Welcome to Part 2 of our Exclusive Interview with Miguel Happoldt. Miguel continues to share his background with Sublime as well as Slightly Stoopid, pulling the curtain back a bit on how Stoopid came to meet Brad Nowell and Skunk Records. He shares his perspective on today’s production techniques, the recent LBDA reformation and producing Unwritten Law.
As we were nearing 2hours on the call, I went to thank Miguel for his time before conversation just sort of continued on for another 20minutes! It steered in the direction of the Sublime box-set & Brad Nowell’s hero, radio DJ Roberto Angotti as well as dancehall artist, Tenor Saw. There’s a lot of great background that Miguel shares about Perro Bravo, Sublime & Brad Nowell. He’s very old-school with his techniques and approach towards music as you’ll read below.
I want to thank Miguel Happoldt for his time and trusting us to tell his story. We’d also like to send a warm Thank You to James Wright of Kerosene Media. Without James, these Skunk Records Interviews may still be pending. We hope you enjoy the rest of this interview and you can find links to the rest of the Skunk interviews with Opie Ortiz and Marshall Goodman below! Enjoy…
You Can Read Part 1 of this Interview by clicking HERE
It’s been said that Brad discovered Slightly Stoopid and signed them to Skunk Records. Where were you during Brad’s meeting and signing of Slightly Stoopid?
Signing? I mean, I laugh about that because nothing was signed. [haha] I mean we signed something later around 1998 just because they were starting to make some money. That was more for their protection. But Brad, it’s a long story. We were homeless and he had a real bad drug problem. Miles’ Mom was a nurse and her boyfriend at the time was a doctor and they were interested in getting him off drugs, as crazy as that sounds. And Brad lived with them. Then that’s what happened, he woke up one day, heard this crazy shit going on in the garage and went out there and he was like: “You guys got a band?” And the rest is history. They didn’t even play reggae. I mean they could play it, they liked it, but they just played hardcore punk. They were hardcore man, they were like Minor Threat and the first song I did with them I was completely impressed!
And you produced their first album?
Producing would be a real slanderous term for what I did. I set up 4 mic’s on the drums and put it on 8 track. Captured it and recorded it would be more akin to what happened. The second record was “produced” with Eddie Ashworth, the great Eddie Ashworth, who was a house engineer at this great studio called Total Access. Me and him kind of did that side by side. From that to “2am,” they never stop impressing me.
And clearly you’re still homies with them today, you had Kyle McDonald featured on the song “The Neighbor Hoods” off your last Perro Bravo album. Then you have Stoopid joining you for the Skunk Records Anniversary Shows in San Diego and Orange County. How was that, re-uniting with them on stage?
Yeah, and we’re working on a remix of that song (“The Neighbor Hoods”) to put on their summer sampler so I’m stoked for that! But homies is the wrong word, those are my brothers, its way beyond homies, way beyond that! But for them to care enough to go that far and perform with us is unbelievable. I owe them for life. It was great though, everybody went crazy, and we’ve had different bands each night. So it’s been fun.
Well you have Perro Bravo, and then there was the LBDA reformation. Is that something you’re still looking into? I heard you guys were recording new music, Opie was talking about a few songs…
Opie is the only one that’s serious from that whole click. So that’s why we billed everything as Opie Ortiz. He went to Japan as Opie Ortiz and it went really well. Nobody cared about the other guys they just wanted to hear him. And he just went by himself and they had a band in Japan and he played with a bunch of Japanese kids. He did like 7 shows with his brother Philieano. They killed it and it was great. So I was like, “Why bring that (LBDA) name around?” When you use that name, you think all these other guys are going to show up and they’re just impossible to round up. So it’s just Opie now.
Opie’s going to still make music, we got a couple songs that are going to come out over the coming weeks. But yeah, the whole LBDA was kind of a false start in a way. It started for fun, kind of a DARE. This friend of ours had a bar and he was like “I dare you guys to play” and I was like: “Well I’ll call them” and everybody showed up, so we played [haha].
So I mean as far as LBDA moving forward, Opie was the only serious member and your focus is more with Perro Bravo?
I never stopped. I still did Perro Bravo gigs all through it. I’ve never stopped. Day in day out with me. I feel like I’m an alright guitarist, I’m an alright singer, I’m an alright song-writer and I’m an alright dub scientist. But when you see all four of those together, maybe it’s a little bit above average when I do it all at the same time.
