Sublime with Rome (left to right)-—Eric Wilson, Bud Gaugh, and Rome Ramirez
Ask veteran drummer Bud Gaugh what it feels like to play songs that he hasn''t touched since 1996, let alone write an album''s worth of solid new material, and even over the phone he seems to bristle with enthusiasm. The lively vocal and guitar chops of 23-year-old Rome Ramirez certainly have something to do with it, but more than anything else, Sublime with Rome—as Gaugh, Ramirez, and original Sublime bassist Eric Wilson now call themselves—are a hard-rocking, surf reggae and dub-fueled power trio to be reckoned with. In the end, that''s reason enough for Gaugh to feel stoked.
“All the other projects that I''ve been involved with over the years have been a lot of fun and genuine in their own right,” he clarifies, citing the Long Beach Dub Allstars (with Wilson) and the short-lived supergroup Eyes Adrift (with Nirvana''s Krist Novoselic and the Meat Puppets'' Curt Kirkwood), “but coming back and playing Sublime music has been really special. It''s hard to explain. Rome has his own style and he''s really on it. Not that I don''t miss Brad, because I think about him constantly, but Rome has shown that he has what it takes to be a great songwriter and a great performer.”
No one claims to be able to replace Brad Nowell, whose death in 1996, just weeks before the release of Sublime''s now classic self-titled major-label debut, cut short what was sure to be a brilliant musical career. Sublime with Rome''s Yours Truly (Fueled By Ramen) is, in one sense, a tribute to Nowell and to Sublime''s diehard fans, but it''s also the work of a band looking to stake out a legacy of its own. For that task, Gaugh thought it was only fitting to invite Sublime''s original producer and engineer—the Butthole Surfers'' Paul Leary and Austin-based studio wizard Stuart Sullivan—to take part in the joyful chaos.
“It''s always been chaotic with these guys,” Leary jokes. “After Bud asked me to produce the record, we got together for pre-production in Orange County. Rome had done some demos, but instead of really working on songs that were already written, the band was coming up with new songs. So a lot of this record was written in the studio and not planned out at all—plus we had a really hairy schedule, so we were pretty much producing by the seat of our pants.”
If the tone and frenetic tempo of the album''s leadoff single “Panic” are any indication, the band may have been pressed for time, but they made the most of it. Yours Truly was tracked almost entirely at the Sonic Ranch in El Paso, Texas, with additional sessions at Stuart Sullivan''s Wire Recording in Austin. Both studios are outfitted with a wealth of vintage analog gear, which had a lot to do with the album''s overall thick-and-crunchy sound.
Of course, it helps to have a custom Neve 8078 console, fully loaded with 31105 mic pre/EQs, at your fingertips, too. “We had fantasies about using the 2-inch tape machine here,” Leary says, “but there''s so much analog sound on the front end, with the board and all the preamps, that you can use Pro Tools mostly just for recording.”
As a rhythm section, Wilson and Gaugh have played together since they were kids, so at this point locking up a fast ska groove or a loping reggae skank is second nature. Wilson''s primary weapon of choice was a Fender P-Bass (or Lakland copy) with a ''67 Ampeg SVT blueface amp. “We used an Avalon U5 direct box and paralleled a Universal Audio 6176 channel strip, which I really love on bass,” Leary says. Wilson tends to really dig into the strings, especially on a fat-bottomed workout like “You Better Listen,” which meant Leary had to pay special attention to the 1176 compressor section of the UA unit. “Where he first hits the string, there''s this big attack, then there''s a lull where the string recovers, and then there''s the note. I usually set the EQ flat, but the main thing is the compressor. You want a slow attack, a fast release and a 4-to-1 ratio, and then dig in early. I''ve recorded entire albums with nothing but the 6176 on bass, and it sounds beautiful.”
Yours Truly was tracked at the Sonic Ranch in El Paso and Wire Recording in Austin.
Gaugh had two different drum kits set up in the live room, with up to 18 mics on his main kit to maximize the sonic choices. “I always like to put a trick microphone somewhere at every session,” Leary explains. “My latest is to place a Royer 121 about halfway between the kick drum beater and the bottom of the snare head, with the bright side [of the mic] toward the snare. Then you just cream it with a 1073 or some kind of Neve preamp, and slam it with a compressor as hard as you can. Mix a little dash of that into the drum kit, and it gets pretty exciting.” The net effect is a lo-fi grainy texture that bites through the punked-out riffs of “My World,” for starters.
For Rome Ramirez, who represents the youth contingent in the band, working in a high-end studio still wasn''t a totally new experience, but he learned a few things from Leary about tracking vocals and guitars. “Paul and Stu have an analog mindset that really put me in check,” he admits. “It''s like, ‘f**k using plug-ins when we can get it straight with the right mic and all this dope-assed outboard gear!'' So there was very little post-production on the guitar tones—it was mainly my ''97 Strat and my Divided By 13 amp, with some mixing and matching for distortion [including a Keeley Fuxx Head pedal on the solo for ‘My World''].
“For my vocals, we did three sessions and locked into the [Neumann] U47,” Rome continues. “We''d go into the Neve with an 1176, quick attack, and then smooth it over with an LA2A—just real natural. And the U47 at Stuart''s studio almost feels like it was put on this earth just for me. It has a really good response on the low end, and it''s really tailored to my style of singing, which is pretty sibilant.” Listen for it on “PCH”—a song that immediately stands out for its summery melody and front-loaded lead vocal.
Beyond the core trio, there are plenty of other sonic elements—the ray-gun synth on “Lovers Rock,” for example (courtesy of Rome''s production partner DJ Flict and his Yamaha Motif), or Wilson''s Moog Taurus stabs on “My World”—that make Yours Truly more than just the sum of its individual parts. As Gaugh describes it, the album reveals as much about the band''s creative process as it does their new musical direction.
“There were times when we were in the studio, it was like we''d gone past the moon already and into another orbit,” he marvels. “There''s no rhyme or reason, and then suddenly you bring it back in, and it would be the best new part of a song that we ended up with. We ran it through the Subliminator, if you will [laughs]. Paul was always listening for that, and I think it really comes through in what you hear on this record.”