Three decades later, Sublime’s Eric Wilson is still living the high life

From a tour bus "somewhere directly above the center of the Earth,” the bassist discusses Sublime’s legacy, the new Sublime With Rome album, and Lana Del Rey’s “Doin’ Time” cover.

July 11, 2019
Three decades later, Sublime’s Eric Wilson is still living the high life Photo: Andreas Ramirez  

Sublime, Bill Guttentag's forthcoming documentary detailing the Long Beach polyglot-rock band's initial run as well as the creative and personal life of late frontman Bradley Nowell, is as revealing as it is frustratingly limited in its scope. The doc concludes abruptly, after a questionably triumphant coda chronicling the unexpected commercial success of the band's final, self-titled album in 1996, released shortly after Nowell had passed away due to a fatal heroin overdose. There's no mention of the short-lived, post-Sublime outfit Long Beach Dub Allstars, which counted Sublime members Bud Gaugh and Eric Wilson in its initial ranks — the same goes for Sublime With Rome, which represents the latest iteration of Wilson's musical career and rose from the ashes of a failed attempt to stage a quasi-reunion under the original band name.

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During a phone call with Wilson last month — while he and Sublime With Rome were in the middle of a tour behind the Rome Ramirez-fronted band's latest album, Blessings — I asked him why he thinks Guttentag decided to end the documentary at a point where much of Wilson's own recent musical history was left unmentioned. (Along with former Sublime member Bud Gaugh, Wilson is featured prominently throughout Sublime, offering anecdotes aplenty about the band's troubled, hard-partying past.) "I don't know," he answered honestly, while optimistically opining that the conclusion possibly "leaves it open" for a sequel. "But the cool thing about that…" he trails off, a few seconds of silence left in the wake of his unfinished thought. "Um, I forgot what I was going to say. I'm too high."

Indeed, Wilson seems to continue embracing the mellow, chemically besotted reputation that he and his bandmates had during Sublime's initial run; at another point in our conversation, he has trouble locating where, geographically, he actually is at that given moment, describing his personal pinpoint as "somewhere directly above the center of the Earth" before someone else on the tour bus helpfully points out that they're passing through Bloomington, Illinois. Despite being easily distracted, however, he had little trouble sharing his thoughts on Sublime's legacy, his current band's run, whether he'll ever again speak to Gaugh (who left SWR in late 2011 and later stated it "felt wrong" to perform under the name without Nowell), and his playing bass on Lana Del Rey's recent cover of Sublime's "Doin' Time."

From your days in Sublime until now, you've been accustomed to the touring life for a while. What's easier and harder about the experience?

This tour's been easier than the last tour, when we traveled with 13 people in a 12-bunk bus, which is pretty crowded. This time, we have three buses. It's like a home on wheels.

Do you have any kind of gnarly tour memories in general from the past?

I have a lot of them. It was a lot rougher back in the day, but now that I look back at it, those were the best adventures. When Brad was around, we'd drive any vehicle we could get working enough to go across the country, we'd rent a U-Haul trailer, tell them we wanted it for a day, take it for a month, and drop it off around the corner.

Blessings is the first record you've made with drummer Carlos Verdugo. What was it like working with him?

He's a perfectionist and he beats himself up pretty hard, so he just works really hard to do his best. He beats the hell out of his drums, and that's the way we like it. He's definitely the guy for the job.

What was your general mindset while working on this album?

We were recording at Sonic Ranch in Texas — a studio downtown right near the border of Juarez. It's where you get away from everything and just get down to writing. Working with Rob Cavallo was really a good idea, we had a great time with him and he brought out the best in us. It's a lot easier to work with Rob on writing stuff than it has been in the past, so it came out a lot better for those reasons. Well yeah we did a lot of experimental things that we haven't tried before. It was, like, a year ago [Laughs], so, I mean, I don't know. It just went really well.

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Sublime with Rome has existed for almost a decade now. What's different and what's stayed the same?

