Interview: Michael “Miguel” Happoldt (Part 1 of 2)

Interview: Michael “Miguel” Happoldt (Part 1 of 2)


Sublime has always been promoted and remembered as a 3 piece band that included singer/guitarist Brad Nowell, bassist Eric Wilson and drummer Bud Gaugh. One name that should not be missing from the line-up is Miguel Happoldt. Referred to by those close to Sublime as “the glue that held it all together,” Miguel wrote, produced and recorded with Sublime, releasing the 40oz to Freedom and Robbin’ The Hood albums under his own Skunk Records label. In fact, that’s Miguel on lead guitar with “What I Got.” You can hear him singing on “Scarlet Begonias” as well as the hook yelling “Summer Time” on the “Doin’ Time” track. Early on, he performed with Sublime on-stage as a guitarist and ultimately transitioned over to sound and production. He resumed that same role throughout the Long Beach Dub Allstars era from ’97-2002.

The history of all this starts with his record label, Skunk Records. Miguel formed it while he was a member in The Ziggens. He later grew the label with Brad Nowell, Sublime, Slightly Stoopid, and Long Beach Dub Allstars, further opening the doors to what we celebrate today in reggae-rock music. This year marks the 25th Anniversary of Skunk Records beginnings that will culminate into a live performance on May 25th at the California Roots Music & Arts Festival in Monterrey, CA. Miguel continues to write and perform with his present day band, Perro Bravo. He has also mentored Brad’s son, Jake Nowell who has his own band called LAW.

I spoke with Miguel over the phone for about 2hours discussing all of the above. There’s a lot to read and we split it into 2 Parts. Part 2 of this interview with Miguel will Publish on Tuesday, May 20th. Enjoy the read…

You Can Read Part 2 of this Interview by clicking HERE

The Pier: I think it’s been a long time coming that we do an interview with you. It seems like there’s a lot coming to light that fans didn’t know about after talking with Marshall Goodman and Opie Ortiz. I hope you can bring some more clarity to the days of Skunk and Sublime…
Miguel Happoldt: I think it’s cool people understand the history of it all. The thing to remember is it’s nobody’s fault, the misinformation. The honest truth was we never had proper management. When Brad died, the label never understood what to do with us. It’s one of those things where it has been like a mystery when Brad died and they just ran with the mystery because nobody thought to call me to get the shit straight [haha]. Now all these years later, it’s like we can’t even get a production gig because people don’t know what we did because if you go look on the internet there’s almost nothing.

Yeah and over the years you’ve been considered the 4th unofficial member of Sublime, but you played lead guitar on “What I Got”, toured with the group early on. What prevented you from being an official 4th member on stage with the band, in the press-shoots, playing guitar vs transitioning to production and sound? DavidNorrisPerraBravoBellyUp2-23-14-(4)
I was! Just like Marshall Goodman and Kelly Vargas, I was in the band for 2 years. I played dozens of shows with them guys. I don’t know how much more I could be in the band; it was just in the Stone Age when I did that. So now,it’s just been erased, like old cave paintings.

The thing with the major label is I took my name off the contract. I mean I could show you, I was suppose to be on the major label contract and I took my name off. In the end I saw it as somehow it would help because when they were signing Brad, he was really in a bad state and I didn’t like it. But we were desperate and it was the only offer that was worth signing and I couldn’t stop it. But something told me by me not being on the contract, it would be useful later. I was wrong about that.

Just starting from the top — Skunk Records was a label you started while you were with the Ziggens and then when you met Brad, you guys kind of built it together?
It meant more because all of the sudden Sublime was a popular band. Brad didn’t really care too much about the label part. You have to remember there were no drugs at this time. He was just a popular guy. Like a man about town, surfing and sailing, girls, he didn’t give a fuck about that shit, not really. But he cared about his band and that was the partnership. He was pushing a band and I was trying to do the label. He wasn’t calling record stores or shit like that [haha]. He would go for a ride every now and then, but he didn’t really care too much for that part of it. I don’t care about that part of it anymore either, so…

Now 25 years later you’re performing a review, celebrating the history of Skunk Records — from Sublime to ‘Dub Allstars to your new band, Perro Bravo – Where do you see this going beyond the California Roots Festival?
That’s it! After that it’s back to playing in front of 25 people with Perro Bravo [haha]. I don’t care, I’m not trying to impress people. I like playing music, I think its fun and I think I write pretty good songs and play pretty good guitar, sing halfway decent. The carriage turns back into the pumpkin. Maybe not though!

