Jakob Nowell, son of Sublime’s Bradley Nowell will perform at Slowdown this Sunday with his band Jakob’s Castle
Photo By Pep Williams
With their mix of 90’s rock, reggae, hyperpop, and more, Jakob’s Castle is cutting a unique sound in today’s musical landscape. The group is fronted by Jakob Nowell, who is the son of late Sublime vocalist Bradley Nowell. The majority of Sublime’s success came after Bradley’s death in 1997, and the band and its brand are as big with today’s generation as they were with fans twenty-five years ago. Jakob has been performing for over a decade but is now coming to the stage fully accepting who he is and, as he says, playing custodian to his father’s music and legacy while also bringing his music to the forefront.
I caught up with Nowell on the phone as he and his bandmates traveled through rural Utah on the way to a gig in Salt Lake City. We talked about the first singles released from the upcoming album, AI in music and art, and his decision to embrace his father’s legacy and put himself out there in front of longtime and loyal fans of his music.
Jakob’s Castle will perform at Slowdown this Sunday with Common Kings, and you can purchase tickets here.
Omaha Buzz: Talk to me about the “Close Enough” song and video. The song is super hooky, and I liked the vibe of the video.
Jakob Nowell: “Close Enough” was a really interesting song for me. I was part of this band called Law for awhile. When that band broke up, I was like, ‘I want to start my solo project and I want to make music that is really me’, and I had this idea for it in my head, and it took awhile to formulate. Epitaph was getting involved at that point, and they were like, ‘were going to help you develop your solo career here’ and they set up some writing sessions for me, working with a bunch of different writers and producers and doing a bunch of different songs, but it really wasn’t until I met up with Jon Jospeh, who was a producer, that they set me up with, who is now a good friend. He has a studio in San Pedro, California. When we first started writing together we just clicked. I think a lot of people find certain writing partners where they just have a good balance back and forth, knowing when to let the other one follow a lead, follow a line of thought of creativity. “Close Enough” was the first song we worked on. “Close Enough” and “Motel Radio,” and I wanted to release them side by side. Those are really the two Jakob’s Castle songs that kind of captured it all, so I was like, ‘What am I going to do with my music’? I know on some level people were going to be like, ‘Is he going to make Sublime-style music or what?’ I definitely don’t want to do that, but I am a huge fan of the amazing music my father made and all of the music that it spurred on. I think what was so cool about that era of music in the 90’s was that people were fusing so many different things, so I sorta stopped and was like, ‘Hey, why don’t I try that?’ We wanted to get some 90’s style sounds, so we put some cool vintage drum breaks in there; we built a beat with that and tried to make it sound kind of old school; and some DJ scratch sounds in there that are a little more subtle; and I kind of wanted something that I am interested in that is a little more modern kind of like that bedroom producer hyperpop weirdness like annoying sounding synths and pitchshifted vocals in places, and both “Hotel Radio” and “Close Enough” are both sides to that coin. When we finished those, it was one of those rare times where you got exactly what you wanted. Even if no one ends up liking it, I know that I made something I truly loved, and that makes me excited.
Omaha Buzz: Did you end up making a video for “Motel Radio”? At the end of the “Close Enough” video, it teases that one.
Nowell: The “Close Enough” video was really rad too. I was still working on the album and some of the songs, and this is later last year in October, and I started to see some of that AI stuff floating around, and I was like, ‘Man, I can do this’, and this was before it was all readily accessible, and so I hosted this local server for stable diffusion and learned a little bit of coding language and how to make Python run on my computer and uploaded all these terminals so I could generate all the images. Me and my bandmates, that are in the car with me, the very first time we met up and jammed, we played those two songs, “Close Enough” and “Motel Radio,” back to back. My tour manager at the time, she just filmed us playing it for us to have it for fun, and I was like, ‘This could be a video’ and so I put in the AI effects and spent painstaking hours trying to get it to look right, then I had her edit it. It all kind of came together. We ended up doing just “Close Enough,” but I still have all of the AI footage generated for “Motel Radio” as well, so I think someday that will surface.
Omaha Buzz: What is your take on AI in music and art?
