Sublime Rises Again: Bradley Nowell’s Son Jakob Could Lead a Huge New Era (If External Conflicts Don’t Weigh It Down)

“To tell you the truth,” says Jakob Nowell, “the songs really weren’t a huge part of my life.”


Jakob’s curls cover the top of his eyes during a mid-March Zoom chat, as he delves into the uneasy topic of his being born into rock royalty. The only son of Sublime singer Bradley Nowell was certainly aware of his late father’s legacy and the long tail of his music; growing up around San Diego and Long Beach, his mother, Troy, would play him Sublime songs on occasion, and the band’s music has long been a permanent fixture of the California rock scene. 

“But if you listen to a song by a late family member, it’ll make you cry, or at least be hard to listen to,” Jakob points out, shaggy hair bouncing in place. “I definitely knew a lot of the catalog, but not to the point where folks might think. It wasn’t like, downloaded into my DNA at birth.”

Jakob was one month away from his first birthday when his father died of an accidental heroin overdose in May 1996, just as Sublime’s cult following was about to expand nationally with the ska-punk trio’s major label debut. Sublime, released in July 1996, was a posthumous smash, establishing Sublime as both ‘90s alt-rock icons and an enduring West Coast institution, on the way to selling 7 million copies to date, according to Luminate. And Jakob, a kind and passionate kid who ended up becoming a musician as well, says that his lineage was “both a blessing and a curse” as he was trying to find his own voice outside of his father’s long shadow.

“People might assume, ‘Oh, he must be a nepotism kid who was handed everything,’” says the 28-year-old Jakob, who got his start in the rock band LAW before forming the pop-leaning psych-rock solo group Jakobs Castle. “I mean, I’ve been toiling in obscurity for 10 years and haven’t had a big break yet, so I guess it doesn’t work as good as people thought it did!”

At long last, however, Jakob has decided to try on his father’s shoes, and is about to step into a much brighter spotlight. This week, Jakob will join his dad’s old bandmates, bassist Eric Wilson and drummer Bud Gaugh, on the main stage of the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival, where he will lead a new incarnation of Sublime and sing his father’s biggest hits. It’s a huge home-state gig that will kick off a summer of festival performances, including Brightside Music Festival later this month and Point Break in June. 

And while Coachella will mark just the second public performance featuring the younger Nowell alongside Wilson and Gaugh, if things go well, this refurbished Sublime could be playing major stages for years to come. Jakob refers to Wilson and Gaugh as the “uncles” that he would see from time to time while he was growing up; now, the combination of two of Sublime’s founding members and Bradley Nowell’s talented adult son could be a triumvirate that prolongs the band’s musical legacy.

“I never thought this would happen,” Wilson says, before adding with a laugh, “I never thought that Brad would have a son that sounds almost better than him.”

Considering the continued success of Sublime songs like “Santeria,” “What I Got,” “Badfish” and “Wrong Way” on streaming services and alternative radio more than a quarter-century after their release, a live version of the band with maximum authenticity could spell big business. Sublime’s music has been attracting sizable crowds for years, mostly through Sublime With Rome, the tribute act that long featured Wilson, at one point included Gaugh, and which is still operating today – somewhat to the consternation of the newly formed Sublime. 

All three members acknowledge that seeing the word “Sublime” on the Coachella lineup, with zero asterisks or qualifiers, feels special. Ticket buyers, whether longtime fans who remember their ‘90s run or younger listeners discovering “Doin’ Time” via TikTok or Lana Del Rey’s Rock Airplay-topping 2019 cover, could feel the same way.

“This is a property that is extremely valuable,” says Joe Escalante, the longtime Vandals drummer now co-managing this version of Sublime. “Let’s make it more valuable, while the guys keep doing what they want to do.”

Still, Jakob wants to make it clear to the thousands watching him onstage with Wilson and Gaugh this summer, whether at Coachella or elsewhere: he is not Sublime, and he is not his father. “I’m so happy that something my family was part of has touched their lives, but I’m not going to be the second coming of their favorite singer,” he says. “What I’m doing is custodial work. I just want to keep the catalog alive.”