We've grown as a band. We got to know Rome a lot better. [Gabriel McNair] from No Doubt played trombone, and it's a pleasure to have him. It's like the old Sublime band. Rome does a really good job at singing the songs, and he writes some good stuff too. It's definitely a different vibe, but we're a different band.

Do you remember the first time you met Rome?

I was hanging out with my friend Lew Richards in the studio, playing drums in a psychedelic band with him. Rome was there with his girlfriend at the time — she was doing an album there, and we just met like that. We started jamming and stuff.

He was really young when you guys started working together. How have you seen him grow as a person?

He became a much better person after he had a wife and kid — he sprung back down to Earth a bit. It's a lot of pressure to be the frontman, especially at his age. I don't even think he was in a band before playing with us — he was doing, like, open mic nights or something. He definitely had some ego problems, but those have deflated a lot since he has a family now.

Sublime's music has always been in the air, but the band's legacy seems most relevant than ever now.

Yeah, at first we had a lot of haters online, but they were just helping publicize us anyway. You know how the old saying goes, "Any publicity is good publicity." Then people would hear our songs and, whether they wanted to or not, they'd kind of get it. We're definitely blessed. We just keep coming up with cool stuff that's catchy, and people like to hear it. Just the other day, this younger guy in this one band came over, and whenever like guys come over and jam with me, they go, "Hey, let's play "Badfish." And I'm like, "Nah, dude let's play some Black Flag or something." But he managed to do three or four of our new songs. I still didn't play them with him, but that was pretty cool.

A lot of people were surprised when Lana Del Rey covered “Doin' Time” for the Sublime documentary.

I played the bass on that. I didn't get a chance to meet her, but I was really impressed. There was this 80-year-old woman playing the harp, and it sounded really really cool. The producer — Andrew, what the hell is his last name, he's like one of the big producers in Hollywood right now [Editor's Note: Andrew Wyatt of Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper's "Shallow"] — he produced it, and he was really on top of things. We recorded it at this big mansion in Beverly Hills — it used to be Charlie Chaplin's manager's house, which was interesting. The whole thing was pretty cool. Lana's got a good voice. I'm not really into pop music, but it's definitely good stuff that she does.

Have you seen the documentary yet?

I don't think I've seen the completely finished one — I saw it the first time that they screened it. They did the best job of anybody so far.

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The emotional core of the film is when you and former Sublime member Bud Gaugh talk about the day of Bradley’s death. How did it feel to revisit that on camera?

It wasn't that stressful, because the guy that I was talking to was this really kind-hearted person that brought out the best of whatever he needed to get out of us. The last time we had an interview like that was for VH1, with some pop dude they put us in a dark room with a light on us. He wasn't very nice. He probably worked for the police or something.

Did you talk to Bud while you guys were doing interviews for the documentary?

No. I haven't talked to him for a while, because when he left the band last time he was causing some problems and we had a bad falling out.

So you haven't spoken to him since he left Sublime With Rome.

No.

Is there a pathway to repairing your relationship with him?

I don't know. We'll have to see. I've known Bud longer than anybody, but he didn't travel well. It's just too bad, because as far as playing together, we have the best chemistry. I hope the best for him, but he just drags down anyone that's around him. It's really hard to be positive when you're miles away from home, stuck in a bus or a little van with someone like that. Time comes when you have to weigh the good and bad.

Shit, we never once kicked him out ever, so, I don't know. Carlos, he's a great drummer, we got really good chemistry and he's always got a smile on his face, so I'm grateful for him and I don't see him parting ways anytime soon. I don't think I'm going to play with Bud again. I'd do some recording maybe, or one show or something, but he ain't gonna change. I love him and shit, but it's just one of those things.

You've lived a long life. Do you have any regrets?

I don't really look back and regret anything. As far as music goes, I just want to keep up with the times. I've been getting into a lot of electronic stuff — it's a whole other world there. I've been finding out about some really good stuff that's really fucking worth listening to, and I hope to be part of one of those bands.

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Three decades later, Sublime’s Eric Wilson is still living the high life