Yeah and its still that signature sound. The second I put on that Perro Bravo album its nostalgic to the early Skunk Record releases with Sublime and the Skunk samplers…
Remember though, you haven’t heard an album in 10 years that wasn’t every single song to a click-track. There’s not a single song to a click on my album. You haven’t heard a song in 10 years that every single vocal wasn’t tuned by a computer. There ain’t a single vocal on my album tuned. You haven’t heard a song in 10 years that wasn’t every single thing moved around on the computer. Nothing on my album was moved round. It’s not the times, it’s just the techniques. I’m not doing what Britney Spears does because I don’t want to sound like her. Everybody else, guess what, they’re doing what she does. Follow the leader, but I don’t do that.
Explain the production of the Perro Bravo album. How was that produced? Was that done with minimal production from the computer as possible?
I mean a computer is just a tape machine to me, it just replaced a tape machine. I don’t have any plug-ins, I don’t use them for anything. Not for EQ, not compressing, none of it. I have compressors, there’s an EQ on my board, I still have an analog board. So the only thing I use a computer for is to replace the tape machine. But I don’t move shit around, I don’t change things and stretch things and tune things. Who the fuck does that shit? Everybody right? But nobody that’s worth a damn. I haven’t heard many records that sounded good in the last 14 years.
When the voice comes on and it sounds like a fucking robot, I don’t want to hear that shit. Sorry! It’s a farce; it’s something you’re not! I’m not scared of what I am. I know I’m not that great of a singer, but it’s not like I’m going to try and make it worse. I’m not going to put a song to a click when it doesn’t need to be a click. Why? My drummers can play! Bud Gaugh and Mudd can play. Marshall Goodman and Gil Sharone can play. Chris Smith can play. Those are the guys I use in the studio and there’s no click, there’s no need.
All these computers and plug-ins doing one instrument at a time, who do they think they are, Steely Dan? I’ve made records with Lew (Richards), no click, no tuning, and no time shift! We made a Volcano record with him and he loved it! He said: “it sounds like a demo though,” I said: “it may sound like a demo to you, but it sounds like a classic fucking album to me.” Just because you have that shit in the computer doesn’t mean you’re suppose to use it. It’s for fucking pop, I don’t do pop!
Do you think Reggae sounds a little too polished today, even the roots reggae bands?
That’s what I’m trying to tell you. So here’s a roots reggae band at Lewie’s (17th Street Recording) studio. You got the drummer playing to a click and 1 scratch guitar — What the fuck is that, man? Haven’t you ever seen Rockers? See how they did it with their own little circle with the singer in the middle? That’s how we did everything. Like Sublime, Long Beach Dub All Stars, Slightly Stoopid, Volcano, Perro Bravo, that’s just what we do! Hepcat, same thing. Everybody’s going at the same fucking time. If someone makes a mistake, you do it all again, that’s your job. That’s why I don’t make records anymore because people are like: “oh, well we just want to take the easy way out.” Well, I don’t. I want it to be hard, I like struggle, and I like pressure and I fucking like for things to be hanging on by a fucking thread. I think it matters with how it sounds in the end.
So you moved away from Producing? Cause you have a nice list of productions that also includes Unwritten Law. You and lead singer Scott Russo are friends, yeah?
Yeah, now that was a hybrid because they were on Interscope and there was a lot of pressure and they were use to doing certain things a certain way. So some lines were drawn a little bit there [haha]. But still, I got a lot of soul out of those boys for the condition it was recorded in. You know, huge studios, a lot of pressure from Interscope, but we had a number 1 hit out of that with “Seeing Red.” And “Seeing Red,” the band was tracked all the way live. They had never done that before since their Blue Room album. So we were cutting the tape after playing all the way live and I would cut certain sections from different takes. Like if the bass player screwed up on the 3rd verse, I’d just take the 3rd verse from another take when he did well. So again, a little bit of a hybrid and there’s nothing wrong with that, that’s how Sublime’s Self-titled was made. Paul Leary was big on that. He’d let Sublime play and rather than have somebody fix one thing, he’d just take the whole section from another take. The hardest thing for somebody who knows a lot about music, something David Kahne taught me, is to listen to it like you don’t! You see what I’m saying? You have to know what’s important, it’s not a dick-around exercise. Now music has become a dick-around exercise.
Well its even in a live setting too with bands playing to a click-track live…
Oh don’t even get me started on that shit. They’re playing to a fucking CD dancing around like Milli-Fuckin-Vanilli, bro, alright? So don’t even get me started on that shit. I’m talking about some of the biggest names in the game. I’m going to save them the embarrassment. They know who they are, dancing around like Milli-Vanilli and charging over $30 for a fucking ticket. But here’s the thing, they’re right and I’m wrong because they’re making all the money and I’m playing in front of 30 people.
