Ready to know more about San Diego?


Jakob Nowell Is Not Sublime’s Frontman

Raised in San Diego, Bradley Nowell’s son returns home with his father’s band on July 20
Photo Credit: Josh Kim

California summer, the windows rolled down, the back of my thighs sticking to the car seat as my friend’s car rattles over potholes. The AC is broken. It could be any year; I could be 10 or 15 or 28. The radio is on; the beat is thick and sweet. Oh, let me, let me tell you why I feel like that…

We hear Bradley Nowell singing new lyrics for the first time in almost three decades, recorded before his death in 1996. His voice is joined by SoCal native band Stick Figure and Bradley’s son, Jakob Nowell, the new frontman of Sublime—though Jakob isn’t so comfortable with that title.

“My dad, Bradley, was Sublime’s only frontman,” Jakob tells me. I’m meeting him over Zoom, and the screen spins dizzily as he takes it somewhere outside—a backyard, maybe. The world is green and warm around him. “I’m only here to fulfill a role and then try to see where we can bring that to new heights, into new areas,” he says. “You know, I can’t just try to be something that I’m not.” 

Alright, not the frontman of Sublime. Who, then, is Jakob Nowell? These days, he pursues his personal music with his band Jakobs Castle. The group released their debut album, Enter: The Castle, on April 12 with the tagline “beach meets internet.” 

Jakob’s roots are in San Diego. Raised by his mother, Troy Dendekker, and stepfather after Bradley’s death by overdose when Jakob was only 11 months old, Jakob grew up as “one of those types who didn’t fit into anything,” he says. “I didn’t feel like I spoke the same language or that I was made of the same stuff as all of these people around me.” Eventually, a common language materialized: drugs.

Famous California reggae band Sublime with Bud Gaugh and Eric Wilson
Courtesy of YDG Music

Jakob speaks about those difficult experiences openly. “The net of drug addiction is very, very wide,” he says. Jakob cast that net, and was caught in it, as a teenager looking for community. A decade later, he found a stronger community in his recovery—and in the celebration of alternative culture that, to him, is synonymous with Sublime and with Southern California at large. 

“I think that’s our export; that’s our chief brand. F**k Hollywood, f**k all of the mainstream, hyper-polished taking all of these subgenres and making them marketable and palatable,” Jakob says. “I think there’s still such a huge, wide swath of people here in SoCal that are hungry for and looking for a chance to connect with something authentic. It doesn’t have to be anything bigger or more than that. Because if you’re born here, you know Sublime.”

To him, Sublime is a community experience first and foremost. He considers himself a “conduit” for his “uncles,” the bassist Eric Wilson and drummer Bud Gaugh, so that they can continue to play and perform. His goal as a musician, he says, is to “clear-headedly try to bring as many people as I can together to have a good time.”

Jakob Nowell performing with his father's (Bradley Nowell) band Sublime with Bud Gaugh and Eric Wilson
Courtesy of iHeart Media

I am swept up in the narrative and misinterpret this as selflessness or a self-erasure— the prodigal son serving as a custodian of his father’s legacy, carefully maintaining the tapestry of Sublime but not daring to continue to weave it. The band trapped in amber, existing both as a living thing in the ’90s and as a museum to itself. Poetic, no? Jakob doesn’t let me get away with it. 

“You cannot recreate a moment,” he says. Jakob is walking the tightrope between the old and the new. An entirely new record is out of the question. But the spirit of Sublime—and the unique collaborative nature that made the band’s music so vibrant and compelling—can live on. 

“Sublime always had this vibe like these guys are just messing around and hanging out inside of a room somewhere,” he continues. The magic ingredient is “the love and passion [for] their favorite music.”

Currently, Jakob is playing with snippets of unreleased ideas from the Sublime catalog, sometimes chopping up old bootlegs and piecing them into songs. He calls it an “experimental phase” because it may never see the light of day. 

“I don’t know if I’m supposed to be talking about this,” he says. He’s smiling, but there is no trace of cheekiness in his face; he is not giving me a scoop, just telling it how it is. More than merely a creative exercise, revisiting old Sublime music is a deeply personal, complicated endeavor. The voice on the recording is that of a father he never got to know. 

California reggae band Sublime featuring Bradley Nowell's son Jakob and band members
Courtesy of Jakob Nowell

“It was very emotionally challenging and complicated and weird,” Jakob says. “You want connect with it, but there’s also just so much guilt that gets sort of put upon you that you can’t help but feel and sympathize with. A lot of that comes from people and also from your own sense of imposter syndrome.” 

But that doesn’t mean that it is devoid of joy. “My dad loved making music,” he says. “I love making music. If I could just sit in that moment and live there and just say, ‘This is not for me. This is for everyone around me’—then it becomes a lot more fun.” 

I recalibrate, try again: Jakob is taking up somebody else’s place in somebody else’s band playing somebody else’s music. But to him, it’s very personal. When Sublime returned to the stage, Jakob was 28 years old, the same age at which his father died after a show at the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma. 

In late June, Jakob celebrated his 29th birthday. “No one wishes to be overshadowed,” Jakob says when I ask how it feels to blow out one more candle than his father ever would. “But at the same time, you can’t.” That even-keeled smile again: It is what it is. “You can’t out-moment something like Sublime.”

Jakob celebrated the big day with San Diego’s musicians, at the harbor event aptly named Reggae At Sea. I ask for listening recommendations, and Jakob launches into the night’s setlist: DJ Mikey Beats keeps Jakob “plugged in” to the local scene, and SHUS (SomeHow UnSeen) are an up-and-coming, “really amazing” young band. He shouts out Tunnel Vision (“our first bands came up together, and they’re still just killing it”), Seedless, and, of course, Jakobs Castle. 

Getting to be in two bands, Sublime and Jakobs Castle, is exciting. “[It’s] a sort of merging together all of these multiple generations as generational trauma, but also a generational solution,” Jakob says. “We come together at musical events and we revel and we celebrate and we move forward. I think that’s the most beautiful process of my entire life.”

On the screen, the wind picks up for a moment. In my notes, I write down “a wide net.”

I’ve got only one more question: What does he like to do in San Diego, anyway? 

The answer is instantaneous. “Oh, easy! My first stop, as soon as I drive into town, I always hit up Mr. Frostie. I used to walk down there after school. I always get a chocolate shake with Oreo pieces and rainbow sprinkles mixed into it. And if I’m feeling freaky, I’ll get a big soft-serve ice cream cone. I’ve been going to Mr. Frostie since I was a little kid. It’s the best soft serve in the world,” he says. “And I’ll go to Rigoberto’s. There’s one right there near Mr. Frostie on Garnet. I’ll drive up and eat it all at Kate Sessions Park and look out of the whole city and just think, God damn, this is one of the most beautiful places in the world. I’m so happy San Diego still has that vibe.” 

It always will, I tell him, and Jakob grins, throwing his arms out wide. “Good morning, San Diego!”

See Sublime at San Diego Bayfest on July 20 at Waterfront Park.

By Inna Vityaz

Inna is a California native with a passion for local art, literature, and a really good salad. Her favorite pastime is visiting furniture exhibits at museums and wishing that she could sit in the chairs (even once!).

Share this post

Contact Us

1230 Columbia Street, Suite 800,

San Diego, CA