SUBLIME AND SUBWOOFERS: A STORY OF MUSICAL INSPIRATION
I’ve spent so much of the last year thanking people who have helped me build my music career that I almost missed touching on the moment that made me want to pursue music in the first place. Every musician has that moment when they really “find” music for themselves. They hear something that really speaks to them and lights the fire that makes them say: “I want to learn to play that!” For me, this moment of self-discovery came in 1996, thanks to a little band called Sublime.
It was late summer, and I was 16 years old. I was just getting used to all the freedom being a teenager brings — I had a car, I was making new friends, and I could buy my own music. Having been raised on country music almost exclusively, a whole new world had opened up for me when I started going to record stores on my own. I’d been getting into hip hop, and then that fateful day in the Burger King parking lot came.
My friend and I were sitting in my red Ford Escort, blasting my subwoofers and most likely annoying nearby shopkeepers. I was playing my usual tracks when my buddy brought out a CD by a group I’d never heard of before. They were this band from Long Beach, California, who blended the syncopated rhythms of ska and reggae with the edginess of punk rock. I gave the disk a listen, and thought, “Meh, this isn’t for me.”
I went a month or two without really thinking about that album. Then, in early fall, I was working as a dishwasher at Boston Market when one of the cooks put on the same disk over the kitchen sound system. It was the song “Santeria,” and, even though I’d heard it months before, this was the first time I was really hearing it. I remember turning toward the speaker and thinking to myself, “I need this album.”
Soon enough, I was bumping Sublime everywhere I went, which may be surprising to those who know me today. Their songs definitely cover some seedy topics about life in the rough parts of SoCal—experiences a kid from Circle Pines couldn’t fully understand. But that was part of the appeal and the power of lead singer Bradley Nowell’s lyrics. They made what was totally foreign to me relatable and emotional.
Now, this was in the days before the internet was the wide-spread powerhouse it is now. Cutting edge in the 1990s was having an AOL account — information didn’t spread very fast back then. So, imagine my confusion when I learned that radio stations were spinning Sublime’s albums “posthumously.”
It turns out that in May of ‘96, months before I’d heard his album, Bradley Nowell died of a heroine overdose. Finding out the lead singer passed away before I even discovered Sublime’s music was heartbreaking. In the wake of this news,
I came to really appreciate the power of music. Even after passing away, Nowell’s voice had reached millions and so had his stories and experiences. His songs didn’t just span distance; they were, and still are, spanning time. Inspired by his story, I felt a calling. I knew I had to become a musician.
Since that time, I’ve traveled the country, played on national television, taught at a Big-Ten University, and mentored over 1,000 young people. To say I’ve been blessed would be an understatement. And none of it would have been possible without Brad. His voice, his lyrics, and his passion awakened something in my soul. Still today, when I hear his music, I am transported to 1996—to that parking lot where I first felt the music that forever changed my life.