The public doesn’t give a fuck anymore, so why should they? That’s the blind leading the blind, but guess what, I can still see! Nobody gave a fuck about Sublime when we came out. When 40oz to Freedom came out it took us a calendar year to sell 1,000 CD’s. A calendar year, dude! So I know I gotta just keep grindin’.
With the Self-Titled album, Marshall said that he was going to come back on as an official member of the group again, both with writing and on stage as a DJ?
There were loose talks about that. Brad thought it would be interesting to start the shows with him on acoustic guitar and then slowly build it up and add the turn-tables and maybe bring me up and then strip it back to 3 piece and end it out on acoustic again. I don’t know if we would’ve ever got that far, but that was kind of a loose vision. Because it did get to a certain point of “How the fuck you going to play this live?”
And would you agree that the line up would have been similar to Long Beach Dub Allstars today had Sublime kept going with you Marshall, Brad, Bud & Eric, to produce a lot of those songs live…
Here’s one of the things about Long Beach Dub Allstars, to its credit, people were always like: “Too many guys, you have too many members!” It’s like really? Come see us play live, because we didn’t all play at the same time. It was very much, “arranged,” is the word. I mean occasionally we’d all play at the same time at the end of the song with the crescendo building, but the next song would start and it’d be a 3 piece with Ras, Bud and Eric, and that’s it! Another criticism I have with these bands today, the whole bands playing the whole fucking song. Then here comes the next song, the whole fucking band is playing. It’s like NO, that’s not what you do. You give them a little, you take a little, and you bring it in and drop it out. That’s what we did. Now, it’s all ego with saying: “Well, what’s he going to do if he’s not going to play? Is he just going to sit there?” Well fuck yes he’s going to sit there, it doesn’t sound good to have him playing the whole time. The absence sounds good, but you have to be thinking with a different side of your brain, rather than the Me, Me, Me side. It’s bad for music to be like that.
Are there any contemporary Reggae-Rock bands that you’ve taken a liking to? Any groups that you may be sharing the stage with at California Roots festival?
Alborosie! I can tell you that he is dope. Beyond dope! That’s the real deal right there. Of course the Marley brothers, how could they go wrong? As far as the other bands, I don’t know. I like Pepper, I know what they’re all about, they’re cool man and they’re the homies. They get the crowd going and they are what they are. Just three guys, see? And that’s cool! I like Slightly Stoopid, they’re not playing Cali-Roots, but I like Slightly Stoopid. Not because they’re my friends either, but because they’re fucking dope! They know how to do it. Sometimes it’s the whole band, sometimes it’s just the 3 of them, and they get it. There’s no formula, that’s why I’m trying to tell you! As soon as you have a formula, you’re pop. Pop has a formula. Alternative, crazy ass music ain’t suppose to have no formula. Beastie Boys have no formula. Every fucking Beastie Boys song is different. I don’t see why people don’t listen to more of that shit, I mean there it is. Everybody loves the Beastie Boys, but they’re scared to make their music sound like it. Me and Brad killed to make our music sound like the Beastie Boys, they were our heroes!
I think Opie touched on that a bit too, with Long Beach Dub Allstars and as soon as the band became too structured, that’s when it began to take away from the music — would you agree with that?
He was being polite; people started getting into drugs and fucked everything up. We could have used more structure, bro. We made a lot of good music, played a lot of good shows. We put a lot of reggae artists back on the radar. Opie, as an artist, the cultural part of it, is really important to him. It’s real important to me, it was real important to Brad.
With regards to Sublime with Rome…
I have nothing to do with any of that shit, man. They didn’t want me to have anything to do with it, so I have nothing to do with any of it.
Alright, fair enough. Have you met Rome Ramirez?
I met him one time at Lew Richards Studio (17th Street Recording Studio), when it was all first starting. I just tried to talk him out of it: “Sublime is a waste of your time ” but I was wrong. [haha]
Do you feel a lot of die-hard Sublime fans may have been quick to judge Rome negatively or unfairly as a result of him being the center of the reformation?
That’s not my place to say. You don’t have to go see it, most people who go have a good time from what I hear.
Alright makes sense and us fans were curious given your history with Brad and Sublime. Hearing your album with Perro Bravo was nostalgic for me with the way your music and albums tell a story from start to finish and you had the soundbytes in there with Daniel Day Lewis from the movie, “There Will Be Blood”…
That was for Jake (Nowell), because that’s how I felt when he showed up. He never betrayed me though like the plot from the movie [haha], not that part of it. But the genuine feeling, he finally had an ally, Plainview finally had someone he could fucking trust.