As surprising as Sublime’s mainstream success became in the wake of Bradley Nowell’s death, it’s perhaps even more improbable that the band’s discography has transcended the 1990s alternative boom to remain commercially viable in the 2020s. After distinguishing themselves within the Long Beach scene in the early ‘90s thanks to Bradley Nowell’s laidback croon, the band’s daring storytelling and their playful-yet-edgy mix of genres, Sublime’s loyal following would turn up to their chaotic live shows and push for spins on KROQ. “The unique fusion of hip-hop, reggae, alternative and punk rock was transcendent in its time, and still is,” says Lisa Worden, senior VP of rock and alternative at iHeartMedia.

After signing to MCA Records, Sublime recorded their debut for the label in a haze of drugs in early 1996, and Nowell died in a San Francisco hotel room before the album reached record stores. As Wilson and Gaugh moved on to projects like Long Beach Dub Allstars, however, the hit singles that spun off of Sublime’s self-titled album kept enduring at alternative radio, and eventually started collecting millions of plays as the streaming era arrived. “Santeria” and “What I Got” have earned 949.3 million and 629.9 million respective U.S. on-demand streams to date, according to Luminate; “Doin’ Time” has also earned nine-figure streams (286 million), although Del Rey’s faithful cover of the song has earned even more (358 million). Meanwhile, Sublime’s songs are still sending FM listeners back to the nineties, with 74,000 total U.S. terrestrial radio plays in 2024 so far.

“A curious thing about these generational zeitgeist-defining artists is that they can be both a time machine as well as a time capsule for audiences of different generations,” says JP Alves, Spotify’s Artists & Labels Partnerships – Catalog lead. “They have an ability to reflect the spirit of their era that will forever appeal to those who lived through it, as well as entice those who didn’t. They become timeless bridges across generations, which is what I believe Sublime has ascended to.”

As the band’s music endured, Jakob Nowell wanted little to do with it. “I was always really hesitant to be involved with the Sublime stuff — I wasn’t sure if it was my place, and it’s a lot of scrutiny,” he explains.

Last year, while on tour with Jakobs Castle, he stopped by the Phoenix Theatre in Petaluma, where his father played his final show in May 1996. He saw Sublime tags on the wall, and stumbled upon a recovery meeting in one of the rooms; Jakob, who is seven years sober after battling addiction in his teen years, sat down and shared his life story with the meeting, “talking about living in a shadow and not being sure how to interface with it,” he says. Jakob thought about how he was 28 years old, the same age as his father when he passed away. A switch flipped in him that day —  for the first time, he thought about picking up Bradley’s microphone. ”That moment made me think, ‘Okay, I can do this,’” Jakob says.

Meanwhile, Gaugh and Wilson had been contacted to participate in a benefit show for H.R., the leader of punk legends Bad Brains who was struggling with SUNCT (Short-lasting Unilateral Neuralgiform with Conjunctival injection and Tearing). Escalante, who had already been working with Wilson, got in touch with Jakob’s manager, the SoCal industry veteran Kevin Zinger, about the show, and a rehearsal was arranged between the surviving Sublime members and Bradley’s son, who had never played with them before.

“That first rehearsal — everybody walked in with a little bit of anxiety,” recalls Zinger, a show promoter in the ‘90s who made Sublime one of his go-to’s in San Diego. “And when they first hit the notes, you could see right away that there was an obvious connection with them all. I remember, they took a smoke break after the first hour and a half, and everybody’s looking at each other like, ‘This is really going down, and this is so cool.’”

When Sublime took the stage at the Teragram Ballroom in L.A. for the H.R. benefit show on Dec. 11, Jakob led Wilson and Gaugh through a nine-song set full of classics, ditching his shirt quickly and rolling through each guitar riff with ease. The puckish warmth in his voice resembled that of his father’s, but his delivery provided a new dimension, punctuating certain lyrics differently and breathing a youthful flair into the hits.

