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Interview: Rome

3 January 2024

Just before the holidays, Rome Ramirez announced that, after 15 years performing as the singer/guitarist of Sublime with Rome, he would be parting ways with Eric Wilson and Joe Tomino after fulfilling the 2024 tour dates the band has on the books. For Ramirez, this break will allow the songwriter to focus on his own material and forge a new path with his career. Through a teaser video on Instagram, Ramirez appears to be headed in a more throwback soulful direction but we’ll have to wait for a little while to fully understand what we should be expecting.

Given the breaking news, while I had originally intended to talk with Ramirez about the band’s Tangerine Skies EP and the summer tour with Slightly Stoopid, I opened by allowing him to talk about the decision to move onto the next stage.

It was recently announced that 2024 would be your last year working with the Sublime guys. Was this a long time coming or did it come out of nowhere?

ROME: Yeah, this is definitely something that’s been kind of cooking for a while. A move like that is not done on a whim or it is. It’s one or the other. It’s like either a drunken decision you announce on Twitter or it’s something that’s been cooking for a while.

With Sublime with Rome, we’ve been doing this for 15 years now. I don’t think any of us even expected this band to continue that long. We didn’t think the fans would want to continue to see the show so many times. But, that’s the case. The music of Sublime is timeless like that. At this point, 15 years into it, I feel for me personally, we’ve done so many great things – we’ve traveled everywhere, we’ve played Red Rocks a handful of times, which is a blessing in and of itself, we’ve done all these great things. For me, creatively, there’s always that thing that every creative person goes through where it’s comfortable with the life you know doing this, but then there’s this other side of you that, as you grow and change and evolve, there’s another side of you that you really have to put energy into, or you start to feel different. And that’s where I was starting to get to. So, I made the choice to leave the band and focus on this music I have.

Your identity isn’t completely tied to being in Sublime, you’ve got other projects going. But, you’ve been writing songs for Sublime and maybe not for yourself. It feels like this is a great opportunity to show people who you are as an artist without Sublime being part of that identity.

ROME: Whether it comes in the live show, the merchandise or our original music, there’s absolutely some sort of framework out of respect. I always try to respect that sort of formula. Obviously, there were times where we’d want to push things just as Sublime would. But, ultimately, there’s some sort of artist integrity and ethos that is created that you should value and respect, and that’s what I always tried to do with Sublime with Rome. I felt like we were successful in that.

But having said that, when it comes to personal creation and things like that, it’s so different. I’ve been making this music, the solo music, for about two years, where I feel like it’s something that I’m proud of and it’s something that I think has its own kind of vibe to it. That requires a whole other side of me that I really haven’t channeled so much because, for the last 15 years, aside from extensively touring with Sublime, I was producing and writing songs for other artists. That’s just a huge passion of mine, and I love that, and I still do it, but I’ve always had that outlet to get that music out and get that energy. It is really fun as a studio guy to just get in the head of the artist and help their vision come to life.

When the pandemic happened, everything was put on pause, and I really had the opportunity to start playing around with my stuff. That’s when the music and everything started to form. I forgot about not having that sort of formula or those constraints, and just being able to openly create.

Sublime with Rome released an EP in 2023. Is that the direction that you’re going with your solo material or was that EP a collaborative effort that reflects all of the songwriters?

ROME: That Sublime with Rome music is my best attempt at trying to put my twist on what Sublime would sound like today. Everyone’s open to their own opinion of that but that was my point.

For my stuff, I’m into a different type of music but at the same time, the roots of where I come from is what kind of guided me into Sublime. Sublime was my favorite band as a child. It started there, and by the time I was already developing myself and getting into my own sound, Sublime found me and asked me to join the band. And, you know, I was like, “Heck yeah, this sounds like fun.” In a way, it was like going back to my childhood again, being 13, and getting to relive that. And that’s where I’ve been for 15 years.

I know this is going to sound very strange, but in a really weird way, when I started to pop the lid on my stuff again, it was a very natural place of going back to where I was about to show the world and build it from there, from before I joined Sublime. I’m better and wiser and just more talented than I was then so I can take it in a much stronger direction. It’s a trip. I never got to finish this and I’m at that point now. Sublime was an inspiration to that as well, but not in the way that Sublime with Rome came to their sound.

