Jurassic Park. That was my initial thought sitting down with Eric Wilson in his massive backyard. It’s an expansive landscape of mountain rocks, avocado trees and bronze dinosaur statues. A padded chair sits empty across from a wooden bench, on which Eric sits with Melvin, his playful Rottweiler.
Eric is in fantastic spirits, not at all appearing like the man who almost died days earlier in an ATV accident. His deep side bruise and fractured right arm are at complete odds with his sunny disposition. I ask him what happened with the accident and a wide smile crests his face.
“Well, when I was born, I fell out the wrong way. [Laughs] I was up on the walking bridge with my Mechanical Mule. It lost traction and I went down with it. It was pretty violent.”
Whether he’s grateful just to be alive or simply enjoying time away from the road, Eric Wilson is a happy man. And with good reason. Sublime With Rome is releasing their third studio album this month and will embark on a monster summer tour in June.
We wait 20 minutes for the sun to tuck itself behind the trees, when our seating area slowly illuminates with a warm golden glow. It’s at this precise moment Eric wants us to begin.
What role did smoking pot play in the early development of Sublime’s music?
The guy who introduced me to Brad – Dave D – our relationship was smoking pot. He took me over to Brad’s house and was like, “I think you guys are gonna hit it off pretty good.” And by god, he was right.
When you sing about weed, you might get sweated by the local police or whatever. We weren’t afraid to sing about it. We were punk rockers. We were always out to say “fuck you.” It’s something we believed in. We weren’t out there saying “smoke crack,” you know? It’s something a grandma and a granddaughter can do together and it’s not bad. It’s a good bonding thing and it always will be.
Did it help bring the band together?
Oh yeah. During that time, I couldn’t afford to buy weed. I used to go over to this pot dealer, this guy Dirty Al’s, and would wash his dishes for roaches. I’d do all his dishes and he’d give me a bag of roaches and then smoke one out back with me. Brad on the other hand, as long as he went to school and got good grades…his dad had a jacket in the closet with this one pocket you could reach into at any time. His dad’s house was right near me, and one day his mom sent him to live over there. And that’s how we hit it off. I just showed up with a guitar and a joint one day. He was better on guitar than me, so the next day I came back with a bass and it stuck.
Had you played bass prior?
Yeah. But most people wanna try and play guitar. It’s more glamorous looking or whatever. But I found once I started playing bass, I knew my role. I knew it was for me. I started to understand what the bass was all about, how it holds everything down. If you’re familiar with Sublime music, it’s based on bass. A lot of it, anyway. The reggae bassline has a lot of melody to it. It’s not like regular rock and roll bass, which pretty much follows the kick drum of the drummer. The reggae bass is totally opposite. You’re playing the melody of the singer.
How did you know music was your thing?
As soon as I met Brad, I knew playing music was the thing I wanted to do for the rest of my life. But I personally believe music is hereditary. I come from a really strong lineage of musicians. My dad was a drummer, his dad was a fiddle player, and my son plays everything. It’s in your blood. And I was a “natural.” A “natural” can easily figure out an instrument. Someone who’s not a natural can still learn how to play, but they’re gonna work their ass off just to get half as good as you. I was born with it. And I thank my family genes for that.
My dad was a music teacher and he would have this test to see if you’re a natural. Basically to see if you had timing. He’d have a stopwatch and whenever you were ready you’d say “go” and when you thought a minute was up, he’d stop it. Obviously you couldn’t look at a clock. If you were within a second or two of a minute, a second ahead or a second behind, you were a natural. And he was right. Anybody he ever taught got it down.
The last person I did the test with was Paul Leary of the Butthole Surfers. He set up a stopwatch and we just had a conversation. When I thought a minute was up, I said “minute.” We looked at the time and it was spot on. Ask him, he was blown away.
You were quoted as saying “I’m able to play music for the love of music, just like I did back then. I am so fortunate to still be able to do it.” Which to me says, you’ve been following your calling since day one.
A lot of people who get into music, they burn out on it. Especially people who do it for a living. It becomes like clocking-in. You can see it in their eyes. When I go on the road, I bring a little dressing room box that has a drum set and everything. We have all day long to do nothing and all these empty dressing rooms to do whatever we want. Why not be kids again and jam out? So yeah, I do it for the love of music still. I always tell people, I play for free but charge for travel and downtime. There’s a million bass players who are better than I am. I just won the lottery.
Where did the inspiration for Sublime’s early songs come from?
All of that was created because of Brad’s early encounter with reggae music. He went on vacation with his dad and discovered Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. And then when he came back to Long Beach and I met him, we got into local stuff like Fishbone. We went to our first show together at Reseda Country Club, and when we came back, our lives were changed. We wanted to be like the Bad Brains.
We’d cover songs from our favorite bands before we had songs of our own. And that’s when we wrote “Date Rape.” Brad would write fictional stuff. Like, that song was totally fictional. He just made it up. “Date Rape” was a big deal on the news during that time and he just put it together quick. We put the music together and he came up with the words just as fast. When you find someone you can write with like that, it’s easy. So much fun, you know? It’s a blast.
The effortless creative process.
A lot of people never get a chance to feel that in their lifetime. [Brad’s] dad had a liquor cabinet downstairs and he was always over at his girlfriend’s house. So we would spend five hours a day drinking scotch liquor and writing songs. We had a drum machine for a while before we got a real drummer. It was cool. It was really cool when you didn’t know the business side of things. We just thought we were supposed to be on the radio all of a sudden. We didn’t think about how you get there.