“They definitely got their own individualities,” says Gaugh when comparing Jakob’s performance style to his memories of Bradley. “There are some striking resemblances in terms of their mannerisms, though. Sometimes it’s f–king weird.”

Zinger says that the “phone was ringing off the hook” following the benefit show performance, with bookers sniffing out a fresh take on a proven formula. A long-standing relationship between Escalante and Goldenvoice CEO/president Paul Tollett landed Sublime on the Coachella lineup when it was announced in mid-January, with more festival dates set soon after. And while such a stage like Coachella, with such little public practice, could be seen as more daunting than a headlining show full of Sublime faithful, Escalante thinks the performance could play out like the reunited Blink-182’s set at Coachella 2023.

“Everyone there knew all the words to all of their songs, and we watched them triumph,” he says of Blink last year. “Even though people didn’t buy their tickets to see Sublime, music fans know the story, and they know the songs.”

Part of the reason why everyone knows Sublime’s songs: another iteration of the band has been active on the road for over a decade.

In 2009, Wilson and Gaugh formed Sublime With Rome, a new outfit fronted by singer-songwriter and guitarist Rome Ramirez, which functioned as a Sublime tribute act with a loaded touring schedule and occasional studio output of original material. While Gaugh departed Sublime With Rome in 2011, Wilson was a mainstay with the group for over a decade, recording three albums with the group over the 2010s and providing the credibility of a real Sublime member in the lineup. Sublime With Rome was fairly popular outside of their shows, too: 2011’s Yours Truly scored a top 10 debut on the Billboard 200, and their original catalog registered 4.5 million U.S. streams last month, according to Luminate.

Weeks after the Coachella announcement, however, Wilson announced that he would no longer be part of Sublime With Rome, and would focus on playing with Jakob and Gaugh. “I was very much not into the SWR thing anymore — it felt like punching into a factory,” says Wilson, adding that the tribute group favored click tracks while he was in favor of a looser, jam-band atmosphere.

However, a source with knowledge of the situation says that Sublime With Rome was “blindsided” by Wilson’s departure — which came weeks before the group announced a lengthy tour that will run through the fall. Two days before Sublime takes the stage at Coachella, Sublime With Rome will kick off its own trek in Catoosa, Okla., and will likely perform several of the same songs as Sublime, in a 2,600-capacity venue.

The overlap between competing concurrent Sublime live incarnations is a situation that’s downright confusing, and which neither party seemingly wants to occur. While a rep for Sublime With Rome did not respond to a request for comment, a source confirms that Ramirez was interested in wrapping up Sublime With Rome at the end of 2025 and going forth with a solo career, following a headlining tour in 2024 and co-headlining run with another band planned for next year.

The 2024 dates were already on the books when Wilson pulled out of Sublime With Rome and united with Nowell and Gaugh – so now, those dates have been billed as a farewell tour, and the 2025 shows have been scrapped. (“If I could wave a magic wand and just turn those into Rome shows, I would,” Ramirez said in a March interview with Rolling Stone. “But the fact of the matter is, we have commitments that we’ve made to multiple people, from our fans, to the promoters, to, heck, even the legacy. We’ve made commitments, and we have to stick by them.”)

For Jakob, the situation is simple: Sublime belongs to original members Wilson and Gaugh, and they have the right to steer the band however they please. “It should be totally uncontroversial that two old friends want to play their songs with their friend’s son,” he says. As for Ramirez’s comments about Sublime with Rome’s commitment to the fans, Jakob says, “To me, that just seems like a lot of jive, a lot of sensationalism. There’s no big war, there’s no ill will that I have towards anybody. They played cover songs for a while, and put out music of their own, but Sublime With Rome was a separate entity.

