.
Now, to address the second part of your question, yeah, we’d love to start our own label, but like you said about everyone else doing it, yeah, they are, but they’re not. They’re just forming subsidiary companies under major labels. You need those guys, man. You could go all indie, and punk rock, and DIY, but at the end of the day, you’re going to sign a major label contract with somebody, because who’s going to take your fucking record to radio? There are dudes who work for the record labels, who dress up nice, who put on cologne, and they fly around the country, show up to radio stations early in the morning, and say, “Hi, I’m Greg! I’m the radio guy at Atlantic Records! Nice to meet you! Here are some songs!” That’s their whole job. You’re not going to do that, because you’re busy playing shows. There’s a whole team of people that all come together and have to work, and hopefully make everything align to release a great record.
But the true sense of independence, of being an independent artist, being a young child and just uploading a song to SoundCloud and getting rich and famous off of it? That doesn’t happen. It requires business people who can run a team and can handle everything with you, because there’s so much to it all, to this industry. Just putting out music on SoundCloud doesn’t work anymore.
For someone who plays light-hearted, poppy ska-punk, you’re extremely business-oriented. You have a real solid head on your shoulders. But even I can’t figure out how you managed to work with Enrique Iglesias. How the hell did that happen?
Rome Ramirez: I write all kinds of songs! I’ve written songs for Jason Derulo, Selena Gomez, Enrique Iglesias, Pitbull, Jennifer Lopez — It’s what I do. I just love writing music.
I love to do this shit, man. It’s my bread and butter. All I’ve ever wanted to do was produce records, write records, and just do music. So, when I’m off the road and not doing Sublime, and not working on my albums or anything, what else am I going to do? Go camping and shit, or go to the beach every day? That’d be great and all, but the world needs better music, so I have to go into the studio and make some bomb-ass music for these people. It’s my civil responsibility! (Laughing)
You’re also listed as one of the producers on the latest Dirty Heads record, Sound of Change, which is absolutely killing it on the charts right now. I know you worked with them on “Lay Me Down,” but how did that come to fruition?
Rome Ramirez: I did that entire record! Two other guys just produced a couple tracks, but I produced that entire record to the tee! I ate, slept, and breathed that fucking record for one month, slept on the floor of the studio, and I know every snare, every kick drum, every vocal — everything. We planned that entire thing out and I helped with the entire album. That was one of the greatest things that ever happened to me in my entire life. I’ve never produced a full band before, let alone a major label band and a full-length LP. I’ve done recordings for people, but I’ve never done a full album before. So that was a huge opportunity for me. And as a young man who has never done any of that, I was in over my head! I didn’t know what the fuck I was going to do. But I started to get it, and it worked out.
It all started as a writing session. The guys came over to my pad, and we have a full-blown studio over here. So we just came together for a writing session, hopefully do another “Lay Me Down” or something, and the guys came to me and were like, “Dude, I’m so fucking over this shit! If I have to write a song with a skank ever again, I’m going to blow my fuckin’ head off.” Jared [“Dirty J” Watson] wouldn’t shut up about, “Man, I’m so sick of writing about the beach, and palm trees, and the sand” and all this shit. I was just like, “Dude, I get what you’re saying. You guys are ready to evolve. You guys are ready to grow.” So I told them that we should just write some crazy stuff, and that’s what happened. We came up with “Sound of Change” in one day. And everyone loved the song! They were blown away!
So they stayed for another day, and two days later we came up with “One Hand,” and they just kept coming back for more. And we kept writing and producing, and we were shaping the album as we were writing it. The whole time this was happening, they were looking for producers. Meanwhile, I’m producing these recordings as we’re going along, and when it came down to crunch time, I just said, “I’ll produce the whole fuckin’ thing!” And that’s how the whole record took off.
I think we’re at that special part of the interview where I feel comfortable enough to tell you to stop being a dick, that I’m exceptionally jealous because you’re literally two years older than me, yet you’ve accomplished more than most people do in their entire lifetimes. Please stop making the rest of us look bad.
Rome Ramirez: (Laughing) I wasn’t born with any crazy gift or anything, you know? That whole, “You’re born with talent” thing? That’s fuckin’ bullshit man. That’s the most played out shit in the world. Only idiots believe that. It’s really all just about how you apply your time. And I’ll tell that to anybody! It’s math, really. If you spend all your time smoking crack, you’re gonna be the fuckin’ best crack head on Earth! Right? If you spend all your time shooting free throws, your free throw game is going to be insane! It’s the same with music. You just have to align every moment and every opportunity to make sure that you’re honing a craft — and for me, that craft is music.
Ok, so here’s a series of rapid-fire questions. One or two-word answers will suffice.
Favorite city to perform in with Sublime With Rome and why?
Anywhere in South America.
Which city has the best food?
Probably New York City. The variety out there is crazy, and they had really killer sushi.
Best weed? This is important.
California. All day long.
Right on. Ok, last question. If you were stuck on a desert island and only had one beer to drink for the rest of your life, what would it be?
211 Steel Reserve!
Hoodrat shit! That’s actually kind of terrifying.
Yeah, it’s just my favorite beer. It just goes to show what kind of person I am.
So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. Party on.
8/16: Antelope Valley Fair – Lancaster, CA
8/23: Isleta Ampitheater – Albuquerque, NM
8/30: Made in America Festival – Los Angeles, CA
9/6: ENVOL EN MACADAM Festival – Quebec, Canada