Nowell: It’s a tough balance; I hate giving a middle-of-the-road response, but I am a musician, and especially visual artists we create something that is so personally ours, and to have it be so readily accessible to steal personal styles and do it in such a quick way, I think it’s a bum out. I think it is so easy to replicate stuff, and I can totally see that, but I think that there is a difference. In the early days, it is kind of like the wild west, where everybody is getting in where they can get in. Ultimately, I think it is a good thing. AI is another tool. I think it is like the switch from analog to digital; it is another tool that we can use as long as we are using it ethically and using those styles in a transformative process. I have a lot of people who don’t even comment on the AI aspects of the video; we really varied it, and for people to say, ‘It’s easy and you just click a button,’ is totally not true. I spent easily one hundred hours generating the AI images. It’s very taxing. We just finished up a video for “Time Traveler,” and we are releasing that, and we have a single for “Lights Out” that will be dropping this Monday (9-25).
Omaha Buzz: I love hyper-pop-type music, as I think that is what is fresh and interesting right now. You mix that in with a lot of other styles, it seems—where are these influences coming from?
Nowell: I feel that with the way trends go now-a-days, anything that is new, the new big buzzword that almost becomes like lame, I hesitate to hail my influences from that stuff, but at the same time, hyperpop in general or whatever image that brings is genuinely something that interests me, and it’s exciting. I just like music that inspired people make and I see that happen with a lot of music that gets labeled “hyperpop”. You know really excited and creative people who are making music in their bedroom at times and who are fusing together a lot of genres like pop music and pushing it to the absolute extremes and limits, and I found so much influence from that creative spirit. It’s funny because for the longest time, pop music was the opposite of, like that anarchy punk, and then I feel that hyperpop makes it go full circle again, and I feel like the spirit of punk the spirit of DIY seems to be alive in those alternative pop spheres. Obviously, 100 gecs is the biggest influence to me. I listen to all the other hypepop stuff. The way that they do it and the way that duo creates music, I think it transcends a lot of that stuff. I think they have a lot of Sublime influence in them; I hear it at least, especially on their most recent record.
Omaha Buzz: You signed with Epitaph, which is still a well-known label, but in the 90’s, that label meant a certain sound and style and has a legacy to it. What are your thoughts on signing to that label?
Nowell: Epitaph is awesome. It makes sense on so many levels. Ultimately, what I am trying to do is bring back a lot of those 90’s sounds in the sense of trying to fuse and merge genres. While also merging all the cool underground I see happening in Southern California today and all the internet culture that I grew up with. So Epitaph being such a mainstay when it comes to that culture, I felt like the name and the brand itself fit in a lot of ways. So far, working with them has been awesome. They give a lot of creative freedom to their artists.
Omaha Buzz: You wrote with Tim Armstrong (Rancid); how was that? Has he always been an acquaintance of yours?
Nowell: No, I was introduced to him through Epitaph. What is funny is that his band and my dad’s band were also two sides to the same coin. This sort of California, punk, reggae, and SKA mix type of thing, but they mixed it in very different ways. They never really crossed paths too overtly. Tim is just a total genius and the nicest, most friendly dude. He is the type of guy who, when you meet him, he would treat you like you were his long-lost nephew or niece. It really met well with the vision of this project because we were writing music that was very old-school sounding, very rock steady stuff that sounded like it came from that era, and then we would take the songs that we wrote and bring them to Jon Jospeh, and then he and I would Castle-ify it, and like, how would this sound if we were to make this today as if we were these obscure underground internet people? What are the aesthetics of that-that we can pull from, and how do we make that sound cool and accessible but also unique and genuine? That was part of the goal; it was a really fun process, and I hope to do it again with the next record.
Photo By Danin Jacquay
Omaha Buzz: How important is California to your music? It seems that there is a purposeful message of representing California.
Nowell: I might be biased, but California is my favorite place in the entire world. It’s the best place to live in the entire world. It’s got a little bit of something for everybody, and it’s just a really special place. There is so much mythology behind California; it seems like it’s never getting old; it’s like this constant fountain wellspring of creativity for a lot of different people. It’s just so diverse in its many cultures, and it’s a big melting pot of so many different things. Obviously, with my dad’s music and Sublime, they captured a moment in Southern California history when they were around, and that affected so many musicians to make so many different kinds of genres of music. For me to just make reggae, punk, or hyper-pop music, I didn’t want to do any of that. I wanted to keep that spirit alive through the music of Jakob’s Castle. I have been meeting and hope to continue to meet so many amazing up-and coming musicians that are messing with the formula, so to speak. I think the rest of the country and hopefully the world will be excited about the movement I see happening in Southern California right now.
Omaha Buzz: Sublime has become a pretty timeless entity. How do both older and younger fans react to your music?