Have there been any talks of making this an annual thing where you guys perform at Cali-Roots or maybe taking this show to the Carolina Sessions out in North Carolina in September?
There’s been no offers. If there’s an offer, we’ll take a look at it. I’m down for whatever, but I’m not begging friends you know what I’m saying? I didn’t even beg to get on Cali-roots. My homie Kevin Zinger sat down with Dan Sheehan and kind of talked him into it and that was cool!

With this Skunk Records 25th Anniversary is there any update with the Skunk Story DVD? Last I read it skunk-records-25th-anniversary-live-stage-featurin-39was going to be like a Movie-Documentary – is there any update to that project?
I’m not even really sure who kind of put that out there because that’s more work than I would care to do. There’s just not enough interest in it. Its just not what I do, I’m not a revisionist. Somebody would have to come and want to do it. I’m not going to do it, fuck that. I’m not going to put that kind of energy into the past. I’ve got a whole other album written. I’m working on a song with Kyle (McDonald), I’m working on a song with the dudes from Hepcat as we speak. I don’t give a fuck about all that shit anymore. I mean if someone wants to do it bad enough we can talk. That’s just how I am. If the phone rings, I talk to them, but I don’t go begging friends. I just ain’t like that.

When we first published the announcement of Skunk’s 25th Anniversary, and I had asked Marshall this and he deferred it to you, with everything hitting the social networks and fans asking who will get involved, from Bud to Eric and people asking about the Ziggens. Bud got on our Facebook saying he wasn’t contacted or invited. Is that the case with Bud or Eric, are they not a part of this anniversary?
I never even talk to those guys anymore. I don’t know. Something went wrong along the way. They never even mentioned Skunk, Marshall Goodman or Kelly Vargas, once in the last 5 years, or me, so why would they care now? They just have, as far as I can tell, very little respect for what I contributed to Sublime. They’re not a part of my life, but I still wish them well.

Yeah because it didn’t seem like that long ago to the fans that you were working with Bud and producing Del Mar with him and –
-Not that long ago, it was 7 years ago! 7 years! I did that shit as a favor for free! Right? Then what? Then he just completely goes bad mouthing everybody — Brad’s father, Brad’s wife, me, Jon Phillips, why? I don’t know, dude. It’s weird that’s what you want to base this interview on because that’s the last subject I could care to fucking talk about. I just want to talk about Perro Bravo. I thought we were going to review the album. I didn’t know we were going to be talking about this shit.

No, I’m sorry, that’s what the fans want to know! They have these questions given your history with Sublime, Skunk Records & they’re confused as to why those players aren’t involved. And I would like to talk about Perro Bravo! It’s your band with Greg Lowther & Mike Long, you guys have 2 albums out, playing sparingly up & down Cali and you guys were featured on the Dub Rockers Compilation with VP Records doing a remix of “Ragga Dub” with Fishbone…
Well I mean I did that with Gil Sharone, but I put the name (Perro Bravo) on there just because they wouldn’t put my name in print. I’ve been doing this for a while and no one knows who I am. That’s the frustration I’m trying to get across. That’s just my moniker in a way now. I’m just putting that name on everything so I can have some kind of recognition when we drive real far. So there are more than 30 people there or something. It’s kind of rough out there right now, I don’t need to tell all the bands on your site and we’re all in the same boat. It’s really hard to get people out of their fucking house right now. I’m just in the same boat as everybody else.

And your latest album, Smoking Scorpion Tales, has that throwback sound to it with the 90’s in what you heard in Sublime on 40oz to Freedom. The guitars and bass are turned up and the sound is raw and edgy – You only released it to Vinyl, is that right?
Yeah that was the case with both (Perro Bravo) records. It’s a long story, but I kind of just watched the whole industry deteriorate from artistry to gadgetry. I just really can’t stomach being a part of the gadgetry. I’m always going to be artistically based. The only way you can get someone to sit down and listen to your music is on vinyl. Otherwise, if you give them a CD or a MP3 Download they’re just going to listen to 30 seconds and then go back to listening to Flaming Lips or something [haha]. I’m not going to be a part of that.

