Photo by Marc Thomas Kallweit
Meet the Rome of Sublime of Rome
By Chrissy Mauck
“I ain’t got no crystal ball,” but even we did, no one would have believed this one …
Like most guitarists, Bay Area-native Rome Ramirez was inspired to learn how to play guitar in order to play along to songs by his favorite artist. Unlike most guitarists, he actually wound up fronting the very band that ignited his musical passion. In fact, the 23-year-old even served as the catalyst for the resurrection of Sublime, a Long Beach, Calif., ska-punk outfit that, coincidentally, formed in 1988 — the same year he was born.
Ramirez sums it up best when we catch up with him during Sublime with Rome’s summer tour with 311.
“It’s totally insane,” he says.
The insane tale began when 11-year-old Ramirez was first introduced to signature Sublime songs including “What I Got” and “Santeria” by his uncle. The tunes so inspired him that he decided to pick up a guitar.
“I heard Sublime that summer and fell in love with their music,” he remembers. “I kept telling my dad all the time about how I needed a guitar so I could learn their songs. So he got me a guitar. I started learning how to put chords together and properly pick strings and stuff.”
The self-taught guitarist discovered his biggest challenge when it came to picking up the guitar parts in 1996 hit “Wrong Way.”
|Photo by Marc Thomas Kallweit|
“It’s not just like two chords back and forth; there’s probably eight or nine total chords the whole entire song, and it’s a fast-paced ska riff,” says Ramirez. “I definitely didn’t really know much about the whole reggae-ska-punk thing (at the time), so that took me a while. It was definitely the first song I came across that I really thought was a challenge.”
Fast forward another decade and Ramirez would cross paths with Sublime bassist Eric Wilson at a recording studio in Orange County. The pair began getting together to jam, and eventually Wilson called up longtime but somewhat estranged friend Bud Gaugh, Sublime’s drummer, to let him know about a kid he thought Gaugh should meet.
“The call came out of the blue,” Gaugh recalls. “We hadn’t talked in a couple of years. Eric said, ‘This guy Rome can play guitar like a mofo and he’s got a platinum voice.’ It really struck me because those are almost the exact same words he used before he introduced me to Brad.”
Brad being original Sublime singer/guitarist Bradley Nowell, who died of a drug overdose in 1996, a few months before Sublime’s self-titled third album debuted at no. 13 on the Billboard 200.
Sublime split up immediately after Nowell’s death and remained defunct until its surviving members met up in Reno with the young Ramirez for a jam session.
“It felt right,” shares Ramirez. “It felt organic. We played for like 10 hours straight that day and it was just a blast. It was a really big, important and emotional day for all of us.”
Tthe band changed its name from Sublime to Sublime with Rome in January 2010 after settling a lawsuit with Nowell’s estate, and summer 2011 found the new lineup co-headlining a tour with 311 in support of July debut album Yours Truly.
“We played in front of audiences that were twice as big as last summer,” says Ramirez. “We’ve been working the new record, playing some new songs and having a good time.
“Every day is kind of a pinch-me moment, to be honest with you,” he continues. “Every day something happens where I’m like, I can’t believe this is my life right now.”
It’s simply sublime.
Q: What was the writing and collaboration process like for Yours Truly?
A: We had been collecting riffs and song ideas on tour and at soundchecks and rehearsals, but we mainly did all the writing on the spot. Half the album is songs that I had previously written and recorded. I just showed the dudes and they kind of tweaked them up a little bit and made them sound a little more Sublime-like. The other half of the album we just did on the spot. We like it to be organic. We like playing one or two takes on it — not sitting in front of pro tools and fu–ing trying to go take after take after take until it’s perfect. We just track it as a band, get it right and hope for the best.
Q: Where do you draw your lyrical inspiration?
A: Lyrics are always reflective of the mood and the feelings at the time. Some of those songs on the album are three or four years old and some of them are brand new. During the album process, I was in a blues state of mind. I was listening to a lot of old Led Zeppelin and Muddy Waters and a lot of Motown and soul — Stevie Wonder. I was on a blues kick and I wanted to tell a lot of stories and give specific examples.
Q: Can you share a song that has a real personal story to it?
