Free Moral Agents' Ikey Owens on Bradley Nowell: 'He Told Me I Played Too Much'

Sublime frontman Bradley Nowell, who died 15 years ago this month, left behind a legacy that is intrinsically tied to Long Beach and the rest of Orange County. This week's cover story 
pays tribute to the man who put Garden Grove on the map, who sang about the perils of date rape and invented the surf punk rock/reggae/ska hybrid that Southern California is now so famous for.

Long Beach resident Ikey Owens, former Long Beach Dub Allstars member, Free Moral Agents frontman and Mars Volta keyboardist, gives us his memories of Nowell and Sublime back in the day.

photo courtesy of Jim Nowell
For more photos of Bradley Nowell, check out the slideshow here
I was a huge Sublime fan. I used to see Sublime play at all these backyard parties. They changed my life. They combined all kinds of music--reggae, punk rock, ska. And I'd look around and see all kinds of people at their shows.
Finally I got up the nerve to jam with them. My old band played with them and they heard me play backstage and Miguel invited me to their house off Anaheim and Ohio. I had never been anywhere like that; I grew up in Lakewood so I'd never been south of PCH. It was a pretty rough area and a total culture shock for me.

I knew all their songs already. We played "Don't Push, Bad Fish." Then we just jammed with Brad's SK1 sampler--it was one of the earlier samplers around. It probably meant nothing to them but it meant the world to me. Brad told me I played too much. (Laughs) He said, "Just relax." They said to play half as much as you're playing, and that's how I learned.

The thing I learned from Sublime is you can't just be a band, you have to create a world around your band. Make your own bootlegs, don't rely on anybody to do anything for you.

Sublime taught me how to function as a working musician. We played at this place on Long Beach and the promoter didn't want to pay them and they roped him in and got in his face, cornered him and forced him to pay them. It was my first lesson in the music business, easily. "You're not going to do that," they said, otherwise they'd beat the shit out of him. I was a 19-year-old kid, used to getting taken advantage of by promoters.... It taught me a good lesson, everyone else I knew would've just been all soft-spoken. But those guys didn't take shit. They played shows, sold them out and made sure they got their money.

From watching how they conducted their business, the good and bad parts helped me become an adult and changed my world. They were always 100 percent in control of their shit.


Once we played a show at Golden Sails Hotel. I was pretty square, I didn't do any drugs yet, I was a 19-year-old kid. And I was really thirsty and I asked Bradley where the coke was and he directed me to some dude who was definitely not selling coca cola. (Laughs)


I probably went to 10 Sublime shows. Of those 10, they showed up for five. And of those five, three were good. But those three, they were probably the best shows I'd seen in my life. Back then promoters would start rumors that Sublime would play just so people would show up. Then they'd call the cops. People would drive from Big Bear, San Diego, San Francisco to see them. If you saw a show and they were sober, your life was different after that.

I remember after watching them, just driving home to my parents house and practicing. I never heard a bass that loud in my life...To this day it's one of my favorite bands. I'm so, so lucky I got to see them, and see the good shows. Because a lot weren't very good--they were too fucked up to play.


To this day, there's no band that draws as many people in OC/LB as Sublime did in 1992 ... before they were signed by a record label, before the Internet, they would just draw so many people. Stoner kids liked them, metal kids liked them, hip-hop kids liked them, frat boys liked them. It was THE band. It was the model a lot of bands based themselves on. They created a culture.


In Mars Volta, we had a saying: "You bring your country with you wherever you go."

They were one of the first bands I saw that brought their country with them. I was in love with not only the music, but this whole culture. When I was lucky enough to be in Long Beach Dub Allstars, I felt like I already knew what that culture was just from listening to those records. ... All those people were true. And that culture carried on far beyond Nowell's death.

Sublime put their culture on record: Long Beach, punk, reggae, the drugs they did, the dogs, etc. They managed somehow to put more than music on a cassette tape. It's beyond talent, and something I'm still trying to learn. I'm still trying to put Free Moral Agents culture on record.

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