I owned a Sublime CD or two back in the ‘90s but didn’t really pay attention when you joined the band. I thought it was nothing more than covers, didn’t realize you were creating new and original music. Sublime with Rome actually popped up, due to the algorithm, when I was listening to some jam band music on Spotify so I decided to check out the music you’ve been making over the last 15 years. Much to my surprise, I discovered that what you’ve been doing isn’t that far removed from jam band stuff, especially the most recent EP which has some really uplifting and laidback grooves.

ROME: I love when that happens. Sometimes the algorithm works in favor of the artist. Sublime covered “Scarlett Begonias” by the Grateful Dead. That’s where Brad’s genius is so prevalent, aside from his singing and guitar playing capabilities, his ear for music and being able to switch things and take it and pull it in a different direction. It was genius.

There are so many different parallels from that jam band sector to what Sublime was doing. And, even on a much deeper level, I feel like the evolution of the scene, the reggae rock/California reggae scene, will start to take hints from the jam band sector because it’s the next evolution of that. There are a lot of parallels, absolutely.

While it’s not apples to apples, there are some parallels between Sublime and Blind Melon. Both had success in the mid-90s and lost their lead singers to drugs. Both reformed after finding a singer who could honor the legacy but bring something new to the band and help move it forward. The biggest difference is that you’ve been way more active with Sublime, releasing albums, touring the world. The reformed Blind Melon put out one album and did some touring but are not currently active.

ROME: In most cases, like Blind Melon and Sublime specifically, the music is so great that it lives on beyond your contributions even, beyond their contributions even. I’d always joke around with Eric, the bass player in Sublime, and say, “The music is public IP. It’s theirs now. It’s beyond you. You don’t even listen to this kind of shit no more. They have their own memories and they’re building new ones. After we’re all long gone, that music will still be there, and it’ll belong to future generations.” That’s the beauty of it, you know?

I heard you say what a blessing it is to have people come up to you and tell you what the songs have meant to them. It must mean a lot to you when people make their own memories based on songs that you put out.

ROME: I love those stories. As soon as you hit the “Upload” button, it’s no longer yours. It’s into the world. It’s open for crazy interpretations. It’s beyond you now. That’s the responsibility you have as an artist.

What a different world we live in. If you want to put music out this afternoon, you can. You just upload it. You don’t have to wait for a CD to be made or an album to get pressed. It’s immediate. Is there a temptation to put songs out as soon as you are done with them?

ROME: It’s a double-edged sword because I’m part of a much bigger system. I’ve gotten to work with Sony and stuff, which is awesome. I’m very grateful. It’s nice to have big players behind you and, for 15 years, I’ve been signed to some sort of label and many different publishing companies and things like that. But, at heart, I’m an independent artist. I have never hit the “Upload” button, it’s a theoretic thing that I think is awesome. And I see some contemporaries and peers on that path and some of them are extremely successful, some of them are not. There is no need to sign to a label to get famous.

The team that I have in place and the people that are in my corner, they’re those dogs. They’re those guys. I trust my career to my team even though I tell my manager all the time, “I just want to upload this song that I made into the world” and he’s like, “Don’t. We’ll do it through the chain of command.” There is no rhyme or reason to success in this shit. That’s why I started a record label, honestly, to be able to hit the “Upload” button for other people and be able to get their shit out so they don’t have to sit around and wait. There’s a lot of people who get stuck in that sort of limbo land of waiting for people to tell them that their music is good to go and that doesn’t do good for anyone, especially the fans. You do have to have some sort of sense of urgency and confidence in what you got but at the same time, to answer your question, you do have to have some sort of control over what it is that you’re putting out into the world.

The pandemic allowed you the time to learn more about the equipment you have and learn more about songwriting. Did it hold anything back? Were you on a recording cycle with Sublime that you had to halt because of the pandemic?

ROME: No, we took that opportunity to try and make something. Sublime went into the studio right in the middle of the pandemic to go and try and make a record, but my head was just not there. I was making my own shit. I was so involved in my stuff. And then, I wrapped up the Rome & Duddy stuff. I had this huge focus on what I was doing and trying to do a last-minute Sublime project, my brain couldn’t handle it. We went out there and it was a disaster and a waste of money. We ended up using, I think, one song but that’s how it goes.