What can you tell me about the “Last Ska Song”? Is that a tribute or letter to Brad? It sounds that way when you listen to the lyrics. What are you conveying in the song to Brad or to the listeners?
I do that, I did one on Bert Susanka’s solo record too. I don’t really know. That was one of them luck deals where I started writing songs because I was in a band (Volcano) with Curt Kirkwood from the Meat Puppets, who is like my hero! He’s my Bob Dylan.

He told me if I start writing songs it’s very difficult, but every now and then you get lucky. I was walking on the beach at Rincon with my dog. My phone rings and its Jamin Hazelaar from the band Thicker Than Thieves and he says: “I’m sitting here with Jake (Nowell). He just wrote a song, do you want to hear it?” I said “Yeah!” Jake played me the song over the phone and then as soon as he was done it just clicked! When I got back to the car I had the music already on CD, but I didn’t know what it was going to be about.

I had a Wendy’s bag and wrote the song, from top to bottom, on the Wendy’s bag right there in the parking lot. I didn’t even think about it, I wrote it the way it came out. I got lucky on that. Curt was right, you get lucky every now and then.

From a listener’s perspective, it sounds like you’re writing a letter to Brad, venting your frustration about the current music scene. What is your opinion of the reggae-rock sound and how it’s evolved today? From listening to the lyrics it almost sounds like you’re not too impressed…
There are moments of impression, but in general the frustration is more of the shift going from artistry to gadgetry. Now when I was a kid, when you’d meet somebody, they’d ask you: “Hey what are you listening to?” Now they want to know what version your phone is, it’s absurd! It has nothing to do with music anymore. People don’t know, they’re like: “Oh you gotta get on Facebok and Twitter” and it’s like “Why? So I can be data-mined? I don’t care to be Data-mined” that’s all it is! I just choose to not be a part of it. Simple as that. I’m not saying we shouldn’t go look at your website [haha]. That’s useful for fans to hear the music and know the tour dates, but to tell people what they’re doing every 5minutes on Facebook and Twitter, what they ate for lunch — get the fuck outta here with that shit! [Haha]

Preparing for this interview I read where you previously said that you feel bands today almost tour too much or even release music too much, especially in a saturated, digital market. I’d love to hear more of your perspective…
DavidNorrisLBDABellyUp2-23-14-(18)It’s just the cart before the horse. Someone comes up to me and they hand me a CD and there’s 22 fucking songs on there and I never heard of them before. What are the odds 1 of those songs is any good, let alone 22? Sublime was packing fucking houses every fucking time! We had nothing, we had a 5 song TAPE! By the time we made a CD people couldn’t wait to get that motherfucker! Every single song on it, they had heard live and couldn’t wait to hear it, they knew it already! People say, “well if we make a CD first, then people will know us,” but that’s not the way it fucking works! There are no shortcuts in entertainment. You have to kick ass, take names and then somebody will tell YOU when its time to record, its not the other way around. See, Brad knew this because he was an economics major. Music is not a supply-based economy; it’s a demand-based economy. Now everybody’s concluding that it’s supply-based. People just make albums to put them out but does anybody want it? I consider both Perro Bravo albums to be the equivalent of cassette demos. I’m still waiting to make our “CD”.

I love hearing your perspective on music today. The music you created with Brad is a driving influence into what we hear bands doing with it today…
The only way I could describe it is they found the UFO after Sublime crashed when Brad died. But without Brad to explain the controls, they put it all together wrong. Does that make sense? And they wouldn’t listen to me for some reason, I was just out of the picture because I wasn’t on the contract! From the top, I never been a resource to help people understand what we were all about. They made their own conclusions. They found the wreckage and they said, “Oh this must be this, this must be that.” I would have told you: “No, that’s not for that.” But it’s too late now. 20 years have gone by and people have put the parts together in the wrong order!

That was the same thing when I was talking to Marshall, not a lot of people knew he drummed on the 40oz to Freedom album or “What I Got”
Again, they found the parts, they just didn’t know how to put them in order — The management, the label, they didn’t know either. Our management, they didn’t know shit about how those albums were made because they were not there. A lot of times, neither was Bud. Eric was there but he doesn’t talk much about it.

Marshall was telling me about the time at MCA when Sublime Self-Titled came out and the President stopped the photo-op to ask who Marshall was and why he was in the photo holding the plaque. He said how you immediately bedded that whole thing and put the fire out!
There was no fire; I just said you guys don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about. This motherfucker played the damn drums on our hit single, shut the fuck up and let him in the picture!

