By Jay Tilles for Radio.com
Jakob Nowell wants to breathe new life into rock music, as his father did two decades ago in legendary west coast band Sublime. The 21 year-old son of late Sublime frontman Bradley Nowell is ready to show the world what he’s got, with the help from his bandmates in his new band, LAW.
The 21 year-old Nowell, along with guitarist Aidan Palacios, bassist Logun Spellacy, and drummer Nick Aguilar were recently recorded while performing their track “Know You” at a backyard party. We were taken back by how much he sounds like his father, and we reached out to him to discuss his musical journey.
It feels like your mother did her best to keep you out of the limelight, away from Sublime fans and Long Beach until you were a young adult. Is that accurate?
Well, I guess I’ve never really thought about it too much. There wasn’t too much limelight to be in, necessarily. As far as growing up, I lived in San Diego with my mom and her husband. There’d be shows I’d go to with my mom and that sort of thing but as far as coming out into the public eye, that’s only started just recently now that I’m confident in me and my bandmates and the work that we’re trying to do.
You’ve played Sublime songs at just a handful of live events. Does if feel natural for you to play your father’s tunes in front of a live audience?
You know, it is pretty cool. It can be a little eerie sometimes—with knowing that there’s so much scrutiny on me—sometimes that can weigh on me a little bit. But I try to ignore that and just try to remember what I’m doing it for: It’s try to carry the torch, make good on his sacrifices and show that I respect the legacy.
You played “Caress Me Down” at the Cali Roots Festival in 2014. How did it feel playing with Bud and Eric? Would you do it again?
I was so caught up in the fun of it; I really didn’t like my performance if I’m being honest. There are times when I’m prompted to play Sublime songs and I really, really want to do them justice and show that I can do them and if I feel that I can’t, then I just won’t do them. That was a time when I was just thrust into the moment and I did it to show my support but if I were to do it again I would practice, practice, practice if I had the option. As far as the future, we’ll do some covers in LAW. As far as playing a full set of Sublime songs, in full disclosure, I’m very good friends with Eric Wilson’s son, Billy, so we’ll see if something will happen in regards to that.
It seems smart on your part, to make sure you were ready to do your thing, to be your own person because you’ll be compared to your father. It’s inevitable.
I moved out of my parents’ house at 17 to try to create this band. Right from the get-go I was aware that there was always that possibility that I could immediately put myself out there and try to use those connections in that way but I felt like that would have been disrespectful. I really wanted to first create a group with very talented musicians who are also my closest and dearest friends. And we wanted to wait to use any opportunities until we were confident enough in our own abilities so that we knew we would be able to honor the sacrifices that my father made and make something separate from that. I think this is the most respectful way to go about this kind of situation that I’m randomly and magically thrust upon.
How do you feel Rome has done as Sublime’s new frontman?
I have no involvement with them. That was what Eric and Bud decided to do—and now Eric and Josh Freese and Rome—that’s their outfit. It’s obviously not the same Sublime and I don’t think that was the intent. They are all good musicians. They all just want to play and that’s their platform to play. I don’t think it’s wholly disrespectful but I choose to have no involvement in that project whatsoever. I remember this one time in high school; I must have been 14 or 15, and I’m at a friend’s house talking and another friend puts on this Sublime song and I think he’s being funny playing one of my dad’s songs and I look over and I see that it isn’t’ my dad singing the song, it’s Rome. It was just such a strange moment of disconnect. It was very emotional. I started to tear up and got real angry at him. That wasn’t fun to have to go through. The realization hit me that a whole generation won’t really know the difference.
Popular bands get new members all the time but my father was such an integral part of Sublime, that me and true fans and people who know that story separate Sublime With Rome from Sublime and I believe that Sublime With Rome separates themselves from Sublime enough to be respectful. I really can’t fault new fans for not knowing the difference. They’re great musicians and I believe they deserve to be doing something in some project and if it’s Sublime With Rome, then it’s Sublime With Rome, but I choose personally to have no involvement.
You use the term “honor” much the same way a musician would who’s not Bradley Nowell’s son.
I really do revere all the work that he did. It’s often said that we don’t get to choose where we were born into. So it would be remiss of me not to note that the situation that I’ve been placed into is not only very interesting but also an incredibly tragic story—an incredibly cinematic and tragic story. Even removing that I’m blood-related to the events surrounding my father’s life and death—even removing the blood relation to that, the fact that I’m so close to the people that were affected—I was sort of affected in an ancillary way. The people who were most effected were his close, dearest friends. Those were the people who his work meant the most to. If I look at it like that, that this is a sacrifice that he made, and something that comes out of it is that I have certain opportunities then, by God, I really want to utilize and make good on them and not seem like I deserve anything because I really don’t. I want to earn everything I can and use all of these tools that he’s gifted to me to the best of my ability.
You’re a big Tool fan and you could have chosen any style of music to play as a band, yet you circled back to roots rock. Why?
It’s a strange miraculous thing to me. Ever since I learned to play the guitar—when I write a song it just comes out that way. I don’t know if it’s the results of literal blood and DNA or the fact that my mom playing so much Sublime for me when I was a young kid, a baby, just to let me know where my father is, and how he exists, and how he can be there for me. Those songs became so ingrained in me, the whole Sublime catalog, that it really had a profound effect. I remember growing up thinking that that music was so commonplace. So when I go to write songs from age 12 onward they would have that vibe, even though I never really listened to any of the Sublime influences, like The Minutemen. For some reason, the songs I’d write would come out like that. We have a tremendous respect for their abilities and their unique style of what they created. That’s where that influence comes from. We seek to create and re-invigorate this sort of new style of Southern California rock but that borrows from all corners of the rock world throughout all the ages.
Although all my bandmates including me, respect Sublime and like them, that’s not necessarily what we’re listening to in our free time. My guitarist, he loves Alice in Chains and Red Hot Chili Peppers. My bassist, he likes a lot of all kinds of punk rock from Suicidal Tenancies to Blink-182 and Green Day. And our drummer is a big music nerd. So then with me coming in liking Tool, Queens of the Stone Age, Death Grips—we have all these influences. But the base formula that we stick with is what I believe my father created and what he really nailed. Genuine and no-nonsense is the note that we take most from that SoCal style.
How does LAW differ from many of the modern day Sublime–inspired SoCal bands?
Our music isn’t to promote any kind of weed smoking or partying—there’s no lyrics of surfing or skating. Although that’s all cool, we feel that that wasn’t the goal of what Sublime was doing. Although that may have been a big part of where they came from and their lifestyle, it’s not where we come from. They come from reggae but we take from certain darker aspects of reggae if anything.
What’s your plan for LAW? Where do you go from here?
We seek to honor the sacrifices of not only my father but all those in the old school—transmute that style while keeping the genuine spirit alive—produce, invoke and invigorate a new scene of new scene in rock.
When people want to party, it used to be rock n roll. Now it’s electronic or hip-hop, which is cool, but I think the genre of rock that we want to drive, if we can, will be something a little more thought-provoking, something a little less party-oriented. We have the material. We are confident in what we have and what we can do. There hasn’t been that excitement over rock since the ’90s. There’s been enough time. It’s out personal belief that there’s been enough time. We think it’s been enough time for rock to become cool again.
Ultimately, our style will be this analog; an old school-straight-forward attack that we’re hoping can get people excited that rock can exist… and it can exist in this new re-realized form by this new wave of youthful people who are pissed off and angry about the right things.
LAW has plans to record soon with a summer tour forthcoming. Follow the Long Beach, CA band on Facebook at LAWLBC.