We had two bands before Sublime where we’d play for beer and gas money for the next show. And we’d play a bunch of our favorite songs from The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Clash, The Cure. And then we started getting more hip into The Specials, Untouchables, the reggae shit, Minor Threat. [Laughs] We’d be smoking joints singing songs about being sober. I’m not sure if Brad had some master plan ‘cause he never told me. It was just a party. Those were the best days of my life.
At what point did you start to think, “hey, maybe this is more than just a party?”
When Brad went away to college in Santa Cruz, I returned to my old punk rock band, The Juice Bros. [Brad’s departure] didn’t make much of an impact ‘cause I was kind of a loser kid, not going in the right direction anyways. If beer and pot were involved, I was there.Thank God for Brad, because if I’d stayed in that band, I’d probably still be living out of my mom’s house.
Anyway, Brad got turned onto dance hall reggae up in Santa Cruz and he recorded a bunch of tracks on a cassette. When he came back for vacation, he played it for me and initially, I didn’t get it. It took me a while to catch on. For a minute he was forcing me to play some reggae songs. But then it just clicked with me one day that I love this music. Bud [Gaugh] lived across the alley from me and we’d jammed in garage bands together and stuff. So I got ahold of Brad to figure out where we could practice. Bud’s mom let us, so Brad picked me up and drove me over there and the first time we practiced we knew we had something going. Brad transferred back to Long Beach for college and that’s when we first got serious about music.
1996. How did it feel to reach the pinnacle of your success as a band but without your lead singer?
It was just like any fairytale. Everything was going my way and it just screeched to a halt. We went to accept the MTV Video Music Award and just wasn’t there. It just goes to show you how fast things can change for anybody at any time. That’s what happened for us.
I didn’t play music for a little bit. Then me and Bud started playing again. I played bass in a drag racing band. But everybody who came to our shows wanted to hear Sublime-type music. And I loved it anyway, so I figured what the hell. We started Long Beach Dub Allstars. I finally figured out I could still write songs and still have fun, even without Brad. But there was nothing like him. With him, I had the best times of my life, like I said. Playing in backyard parties…we just thought we were the shit. We were, I guess. Play for 10-15 minutes then a helicopter comes. Party’s over. But those 15 minutes were so untouchable.
2009. What’s the impetus to start Sublime With Rome?
All my best friends were in Dub Allstars. And because of the business aspect of things and being in a band with that many people, it screwed up my friendships with everyone. So we all went our separate ways. I went to play drums in a Huntington Beach psychedelic band with Jason Robbins, Phil Seville and this guy Lou who did sound and ran 17th Street Studios.
We were recording there when Rome [Ramirez] came in with his girlfriend at the time. He was a big Sublime fan and was just hanging out while she was doing an album, so we’d jam out when we’d see each other. My current manager [Cheez] was developing Dirty Heads in another room and heard how good we sounded together. I heard it too, but didn’t really put it together like “oh, let’s start Sublime again.” Because Cheez has a mind for that kinda shit, he took me aside and said “hey, how’d you like to start Sublime again?” And I was like, “yeah that would be awesome.” Things have a way of working themselves out.
It’s now been 10 years since the formation of Sublime With Rome. What are some of the highs and lows of that journey?
Right from the gate, Bud started playing with us, which was great. But he’s never traveled very well. He’s not into travelling and he didn’t last long. So we brought on Josh Freese and it was a real blessing to have him come on and save the day when Bud didn’t want to do the touring anymore. Then Josh started getting all these opportunities, and he’s used to playing in a bunch of different bands at the same time. He’s got a wild life. When when he took off, Carlos Verdugo came in and he’s our drummer now. He was in a band we toured with a few summers ago called Tribal Seeds. I remember watching him with Josh and Josh was like “man, that guy can play.”
LD, our DJ…what a great soul, man. He used to play drums in a band in Long Beach and their singer got a turntable to try and work it into their scene. Well, the guy couldn’t figure it out so LD took it home and made a career working with all the big hip hop artists. I guess he met Rome somehow and he’s been part of our family for a long time now, too. A couple years ago, we got Gabe the trombone player from No Doubt. We used to play shows together when Brad was around. He’s so amazing. Anytime I meet a trombone player I ask, “can you play the solo on ‘Wrong Way’?” And they never can ‘cause it’s a really tough part. But Gabe nailed it, of course.
The lineup we have right now is the best we can possibly be without being the original lineup. I’m totally happy with it. We all have our different walks of life but we’ve learned to respect each other and love each other. I plan on doing this for as long as I keep breathing.
How much has your musical career influenced cannabis culture and how much has cannabis culture influenced your musical career?
Probably the same percentage on each side. It goes hand in hand. We always get the latest gizmos and whatnot. And for as much stuff as I forget, it helps me be creative. I think anybody else in the band would say the same thing. It takes you to that place we were at when we were kids in the garage, playing music for ourselves. For the love of music, you know? Marijuana was our buddy, right there sitting next to us. I can’t imagine it not being there.
What makes your upcoming album different from the previous Sublime With Rome records?
I think Rome and I had a harder time working together in the studio on previous albums. I think we both learned how to work with each other a lot better on this one. I’ve always thought he was a really good songwriter but he tended, in the past, to be overwhelming. I always had a certain way of recording with Brad and other people, so for a while I would just fart out some bass lines because I didn’t feel part of the creative element. It’s changed since then, since the last album. So thanks, Rome. He’s such a great songwriter and it’s honor to record with him.
We had a few talks on the road for this album. A couple heart to hearts that gave more headroom for both of us to collaborate. Whereas before, it was a little more one-sided. For this album, the process was more like what I’m used to doing. Playing for the love of music and having a great time doing it.
Sublime With Rome’s third full length album “Blessings” is available May 31st.
Follow @sublimewithrome and check out http://www.sublimewithrome.com/ for tickets and tour dates