A: There’s a song on the album called “She’s a Murder,” and it’s about a Fourth of July, probably about four or five years ago. I was at a party and I was with my girlfriend of two years and I got insanely wasted. I don’t think I had ever drank Sailor Jerry (rum) before and I think I drank like half of a bottle over the course of two hours. I eventually blacked out and got in the hot tub with one of my girlfriend’s super-hot friends. I guess I started talking to her and making out with her and I got kicked out of the party and she dumped me. I hopped over the fence — and broke it, I guess — and then I guess I peed on the window. Then I got in my van and took off and my girlfriend ran after me and was hanging on the car door mirror, so everyone came outside to look at what was going on. It looked like I just took off and ran her over, but that wasn’t even the case; it wasn’t even me driving. I was in the shotgun; too wasted. It was my brother, but he looks just like me. It’s all in the song. It’s pretty crazy. That’s probably the one that hits the most personal. Everybody hated me, basically. So that song is totally true; I couldn’t make that up.
Q: You said that “Every day feels like a pinch-me moment” We’re guessing one such moment was hearing your song “Panic” on the radio en route to cracking the top 10 on Billboard’s Rock Songs chart and reaching no. four on its Alternative Songs chart.
A: Definitely. It’s awesome. It’s amazing, especially because it was the first song we’d ever written together. So we’re definitely super-stoked on that whole thing.
Q: Have you felt any pressure stepping into Brad Nowell’s role?
A: Naw, it’s been totally fun. The only pressure I ever get is the pressure I put on myself. I don’t really feel much pressure from anyone else. I just know that if I go up there and me, Bud and Eric are having a good time and just genuinely happy, it shows. The fans totally pick up on that. It’s a wonderful opportunity and we are just having a blast. There’s pressure, I’m sure, but I don’t really pay any attention to it. There’s too much positive going on.
Q: You’ve been playing the Road Worn Player Stratocaster lately, but how long have you been a Strat guy in general?
A: I‘ve wanted a Fender Strat since day one, but they were too expensive for a kid’s first guitar, so my dad got me this Fender knockoff. I used to tell all of my friends that it was an actual Fender Stratocaster, but that my sister broke the neck and we had to change it. I eventually got a Stratocaster when I was about 15. I’ve stopped playing crappy guitars.
Q: That’s kind of harsh, blaming that on your sister.
A: Yeah, it was a lie; never happened. It was like a $99 guitar. I wanted a Strat, so I pretended it was and blamed it on my younger sister.
Q: Why did you choose the Road Worn series?
A: I just love how it is already broken in. I don’t like a sharp-edge guitar or a new-feeling guitar. I just like the feeling of old guitars; already worn in; great sounding — like somebody else had it on tour for 30 years. That’s exactly how the Road Worn feels to me. Mainly though, I’m just a Stratocaster boy all the way. It’s the only guitar I’ll ever play onstage.
In fact, one time I made the mistake of not playing my Strat. I was playing this show in Virginia last year and oh man, I accidentally finished a bottle of wine before going onstage. I would pour a glass and then pour another one and then I went to pour another and it was just gone and I was like, “Oh f–k.” So then I had to go onstage and I was clearly wasted. My manager played a Les Paul sometimes, and he had it side stage, and I was like, “Give me the Les Paul for this song.” I grabbed it — mind you, this is the only time I’ve ever played a non-Stratocaster onstage, ever. I put it on and it weighed like 80,000 pounds, and I started playing the song and it just wasn’t for me. I got on the mic and was like, “This is the first time and the last time you’ll see me playing a guitar like this.” Halfway through the song I just had to get my Stratocaster back. It just makes my job that much easier and that much better.
Q: Who are some of your key guitar influences?
A: Tom Morello; Larry LaLonde from Primus; Jimmy Page, of course; Pete Townshend. Dr. Know from Bad Brains. Hendrix. Those guys.
Q: Any guilty pleasures when it comes to music?
A: If you know me, you know that I listen to all kinds of shit — all kinds. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Skrillex and Black Keys, but probably my guilty-pleasure music is Sade. I love Sade. She’s so awesome. It’s not even the whole “have sex” thing. It’s just so relaxing to listen to — soothing.