Rome Ramirez is sitting at home in East Los Angeles, and if you were to ask, it’s obvious why he chose to reside in this section of the City of Angels. “It’s where the recording studios are, so that’s where I be at.”
Over a brief conversation, the Sublime with Rome guitarist/vocalist reflects on the band’s ongoing evolution, his new project with Duddy B of Dirty Heads and how there’s a certain kinship between him and John Mayer.
He’s also recorded with Blues Traveler, noting, “We met up in the studio in LA and they’re just super talented and super nice guys, and we really hit it off. Even with our musical styles: I’m big on improvisation and they are really big on improv too. We were able to capture their elements in their jams but still formulate some really strong songs. And they really liked the way that I worked so we ended up doing some music together. And we did some stuff with Dirty Heads, it was cool. We are still friends we’ve always kept in really close touch.”
Sublime with Rome just passed like the 10-year mark. How does it feel in terms of where you guys are?
It honestly feels great. It doesn’t feel like 10 years, it’s insane. It’s hard for people to be in bands for 10 years, let alone something like Sublime with such a rich legacy. Who knows how things could have gone. I just think that it’s magical: Here we are ten years later and, honestly, we are putting out the best shit we’ve ever put out. We are playing more shows than we’ve ever played; It’s such a blessing.
Looking back, what have been some of the highlights for you?
Honestly I never really thought about the longevity of the project. When you’re in the moment of it, as soon as you start thinking about end dates and stuff, you start operating not from the heart but from the head. My thing was just focus on being in the moment and making good decisions. Last week we played One Love and we’re looking at fifteen thousand people. I’m side stage with my manager. I look over to him and I’m just like, “Thank you, this is amazing.” I can’t believe our lives. All of us, all my friends with Dirty Heads, all those guys are all in their own houses now. They’ve got kids and are really grown up now and we did it all through music. Every single day I think about that and it just blows my mind.
On the other hand, I’m sure you meet people from all over the world who feel a kinship with the Sublime/Sublime with Rome songbook…
Yeah, 100%. When we are on tour, we’ll be in Asia or in Europe and you’ll see the people who come to the shows—their dress and their vocabulary is almost as if they’re from California. Because they are so engulfed in the lifestyle and so engulfed in the music; It’s so cool to see that. You don’t have to be from California to feel like you’re at the beach, you know what I mean?
Blessings is your first record with Carlos Verdugo behind the kit. Tell me about some of the songs on this record.
I mean, a lot of these songs really came from honestly me being in a spot where I wanted to just write all the lyrics upfront first and focus on what I wanted to say. I just got married, I was having my first child. Things were starting to change for my life; I stopped drinking hard alcohol. Everything was starting to come into focus for this for the next chapter. And I just wanted to write all that down and I wanted to capture that. Partly for myself but another reason was when my kid is old enough, he can kind of hear where I was at when I was having him, which is a really weird concept, but I just think it would be cool as a grown man to hear what your father was going through when you were entering the picture.
It’s interesting that you say lyrics came first and then music. A lot of times it’s the other way around.
I just really wanted to focus on the message. It was probably over the course of two years where I was writing this album and putting it together.
You were talking about how improv is very important to you and letting the music really breathe. Are there any songs on the new record that you are particularly excited about in the live setting?
Totally. We play a track called “May Day” and that one transforms into a live record. And it’s very cinematic, that’s the word. It just has really awesome highs and lows and sprinkles some grand piano in there. And it’s all around minor keys; it’s really cool. We have another record, which is a single, “Wicked Heart.” At the end, we just open up and start to jam and then close it off with this really cool, crowd interactive piece. Honestly, we don’t play to back tracks, so that allows us the freedom to pretty much do whatever the fuck we want.
I’m coming from a jamband scene, so for us, that’s the best way to do it. If you’re onstage and you’re feeling a fast one or a slow one, then play a fast one or a slow one.
Exactly, you’re able to really play a show for the audience. Not just, “Here is the setlist we programmed in rehearsal, so that’s what you get.” Fuck that. You’re able to really connect I think.
Tell me a little about this Rom & Duddy stuff you’re working on. What kind of itch does it scratch that maybe Sublime with Rome doesn’t?
We’re trying to keep everything really broken down to the core of it. Using all natural instruments and taking this ‘70s folk-Americana and hitting it with reggae. Think of Neil Young and No Women No Cry put together, that’s the kind of vibe that we’re trying to encompass. Our version of the Van Morrison classic [“And It Stoned Me”] really, really embodied that. That’s why we decided to put that out first, and it’s one of our favorite songs. That was like, “This is what we’re trying to do with this project.”
Since you’re a California guy, and Sublime regularly covers “Scarlet Begonias,” are you a Deadhead at all?
I wouldn’t say I’m a Deadhead, that’s a way of life. I’m a Grateful Dead fan though. They have records that are undeniable, you know what I mean? I grew up listening to American Beauty and shit with my dad in the car. As far as being a Deadhead goes, I have friends that are actual Deadheads. More importantly, I just think that Grateful Dead did it so well with how you really want to create a fanbase, I just think that’s amazing. It’s not even a fanbase, it’s a fucking community, it’s a family. That’s inspiring as all hell. For any band or any artist, I think they should model their career like Grateful Dead honestly because they’re one of the best to ever do it.
Have you seen that sense of community within the Sublime ecosystem?
100%. The Grateful Dead kind of made that, they kind of invented that. Sublime didn’t really have that opportunity because Nowell passed in ‘96. But the Grateful Dead have continually given back to their community, whether it was through festivals or other reiterations of the band. I just think that’s awesome. Even now, the current iteration of it with John Mayer is such an awesome way to keep giving the music to future generations through different people.
It’s kind of like you guys are Sublime & Company…
100%, and that’s how I feel. I don’t think I’m an original member of the band, no way. I grew up listening to Sublime, I know what’s up. But I just think that it’s rad that I’ve been given the opportunity to bring the band to a new place and show it to new people.
Exactly. The music is bigger than everyone.
That’s exactly what I was going to say next. It’s bigger than his ego, it’s bigger than him, it’s for the fans.