Without Wilson and Gaugh involved, Jakob believes that Sublime With Rome cannot be the keepers of the flame for the original band. “They made so many people think they were Sublime,” Jakob continues. “No — Eric Wilson is Sublime, Bud Gaugh is Sublime, Bradley Nowell is Sublime. I’m not! I’m just his son, being asked to sing because I’m related to the guy. I’m not a replacement for him, no more than Rome is. If anything, you’d think he and I would have a lot more in common — talk about living in someone’s shadow your entire career. I have a big hill to try and climb over, and I’m sure that guy does, too. So if I were him, I’d be eager to move on to different pastures.”

Ultimately, Zinger says, this awkwardness will pass. Sublime With Rome will wind down over the next six months — a final album has been announced for a May 10 release, with the single “Love Is Dangerous” issued last week — and Sublime and Ramirez will continue in different trajectories.

“They wanted to do a farewell tour, and that’s what they’re doing,” Zinger says of Sublime With Rome. “Rome made his contribution to Sublime’s history, and I think this is a good way to end that chapter of their history, and start a new one.”

Along with the Sublime With Rome weirdness, the band has also been tangled up in a battle with their former law firm, with a legal malpractice lawsuit filed by the band in February met with a countersuit alleging avoided legal bills in March. When he signed on to work with the band, Escalante says that, in general, “We spent a lot of time dealing with legal complaints, and everybody’s complaints that weren’t working with them anymore, and that is, for the most part, behind us.”

Meanwhile, coordinating schedules and touring opportunities is also a little tricky, considering Jakob’s solo touring commitments and the fact that Gaugh is a family man who lives in Reno, Nev. “When I was asked if I was interested in doing this, I was like, ‘This feels great, but first and foremost, my No. 1 title is dad,’” Gaugh, who has three children, explains. “I’m not jumping back on a tour bus anytime soon.”

So the three members have come to an understanding: any touring future will continue to consist of spot festival dates that make sense with their respective schedules, as demonstrated by their 2024 itinerary. Jakob will continue to tour and release music under the Jakobs Castle moniker, Wilson will have a looser schedule than he had when Sublime with Rome was on extended runs, and Gaugh can avoid the multi-week treks altogether. Everyone involved sounds comfortable playing Sublime’s touring plans by ear.

“As far as coming up with a 24-to-36-month strategic plan and optimizing blah blah blah, all that bulls–t is not happening,” Zinger says. Of course, that doesn’t mean that there won’t be opportunities in between tour dates: Escalante mentions a revitalized merch business for the band, as well as a biopic “that’s pretty close to being greenlit,” he says. And Wilson and Gaugh both hint at some early studio outtakes that the band could revisit and continue tinkering with for a future release — potentially with Jakob’s voice helping fill in the gaps that Bradley’s voice left behind, although nothing is finalized quite yet.

For Escalante, who remembers the Vandals palling around with Sublime decades ago, the complicating factors of the band’s current situation are justified by the fact that they’ve moved on from their drug-addled past into a relatively calm present. “I was around for the very, very beginning, and these guys were a mess 90% of the time,” he recalls. “If they were on a bill with the Vandals, I just assumed they weren’t coming.”

Now, he says, “This is nothing like that. Jakob is sober, and while Bud and Eric are not sober, as long as I’ve been involved, they haven’t been a problem, not like in the old days.” Everyone is aware of what’s at stake, Escalante says, and is on the same page as a result. “I’ve never been involved with anything where everything is working together so smoothly,” he says.

Regardless of how big this new Sublime becomes – and how much drama the band has had to endure to make it possible – Jakob is grateful for a situation he refers to as a “family reunion,” which has involved reconnecting with his musical uncles as well as his late father’s music. He wants to act like a professional, he says, and treat a show like the Coachella performance like a standard gig, but of course it’s a personal job. Through the rehearsals and preparation, Jakob has finally done the Sublime catalog deep dive, and found subtle messages from Bradley, that he believes only he could pick up.

“Whether it’s an inside joke, or recurring themes or characters, or even just the melodies, you get this beautiful tapestry,” says Jakob. “Through learning this material, it has become a way to get reacquainted with someone you never knew.”

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