A Sublime Legacy

sublime2Up-strokes on the guitar, but not as slow as reggae and not as fast as ska. A bass line that had tinges of funk and hip hop in it. The bassist was usually the talented one. Drums held together by sixteen notes on the high hat and high pitched snare drum hits.

It’s the sound of Sublime. Or more specifically, The Sound of Sublime or That Sublime Sound or Sounds Like Sublime.

You know what I’m talking about.

Since a whole generation of musicians got turned on to the short-lived southern California band, you’ve had the pleasure of hearing that distinctive sound at clubs, patio bars, beach bars, frat houses and skate parks. That sound, The Sound of Sublime, supplanted punk and then grunge as the go-to sound for young bands in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. It was easy at first glance, easy enough to latch onto and make your own. Even though you really weren’t making it your own. You were making it your own in the way stealing someone’s lunch and putting your name on it makes it yours. It’s what bands do before they’ve found a sound of their own. No shame in it. It’s just how the game goes.

You are your influences before your influences become your jumping off point.

I was in the trenches, out there among these bands, was one of these bands, when that Sublime sound became dominant and increasingly prevalent. The Nirvana-style three piece had faded into the distance and now it was the Sublime-style three piece. The sound, the mash-up of reggae, ska and rock was similar to punk in longevity. Punk was a part of it if you were so inclined. Hip Hop was as well. The tent was the up strokes of the guitar and under that tent it all made sense. It didn’t all make music, but it all made sense.

I bring this up because on June 18th, 3 Ring Circus: Live at the Palace October 21, 1995, a Sublime live album, is being released. The show took place seven months before lead singer and guitarist Bradley Nowell died of a heroin over dose and nine months before the release of the band’s break through album, Sublime, was released. This live album features at least two songs from Sublime– “Caress Me Down” and “Garden Grove.” The album is much more cohesive and features much better sound quality than the band’s other live album, Stand By Your Van, which was released in 1998.

3 Ring Circus is being released to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the band’s first show, July 4, 1998. The album is a great reminder on who Sublime really was and where that sound of theirs, and subsequently thousands of other bands, came from. It’s pure. It’s loud and fast. It’s determined. Bradley Nowell was attempting to exorcise each and every one of his demons with every song.

The album also brings up the Sublime Question again: what if Nowell hadn’t died when he did? In some ways, it’s a more complicated question that the Nirvana Question (what if Kurt Cobain hadn’t died when he did) because of how Sublime really got popular after he had died whereas Nirvana was already massively popular when Cobain did. Sublime started gaining momentum with their second album, 40oz to Freedom, which featured the first song I ever heard from them, “Date Rape.” But it was Sublime, with the better production and super catchy singles- “Santeria,” “What I Got,” and “Wrong Way” that really catapulted the band to stardom. I just don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like that before; a band getting so popular after they were essentially no longer a band.


And you know, I’m going to be honest, I’m just not sure where I’m going with this. I only know that after listening to 3 Ring Circus roughly 4 times 5 times since Tuesday, I wanted to write something about Sublime. Listening to the album brought back so many thoughts and memories. As a fan of music, Sublime will always be one of those bands I listen too and as a musician, Sublime was a huge influence on me- especially once I got serious about music when kicking around early incarnations of Sidecar Radio back in sunny Portland, Maine in 2002-03. I think so much of it comes down to this- everyone loves reggae, but in the end, reggae can get boring to play. Sublime breathed new life into reggae and at the same time, allowed a band to dabble in punk without having to look the part. You could dress like a normal dude and rage the fast parts with the best of them.

And a lot of bands did.

During my time with Sidecar we played with a lot of bands who embraced the Sound of Sublime- some much more closely than others. At the time it seemed completely normal to have that sound. But now, a few years later, it just seems crazy that a band with a career like Sublime’s was able to have such a lasting legacy. When we talk about legacies in music- it’s always the heavy weights we talk about- Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, Nirvana, Bob Marley, etc. We never talk about Sublime.

But shouldn’t we be?

Shouldn’t we be talking about Sublime with more reverence, with more appreciation and admiration for their massive sphere of influence?

I really think we should.

Yes, they were a crazy southern California party band and their songs could be the sound tracks to douche-paloozas everywhere, but Sublime was and is much more than that.

Sublime was a wildly influential band that created their own sound that was a catalyst for thousands and thousands of bands that hit the stage long after they were gone.

Hopefully that hasn’t been forgotten or short-changed over the years. But if it has, let’s hope 3 Ring Circus helps people remember.

You can check out 3 Ring Circus HERE. It will be released on June 18th.

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