How long have you lived in Nashville?

ROME: I’ve been here about four years. There are music notes on park benches and guitars on the side of buildings. That’s just cool from a musicians’ standpoint. I like seeing that stuff. There’s so much different music here, but it’s a country music-driven town. That’s the beauty of it here though, because country music is phenomenal songwriting and timeless artistry but there’s so many subsets of different genres here now. And now a lot of other major companies are starting to build headquarters out here. With that, and with the influx of people moving here as well, like myself, it changes the dynamic in the town, for better, for worse, just don’t ask the locals, and that helps bring some diversity to the music culture.

You were born and raised in California. Until you moved to Nashville, is that the only place you had ever lived?

ROME: Yep, but I’ve been coming to Nashville because I do a lot of songwriting and producing. I was coming out to Nashville at least once a year to write with my buds and get in the lab with some artists and stuff. Aside from Florida and Texas, because those are two other places that I have family, these are really the only places that I spent considerable time outside of touring. Moving to Nashville wasn’t a crazy decision. It was like, “I love that place. I know where I want to move.”

Anything besides the weather that you miss?

ROME: Definitely the weather and the Mexican food. I miss Mexican food. We have some good spots, but not the same. But that’s about it. And my friends too.

Are there things that you love about Nashville that you tell your friends back in California about?

ROME: Yeah, I do. It’s really expensive here now, though. It’s a really, really, really beautiful place. Coming from somebody who’s always lived in the city and shit, this is just gorgeous and there’s exposed limestone everywhere. It’s so lush and green in the spring. It’s a different pace, it’s a different type of life for me, but it’s a life that I wanted and I had to go and get. For selfish reasons, this place is perfect for me.

Having toured pretty consistently for the last 15 years, did it ever start to feel like a job? Was there ever a time where you were like, “I don’t really want to do this”?

ROME: Once I had a family – children, my wife – that’s the only thing that becomes tough. If your heart isn’t fully in what it is that you’re doing, then that becomes extremely rough. It’s one thing when you’re out and you’re doing what you love and you’re happy and you know you’re missing this thing but it’s for the greater good of this thing. You can stomach that. But what happens when you lose focus of that? That’s when it starts to feel like a job, and that happens for every artist. No artist can tell you that that doesn’t happen with them. It comes in cycles because that’s life. That’s what this shit is. You move through it but what happens when people get stuck in that place where they’re on the road and they’re miserable? That’s when they turn to substances. It happens. It’s very, very, very easy because it’s there and people are just giving it to you. I’ve seen it happen many, many times. I was just talking with some pals about it yesterday in the studio. You have to fix those situations; you’ve got to figure it out. It’s not the music and it sure as hell ain’t the fans, so if you’re in that van or you’re in that hotel and you’re miserable and you’re doing music, there’s a deeper thing going on.

I have to imagine that playing outdoor shows in the summer is the ideal situation for Sublime with Rome. Your music just gives off that vibe.

ROME: First and foremost, it’s just so much fun to do summer tours. It’s like summer camp but, also, the scenery is just very conducive to Sublime’s music. You want to be out in the sun listening to some reggae music and feeling good. I’m sure there’s some people who want to listen to metal and stuff on the beach, too, but, for the most part, no one’s mad at some reggae on the beach. It’ll take you anywhere, which is what’s amazing about music. There’s definitely some sort of synergy with being outdoors and listening to Sublime. All the bands in our scene thrive outdoors, we’re not very fun in the arena.

Looking back on 2023, were there any tour highlights, things you wish you could bottle up and carry with you the rest of your life?

ROME: Just the memories of the camaraderie. You build this family with your crew, with your bandmates, and even with the fans that you see at the same venues, at the same shows. After 15 years, you start to know these people and start to love them and start to really appreciate them. These are memories that I miss every year that goes on just because things change, people change. There are musicians who are like, “We don’t want to be on the road anymore. My cooking business is doing great. I’m going to do that.” And just like what’s happening now with me, these are those things, those memories that I’ll always hold near and dear. Those are the things that I’ll always cherish. Stages and shows and stuff like that, those are amazing. I’ll always have those, but it’s the people and the memories that I’ll always cherish and look back on and be like, “Those are the best.”