From the interview I had with Opie Ortiz we were talking about the cover of Robbin’ The Hood and he suggest I ask you as to how his face became the cover of the album.
Probably had a lot to do with our friend Greg Abramson, because he had made the video for the song “Secret Tweaker Pad”. It was at the end with the still shot and Opie saying: “Runs like a beast.” Well Sublime-RobbinTheHoodit was new science at the time to make stills from video. So he had made a bunch of them and he just brought them over to the house. I think when we were at Kinkos, all of us probably just laughed and put it on there. Opie was there when we did it, we didn’t do it behind his back. We did everything at Kinko’s back then. Nobody had a computer, we didn’t have anything. The 40oz to Freedom layout was done at a semi-professional company out of San Diego, but all the other shit was done at Kinko’s. Robbin’ the Hood was done at Kinko’s. With Robbin the Hood we were homeless, we had nothing. We didn’t have a place to live, you see what I’m saying? Spending the day at Kinko’s was great, it was air-conditioned. That’s the truth.

Holy Cow! And with Robbin’ The Hood, can you help solve the mystery of Raleigh Theordore Sakers? Who was that?
Not really. The tape, I don’t really know where the tape came from, it just sort of started circulating and then we thought it would be funny to put it on there. I kind of wish we didn’t because its just such a great album that now its probably a distraction. I think most people probably fast forward through it now. It’s probably funny once or twice, but it’s a little bit of a distraction. I guess for some people it makes the album even greater, but it’s not exactly a family affair.

I wanted to talk about Long Beach Dub Allstars – Do you remember the “Take Warning” cover on the Operation Ivy Tribute Compilation?
Oh boy! [haha] We have this saying about the Long Beach Dub Allstars that if you remember anything about that, you weren’t there [haha]. We were really fucked up, all of us, well except for maybe Tim (Wu). He was levelheaded. You gotta have someone who’s levelheaded in the band. But “Take Warning” was cool, we loved Op Ivy to death. They broke up way too soon, obviously. I love Rancid too and I was lucky enough to meet all of those guys and they were super cool. It was for this company called Oglio Records. That guy was really cool and he was just trying to do an Op Ivy tribute. He asked us to do it and it didn’t seem too difficult. We did it on our little 8-track at the home studio for free. That’s all 8-track analog. It sounds pretty good for 8-track, I think.

Was “Take Warning” the first song that you guys recorded as ‘Dub All Stars?
I’d have to think about that. That sounds about right, most likely.

Because the Compilation came out in 1997 and I remember reading in the liner notes where you wrote something like “There are no plans to record anything further, but enjoy this song”
Ohhh that! Yeah it’s all coming back. Because believe it or not MCA, even when Brad died, they still considered Bud and Eric to be under contract and they didn’t want to work with the record label anymore. We thought that if they heard that cover, the label would want to keep them on board. We made a Juice Bros record and we turned that in and that did the trick! That record got them off the contract like THAT! [hahaha!] The label didn’t really care.
We kept getting moved from one label to the next. It probably only ever happened once in the history of major labels where there’s this number 1 hit and nobody gave a fuck. We were nobody’s “boy”, you know? By the time you get to that level, if you know the game, you have a long line of people who have been fighting for you at board meetings and all that kind of shit and no one at the label ever did that for Sublime. Jon Phillips tried. The public said fuck all that shit and made us number 1 and the labels didn’t know what to do with us! They just said “ah it’ll be gone in a week.” Months go by, “ahh it’ll be gone in a month.” yYears go by “ahh it’ll be gone in a year.” Decades go by and they still don’t give a fuck about us. “Oh it’s going to drop off,” 17 years later and it’s still going strong! When are we going to get some respect?

100 Greatest Rock Bands of All Time in Rolling Stone Magazine and Sublime’s not in there? Really? Here’s what I want to say to Rolling Stone: Go to a parking lot of a snowboarding mountain at the end of the day when everyone’s changing. You find me the 100 bands they’re listening to that aren’t Sublime because all I ever see and hear them listening to is Sublime, Nirvana, fucking Beastie Boys or something. But see that’s what I’m telling you, when they do the 100 Greatest Bands, its’ everyone saying “my boy, my boy, my boy” and everybody votes for their boy. Sublime is nobody’s boy, it’s fucked up.