Nowell: The reaction so far has been very positive. That is why I wanted “Time Traveler” to be the first song I released. It was one of the songs on the record I released with Tim that me and John made that sound weird and different and used those internet influences, but literally, with the lyrics itself and the name of the song, and the hook, ‘I’m a time traveler, I can see my future,” it was so genuine. The hook came from Tim and I wrote the rest around it. I wanted it to symbolize ‘hey, I am a fan of this era of music’, but I’m also a fan of what’s to come next. So if I am doing my job right, then the older cats might be more accepting of some of the younger music, and some of the young people who maybe never heard of bands like Sublime or stuff from that era might be, ‘Oh wow, this is sounding like a lot of the stuff that I think is cool right now’.
Omaha Buzz: You are embracing who you are and not trying to brush it to the side, as some artists have done. Was that a hard choice to make, or just what seems natural to you?
Nowell: It’s a hard choice to make. I spent years and years running from it. We just watched that movie Kill Bill; I have seen it one hundred million times, but at the end of Volume II, Beatrix Kiddo is having that conversation with Bill after he shoots her with the sodium pentothal, his version of it, the truth serum, and he is talking about Superman and the mythology of superheroes, and all the superheroes are Bruce Wayne or Peter Parker, and then when they put on the costume that is their alter ego, when they wake up they are Peter Parker, they are Bruce Wayne. Superman was the only one where Clark Kent was the mask. He spent all of his life, all of this trying to be Clark Kent; he wasn’t sure of himself, and it was like that critique on human society itself, but when he woke up, he was Superman; he was born in that cape. And for the longest time, I tried to ignore who I was—not that I think I am Superman; I am not that egotistical, though I am a lead singer, and they are all egotistical. I tried to ignore the fact of who I am, and I don’t think anyone would fault me for that. Start a farm or something; you don’t have to be a part of this. The simple truth is that my dad created something really special, and for a very long time, there have been people out there that have been tarnishing that name and tarnishing that brand, and there have been a lot of people who have gotten the wrong idea. I don’t want people to think that Sublime is just the Target t-shirt band. I think it is time to do both really. I think it is time to do it with my own music and play a couple of their songs live too. I really want to blend it all together. So, it was a very difficult choice because you are going to constantly be under that scrutiny, and people will constantly think I had an easy time or a leg up because of that stuff, but to those people, I say, ‘why didn’t I snap my fingers ten years ago and become famous when I started making music? ‘ It wasn’t that simple. I put in my work; I had to practice very very hard and constantly and do so every day to try to maintain the level that I want to give my performances to the people who are so nice enough to come out and see me. I don’t think of it is so much a gift as it is a duty that I have to do because my father is not here to enjoy the fruits of his labor and all of the amazing things they created, so I see myself as more of a custodian of all of his stuff. Of course, I love performing, and I want my own music to reach an audience, but to me, it is all a holistic process. I am Jakob Nowell; I am also am Jakob’s Castle and everything else in between.
Omaha Buzz: You will be playing here with Common Kings; do you have a connection with the band before going on tour together?
Nowell: I have always been a big fan, but no, we got put together in a really awesome, natural way. We are on tour with them right now; we are on our third week, and we are going to be gone till November, so a two-month tour all over the country, hitting all the major markets. They have been the best headliners to tour with. We are direct support on most of the shows, but often times when you are opening or direct support, the headliner can be kind of mean, like ‘don’t come in our green room’ or “don’t have candy’ and all that stuff, but Common Kings could not be more to the contrary; they are just the nicest dudes; they are like big brothers hooking us up and helping us out and everything. It’s been a real treat getting to be on the road with them.
Omaha Buzz: What can people expect from at Jakob’s Castle show?
Nowell: They can expect to have their lives changed irreversibly. Like the first time you take acid, you will never be the same after your first Jakob’s Castle show. ::laughs:: No, I just try to keep it super positive up on stage. If you come and see us expect some funny stuff and some skits in between songs. We do a full entertainment act with weird internet liminal space hyperpop visuals happening in the background and a lot of jumping up and down. I tend to jump a lot when I am performing; I don’t know what that is all about. My two bandmates just give it their all, and we try to have insanely high energy. Definitely drink a Red Bull before you come to the show because you might get tired looking at us jump around. It’s exhausting, but it’s the most fun ever, and I just try to remind people every time I play that our time here is limited and we don’t know how much time we are going to get with our loved ones, so we have to enjoy it now. We do this weird, strange ritual of coming out to shows, standing in crowds, and listening to loud music come out of amplifiers. Why do we do it? I think we do it because of the memories that we make. Those memories that no one can take away from us and the connections we make along the way is what make this line of work so special; it strips away all the other stuff.