Do you have any super fans, anyone who follows you around to every date on a tour or who you see in the same spot up against the rail at multiple tour stops?

ROME: We have this fan named Yoshi who flew from Japan to catch our opening concert with Slightly Stoopid this last summer and then went to every single show in his car. He just followed the buses and the van on his own. He barely speaks English and he takes videos at every single show to put on his YouTube channel. He’s a great guy. He’s really sweet. Toward the end of the tour, we caught wind of what he was doing and we let him come backstage. He was really a harmless cat, really respectful.

We let him come backstage, take a shower, eat some food, do his laundry, whatever he needed. By the end of the tour, we all loved him. We gave him good seats, told security not to mess with him.

I have a group of fans, they call themselves the Romiez, and there’s a lot of them on the East Coast and they meet up in Jersey. Whenever Sublime’s in town or whenever I’m with the Dirty Heads or out there with Rome & Duddy, they always show up really heavy out in Jersey. It’s like this big Jersey sub sector which I think is awesome. That’s what it’s all about, man. That’s why you do it.

I was talking with another artist who shared that he always meets fans as he realizes it’s important to make a connection with the audience. You seem to be very fan friendly as well.

ROME: Yeah, I’m approachable. Sometimes it gets a little tricky to get over to the merch booth and stuff every night, but I’m always like, “Dude, I’m always by the buses.” I’m always out there just hanging out and walking around town and stuff.

I’m just a very super approachable dude because the way I see it is I’m not Justin Bieber. You don’t want a picture with me just because you wanna say you met me. The only people who recognize me are people who probably truly appreciate what it is that I do. Why wouldn’t I wanna meet them? I’m like, “Dude, you like me enough to recognize me in the middle of like Missoula, Montana. That’s so sick. Sure I’ll take a picture with you.”

If this stuff hadn’t worked out for you 15 years ago and you were just a music fan, what band would you have been like Yoshi and followed around on tour?

ROME: Dude, I hopped in my car and followed Primus up through California and Oregon when I was like 15. Primus or anything Les Claypool did. I was one of his Romiez. I’d probably still be following Les if this didn’t work out!

I know you’re keeping what’s next under wraps until you’re ready to announce it. Is it going to be a truly solo thing, or will you be fronting your own band?

ROME: I’m going solo. I mean, I’ll have a live band, but I’m going to take the heat for everything now, not going to rely on anyone.

A couple more before we wrap up and they aren’t really questions so much as they are statements that I’m looking for your thoughts on. I know that you’ve covered Fishbone before, they are one of my favorite bands and I had a chance to interview Chris Dowd in 2023. I’m assuming you’re a big Fishbone fan as well?

ROME: Yeah, Chris is great. I was just talking to Norwood. We did a thing out in Long Beach about a year ago. He was there and Angelo was running around. Those guys are great, man. Fish, of course. We played Riot Fest together, too and it was phenomenal. Fish playing backwards, killing it. “Party at Ground Zero.” We play that song every week in my house. My kids love that shit.

And, can’t let you go without talking about how Josh Freese was a member of Sublime with Rome for a while.

ROME: He’s got crazy, crazy stories. I lived on a bus with him for six years. We would just be sitting somewhere, like at a TJ Maxx getting luggage somewhere in Texas, and, like, a Michelle Branch song would play in the store he’d just smile and look up. I’d be like, “Are you serious? You played on this song?” He played on the most random songs that we’d hear wherever we were at. He’s hilarious. As dark as it sounds, as soon as I found out about Taylor Hawkins, I was like, “Josh.” I knew that was happening, but he couldn’t say anything. I was like, “Just tell me!”

Are there any dreams that you haven’t lived out yet?

ROME: As far as accolades go, doesn’t everybody want a Grammy and an Emmy and all that shit? But, honestly, I would like to be able to bring my own show to Red Rocks. I’ve done it multiple times with Sublime with Rome and it’s been a blessing. That’s the one thing that I would like, even over a Grammy to be honest with you. I would like to be able to play Red Rocks with my band.


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