James Attlee investigates the intriguing world of south London's SUBLIME.
Sublime are an acoustic three piece, with various added floating members, who on a good night live up to their name. Based upon the songwriting abilities of lead singer Anthony Wilson, the multi-instrumental prowess of his brother Martin and the delicate brush-strokes of enigmatic drummer Eddie, the Sublime Sound is also occasionally embellished by the clarinet and penny whistle of Arabella and the stand-up bass of Nigel Griffiths, as well as by any other ex-Woebegone Brothers who happen to be in the area. So what's all the (lack of) noise about?
"Well, we've done acoustic music since the beginning, so no one can accuse us of band-wagon jumping," says Anthony, anxious to put the record straight. "It's to do with the discovery that you can get a more soulful, gutsy sound out of an acoustic than an electric - no electricity, you just pick it up and bang it," adds Martin succinctly. "We've been very uncompromising in our career - which is probably why we've had so little recognition over the past six years!"
Those six years have seen the release of three cassette albums and the band in its various incarnations playing pubs on the rock circuit, touring the nations' art centres and busking outside their local Safeways as well as appearing at the Greenbelt and Harry festivals. Audience response to their thoughtful lyrics, tight harmonies and gentle acoustic sound has varied.
"We decided at one point it was hopeless playing in between three bands who where trying to sound like The Buzzcocks or something," published poet and lyricist Anthony tells me. "Because we were acoustic no one would listen - they'd just keep talking because if you're acoustic you're not a real band.' But since we've done gigs like the Acoustic room at The Mean Fiddler we've gained a lot of confidence."
The South London-based band quote The Proclaimers, Elvis Costello, Martin Stephenson and Michelle Shocked as artists who have helped to bring an acceptance of acoustic music to the mainstream. I wondered whether they had an eye on chart success - were they writing songs for milkmen to whistle?
"Some of them are whistleable - I don't think all of them are." Anthony's answer provokes a cacophony of attempts to prove the whistleability of the Sublime back catalogue, which ends in a draw, with the matter still undecided. "Still," he goes on as order is restored, "they're songs - they're built to last.
Eventually, after all the dance music and the Acid thing, people will want real songs again. There's definitely a whistle-able element to what we do" (oh no, not again) "which is the frothier side - things like 'Just The Break I Needed' which I think could make a single... My mum likes what we do - she didn't to start with, but she can listen to it now which is a fair test I think." The lady is obviously a person of taste and discernment.
How, I wondered, did their faith affect the creative process for the Sublime team?
"It's just who we are really - its part of us, that's why it comes in - being performers we do make statements in the way we perform but we don't set out with the aim of making statements," explains Martin. "We just write songs because we have to. A lot of the love songs I've written about personal experiences and things, have ended up being about always needing reconciliation and forgiveness," Anthony states. "It's there, it wasn't a plan, it comes through like an echo in the last two or three years of our work. I think that's the best way for it to happen, for it to be natural. I try to make my musical contribution say something about the creator and the creative in all of us," Martin adds. "Something about beauty, something about -"
"Love," interjects Eddie, who is apparently famed for his mono-syllabic contributions to interviews, rousing himself from apparent near-slumber. "In the end it's about love, I think." We are all slightly taken aback. "Peace and Love" offers Anthony, slightly ironically. "Oh, I dunno about peace," says Eddie, laughing, in a rare burst of volubility. Cue collapse of interview.
These Sublime boys have a taste for the absurd - they're not afraid to laugh. Listen out for an imminent new album release, and rest assured that however ridiculous life gets they'll always be reaching for the Sublime.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.