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- Posted on Apr 16th 2010 6:00PM by Steve Baltin
Of course, just before that final album, 'Sublime,' was released and took them to the top of the charts, frontman Bradley Nowell passed away in May 1996 of a drug overdose. Gaugh admits that coming so close to his dreams, only to have them taken away through such tragic circumstances, almost destroyed him, and he turned to alcohol. And it's only after he got sober in 2007 that he could begin to face the past.
Now the father of a 15-month-old daughter, Gaugh is choosing to embrace the past. He and Wilson have found a new singer, Rome Ramirez, and will head out on tour as Sublime With Rome. In this candid interview, Gaugh talks about battling his own demons, giving up heroin after Nowell's death and Sublime's posthumous success.
It's easy to forget, as I think most people do, that you never got to do many of these songs live. Was there a moment for you where it hit you that you guys were really doing this and playing these songs in front of people?
Yeah, it was actually at the Sparks show, a real small Mexican food joint [in Reno, Nevada] that kind of doubles as a nightclub, and the place was really jam-packed. We didn't really announce it. Our other band, Del Mar, was hosting the show and we [as Sublime With Rome] came on as special guests. That was the first time I experienced it, to a lesser degree, though, even though it was the very first time Eric and I were playing those songs back together again. But then at the Smoke Out was unreal. As I was taking the stage, I was looking out over the crowd. People were cheering, arms up in the air, great welcome and response from crowd. And I just had to stand there up on my drum throne and look at the crowd and take it all in because it was kind of overwhelming. You can only imagine the emotions that were going through my head and heart at the time. It was an awesome experience -- bittersweet, yet still well deserved.
Alice in Chains went through the same thing. One of the things Jerry Cantrell told me was how he didn't let go of all the stuff after the death of Layne Staley until finally making a new album 13 years later. You went through a very similar time frame. Was it the same type of thing for you?
Right off the bat, it was really tough dealing with [it], and I started drinking a lot to suppress the emotions. That never works. It finally took me to about three years ago when I stopped drinking to confront a lot of the emotions I was suppressing. And in order to deal with those things, you really have to confront them. So it was 2007, I quit drinking, I realized this was a tragic thing and it's never gonna be the same. I was like, "OK, that was then and this is now. I'm ready to carry on with my life now. I'm not gonna keep on looking back in the past and feeling sorry for myself, what could've been."
Eric and I both started at a young age and were like, "I'm gonna be a professional musician, that's what I'm gonna do." This was an opportunity that a lot of musicians don't even get to achieve. So we were on this magic carpet ride that gets yanked from out from underneath our feet. "OK, where do we go now? My whole identity, everything I worked my whole life for, is shot." You can imagine some of the self-destructive thoughts and behaviors that can go along with having your dreams crushed. And so I was never able to advance or get out of that mess because I wasn't allowing myself.
[But] as soon as I decided, "OK, I'm done with this. This isn't what I'm going to do anymore," my wife said, "Hey, let's play in a band together." I started playing music again and it was just for fun, I wasn't gonna do it professionally or anything like that because I had my spoonful, if you will [laughs]. So it was right as soon as we finished our album with Del Mar that I get this phone call from Eric. And I hadn't talked to Eric in years. I'd see him in passing, coming down to SoCal I'd run into him here and there, but it wasn't like we were hanging-out best friends like we used to [be]. And he said, almost word-for-word what he said when he introduced Brad to me, "Hey, you gotta check this guy [Rome] out. He can sing, he's got a great voice, he's an awesome guitar player." So it kind of struck me odd in that sense, and then also Eric's such a good musician himself; he's a very talented person, so for him to hold somebody in that regard really got my interest. And so I thought, "I owe it to myself, I owe it to my brother Eric to give this a listen." Told him come on up, let's check it out. It was a long time coming, but I don't think it would've happened in any time frame. I don't think it would've worked if I didn't have time to heal and address the situations. It probably could've taken a lot less time had I not taken the destructive path I had taken, but maybe that was something I had to go through so I could understand where Brad was at and why he chose to leave us.
When you say "the destructive path," was it just your drinking or beyond that?
It was mainly just drinking. When Brad died, that was the last day I'd ever done any other ... I never messed with heroin after that. Prior to that, I had my own bouts with heroin and meth and stuff, but that was behind me at that point. It was mainly just drinking myself into oblivion -- and some painkillers in there, too.
Because you went through that and pushed yourself to that level, do you have more of an appreciation for what's happening now?
Fully. I think that both Eric and myself have matured in our character as well as our musical ability and talent. It's interesting 'cause we used to be the most cantankerous crew around; people would refuse to work with us, we had a hard time finding management and booking agents because of our notorious past. And we were playing the KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas [an annual concert sponsored by the L.A.-based rock radio station], and the group at KROQ was like, "Wow, these guys are like really well-behaved. They were, like, the easiest artists to work with this whole two-day event." I think we have a better attitude and we just love playing this music.
Like you said, you're a different person now, so have the songs changed for you? If so, what are some of the ones that really are different for you?
It's an interesting question because a lot of the stuff we recorded with Sublime we recorded on the spot. When we went out and recorded the self-titled album, I remember sitting next to Eric on the plane out to Willie [Nelson]'s place [Pedernales Studios, near Austin, Texas], and it was like, "Dude, what are we gonna do? We got, like, two or three songs worked out. We need to record an album, this is go time." Brad was over there scratching in his notebook some ideas and lyrics. So Sublime's always pretty much been a work at progress or progress at work, 'cause it seemed like we were always under the gun and just creating on the spot. And Sublime's always kind of had this improvisational jam or dub style associated with it, so we do kind of change the songs when we play them live from time to time, too. We feel the music when we play it; it's like a living, breathing entity, so it's not like just anybody can re-create what Sublime does.
When you heard that KROQ has named Sublime as one of the top three bands of all time, what was going through your head?
"I told you so, damn it!" [laughs] That, and, "Yeah, I wish you were here, brother, to experience this with me." That's another thought. There's really not a day that goes by that I don't think about Brad, and Eric had a really good quote the other day. He said, "I'd gladly go back to playing one-hole dives to get my brother back." And that's just the sentiment that we both share. We really loved Brad and we miss him dearly. And seeing his son -- his son is 15 years old now -- and looking at my daughter [at 15 months] and knowing that she would've been four months now without a father. You do comparisons, and it's heart-wrenching. So those thoughts go through my mind. "Wish you were here." "I told you so," and "Right on, guys! We really did something really cool here, left our mark on history."
If you had to choose three Sublime songs to turn kids on to the music, what would you pick and why?
I would have to say three quintessential songs, '40oz. to Freedom,' 'What I Got' and 'Seed.' The reason why I chose those songs is because 'What I Got' is a perfect example of sampling other people's music and making it your own. '40oz. to Freedom' showed where we kind of started off, our mindset then, and 'Seed' shows the punk-rock originality element of the band, 'cause one person asked me, "You guys kind of came up with this sound." And it really wasn't that we did it first or anything like that because the Police combined reggae and rock, Bad Brains punk and reggae, we did our own thing with the hip-hop, ska, punk, reggae kind of thing. But they were like, "Why don't these other bands succeed? How come there hasn't been somebody else to just like take your crown and take it to the next level?" They forgot the rock, they forgot the f---ing rock, not necessarily rock 'n' roll music but to rock the f--- out. So that's why I would say 'Seed.'