That’s interesting and I’ve read that Jakob Nowell cites you as his number 1 influence, mentor, referring to you as Gandalf! I read where he said some of the best advice he took from you was that there’s a fine line between imitating and innovating.
It’s not a fine line, its one or the other, it’s black & white. You’re either operating to make music that you like or you’re making music that you think other people are going to like. Brad taught me that because he didn’t give a flying fuck what you or I thought, he did-not, ever. He trusted his instincts. He’d say: “if I like it, they’re going to like it.” That’s it. Who else would start a fucking album as good as 40oz to Freedom with “My Ruca?” Everyone thought we were crazy to do that! I even thought he was a little crazy to do that. The second people first heard that track, BOOM BOOM, they’d throw it in the trash. You gotta have balls man, you gotta do it for you, you gotta see the big picture, you gotta constantly take chances.
And you said earlier that you already have enough material down for another Perro Bravo album?
I have a whole other album that’s written, I just don’t have any disposable income to put it out myself. I’m just trying to find somebody who would actually want to put out something as crazy as it sounds. I played it for Kyle (McDonald) and it knocked him out, but you know his hands are kind of tied, they got more bands than they know what to do with over there. I want to see if someone has the guts to put out something that isn’t tuned. This new album is gnarly, its just the 3 of us. There’s some reggae on there, some ska and a lot of angry punk-rock. Hopefully I can get somebody to put it out. To me, it would be a huge sacrifice to put it on iTunes or some shit. I guess I’m trying to be the poor man’s Jack White. Vinyl or nothing. I have a lot of respect for that guy.
Well hey, I couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunity to talk today! You were part of a group that pioneered a sound that The Pier continues to celebrate. For me, it started when I first heard Brad sing on “Don’t Push” with “Tell them reggae music is on the loose” and I haven’t stopped since…
That’s Tenor Saw who sang that! He was the greatest dance-hall reggae singer of all time. He was killed in Texas in ‘82 before his prime. But that was Brad’s total icon and idol, Tenor Saw. He’s gone now, but that dude was just the best.
I was reading too, the song “Foolish Fool”, that was a working track to give to Gwen Stefani to get on?
Right, did you ever hear the version that was finished in New York with Paul McCartney’s mellotron on the box set? You gotta check that shit out. But yeah, she didn’t, was probably on tour for like a year straight or something. But No Doubt is the coolest band, man! Of all the big time, millionaire bands that I’ve met, No Doubt and Green Day are so cool, it’s unbelievable! But yeah, once we knew Gwen wasn’t going to be on it, we re-did it for us. We changed the key back to something that Brad could sing. We did a version, just for us just to do it. But David Kahne took that shit to another level. It’s a long story, but it was going to be a single for the box set, but between the label and the manager and all these idiots, they just dropped the ball on it. Broke my fucking heart, man. Nobody’s even ever heard it. I mean the boxset has sold like 40,000 copies or something. They released it to iTunes before retail so people just chopped it up and bought 1 or 2 songs.
I’ll tell you another thing about that. The Great Roberto Angotti, Brad’s hero, he was a DJ on Kroq. He was the first guy to ever play UB40, English Beat, Pato Banton, Eeka Mouse in the United States! True Story! Brad was listening and taping every single show the guy ever did. He’s still around, he’s a homie! He introduced us to Barrington, he introduced us to fucking Wailing Souls and he introduced us to Tippa Irie. He’s a great guy and a real unsung hero for reggae. He sent over an essay for that box-set that is the history of music and it ends where Sublime comes in. It ends where the first Sublime demo tape begins. So heavy, so gnarly and nobody ever read it because all they did was buy two songs on iTunes instead of buying the box. Maybe we can get the rights to reprint it somehow or something.
And that was stretching it to the limit with that box-set, in terms of the Sublime catalog, right? Was that pretty much the last of it?
I didn’t look at it like that. I just felt it was the menu. People aren’t dumb, if I put 1 song up from a concert and it sounds good, well obviously I have the whole concert. Everything that’s out on the internet, everything, is a second generation of my masters. Because I was generous, I’d always make tapes for people. Then when Brad died people would take their cassette I’d made them and put it up. I have the masters though, I have the originals, but nobody will ever get to hear them because…I don’t know. It’s hard to get people to listen to me because I wasn’t on the contract. But anyway, thanks for giving a fuck and keep doing your thing. There may be a lot of sameness and repetitiveness to the music, but Brad would have been stoked on all of it. I’ve said that a million times because that’s kind of how he saw it, he’d be like: “At least they’re not fucking playing grunge anymore, bro!” [haha] So God-bless them all!
You Can Read Part 1 of this Interview by clicking HERE
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