Right and I was talking to Marshall about Sublime collaborations with Warren G, Snoop Dogg or the Hieroglyphics and he was talking about moving in a direction of exploring some of those options with remixes and collaborations. Have you been involved in those talks?
I never got to meet a lot of them guys. I met Snoop once and he was cool as hell, we had a fun time. I did a TV show with Snoop and Slightly Stoopid. You could probably find it on the Internet. We had a good time doing it, we had a lot of laughs there. We did a “Doing Time” remix with Wycleaf Jean and I can tell you that went cool and sounded good. He was a cool ass dude to know. But all them other guys, that’s a stretch because we didn’t know them cats. But again, we’re nobody’s boy! So when somebody goes: “put your boy with my boy” we’re nobody’s boy. That’s how all that shit works. People don’t think, “What would be artistic?” It’s not like that, it’s never been like that. If your nobody’s boy, you ain’t in the game.

Well I even read where you said before that there were talks about a Half Pint/Sublime album and you mentioned how that would be better than releasing half-finished Sublime songs, by remaking them with other artists, such as Half Pint…
That was Half Pint’s idea and it was cool and it was an honor that he thought of that. Again, when he took it to Universal, we’re nobody’s boy. Nobody wanted to back it. Nobody’s going to push us. It’s as simple as that. We’re the bastard child of this shit. Brad checked out too soon. If he would have made it he would have straightened it right out. I believe that.

How do you think Sublime or Long Beach Dub Allstars for that matter would fair in today’s digital market? Seems like Long Beach Dub Allstars just missed the online social networking surge following their split in 2002. How do you think either band would fair in today’s digital/social media market?
If Brad had made it you would have been talking about a support slot on The Police Reunion stadium tour. Beastie Boys direct support. Stadiums, no question! If Brad would have made one tour and they could have seen what we could do we would have been in Stadiums for the rest of our lives. There’s no question. There’s not even a doubt in my mind on that. DavidNorrisMiguelHappoldtphotoshoot2-23-14-(2)

Long Beach Dub Allstars, would have been a long shot. I mean we did good! We sold a mil, a mil 2. Both albums combined it was a Mil 2. Long Beach Dub Allstars had one show that wasn’t sold out in its entire existence. And the smallest venue we ever played held about 1,000. We were more successful than a lot of these bands today without social media. Good music is good music and the public just demands it.

And that was a pretty fitting title for the first ‘Dub Allstars album and then having “Righteous Dub” on the first song with Barrington Levy. What was the mindset and statement coming back with ‘Dub Allstars on the album Right Back?
We were just trying to get back on track. Trying to use Opie and Ras’s strength and diminish whatever little weaknesses there was. For me personally, I cant speak for anybody else, but I didn’t really care about anything except getting to know Half Pint and meet Barrington and working with Tippa Irie. Brad would have killed for that! To know Half Pint he would have killed a man, do you know what I’m trying to say? It was an immense honor to go to New York and hang out with Wyclef Jean for days on end. To go roller-skating with the dude, you know? [haha]. It was beyond surreal, it was like fuck records and all that, this is real culture. This guy respects our music, Brad’s music. Brad was the captain, no question about that. I wish we could have somehow got up with Beastie Boys and I wish we could have somehow got up with KRS1. I still never got to meet that guy or any of the Beastie Boys. I’ve tried. They know who Sublime is but they don’t know me.

How do you think Brad & Sublime would have handled the mainstream success?
Brad would have loved it. He would have killed it. He would have been great. He loved every minute of it. He loved the challenge. People say “oh the industry is dead!” Brad would have disagreed. He loved the industry because he considered himself a prize fighter and he figured that he was qualified. He was like: “What’s the problem with being on a major label if you’re delivering hits?” Here’s the thing, people sign to a major label: “Oh well it wrecked my band!” Yeah, because you didn’t deliver a hit, dummy! You got in the ring and got knocked out, what’s the big deal? Brad got in the ring and knocked 4 motherfuckers out! He delivered 4 hits, 5 hits! Title fighter, bro! Give him another bout, he was qualified!

You Can Read Part 2 of this Interview by clicking HERE

Related Links:
Exclusive Sublime Blog
Perro Bravo Facebook
Opie Ortiz Exclusive Interview Pt 1
Opie Ortiz Exclusive Interview Pt 2
Ras MG Exclusive Interview Pt 1
Ras MG Exclusive Interview Pt 2

Interview by: Mike Patti
Recent Photos by: David Norris

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