The Nowell Family Might Just Re-define SoCal Music Once Again

The Nowell Family Might Just Re-define SoCal Music Once Again

Jakob Nowell of Jakobs Castle

The Nowell Family Might Just Re-define SoCal Music Once Again

Jakobs Castle releases lyric video for “Time Traveler,” offering a full-circle glimpse into the storied life of Jakob Nowell

“While getting the official Time Traveler music video finished, I started looking through some old photobooks and got lost in time. So consider this video a visual scrapbook of my life. This is all of me, young and old, strung out and sober, past and present. I hope you guys get a kick out of some of these [photos], I know I still do.” 

If Jakobs Castle were a physical place, it would exist somewhere in the present that’s also rooted in history – and that’s exactly how Jakob Nowell approached the 14 songs that make up his upcoming release. As the son of Sublime’s legendary frontman Bradley Nowell, there is no denying that Jakob is influenced by his father’s music and legacy. However Jakobs Castle is anything but a nostalgic rehash.

I was blessed to sit in on an early listening of the upcoming full length thanks to some friends at Epitaph Records and got to chat with Jakob. Being a huge fan of his father’s music I was honestly apprehensive thinking I was going to hear another Sublime imposter but this time one that shared the last name of the main songwriter. And thankfully I was completely wrong. Instead of joining the endless list of bands that try and sound like Sublime. Jakob Nowell did something completely different and refreshingly new. The songs are remarkably cutting edge while still retaining the keen sense of melody that endeared his father’s music to millions of people all over the world. Nowell has described the project as “mixing California’s past with the fresh mystery of internet underground culture” and that’s a good place to start. But it’s only the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to the sonic and emotional depth of this varied collection of songs.

The 28-year-old Nowell got his start playing in the popular Southern California rock act LAW, however Jakobs Castle is an unfiltered version of his own musical identity which he created alongside producer and co-collaborator Jon Joseph.

“I think that Jon was the guy who really helped me discover my sound because I would show him the synth sounds I wanted or what I liked for vocal effects and it became this affected cyber ska weirdness,” explains Nowell.

The new album may not feature palm-muted guitars or pick slides, but in many ways it is a modern interpretation of punk, in the same way that Sublime organically  incorporated elements of reggae, punk, and pop into their sound in the 90s.

“I see the spirit of punk to be alive, even if it’s not always aggressive, punk was a mentality. It’s about doing something different and stripping away musical genres and norms to create something that speaks to the youth” Nowell explains. “I find that spirit of DIY ingenuity and trying to challenge social norms in many of the artists of today. If I did a record that sounded exactly like a Sublime record that wouldn’t be true to myself or honoring my Dad’s legacy. My Dad created a new sound by blending elements of punk, ska, pop, and reggae. He took heat from the punkers and reggae purists when they started and then over the years people saw the genius in it. I would be doing him a disservice if I just copied Sublime. I did borrow the formula of blending genres, but I used musical ingredients that were unique to who I am. It created a sound that is different and I’m proud of and as an artist, that is what matters. If people like it that is a bonus, but I had to do something unique for myself and for my family.”

This spirit is evident in the breezy single “Time Traveler,” which features bright guitars, electronic flourishes and vocals that illustrate Nowell’s impressive range. “Time Traveler was one of the first writing sessions I did for this album. It was with Tim Armstrong (Rancid, Operation Ivy) and it was an honor to write with someone who has so much history and always stuck to his core roots.” Nowell explains. “With Tim adding so much to the song it was a slow rocksteady song with that chorus that’s so soulful.”

Inspired by the hook that Tim came up with, Nowell wrote the verses for the songs on the spot in ten minutes and the song was born. But it wasn’t finished. Next, Nowell took the song to Producer Jon Joseph and they added the modern flourishes to make it sound like Jakobs Castle via subtle pitch shifting and synth bass. “It has both of those elements of a soulful, catchy rocksteady song and new-age inspired pop,” he adds.

That dichotomy between punk’s past and pop’s future lies at the core of all of these songs. From the ska-inspired, laid-back groove of the opener “Supervillian” to the radio-friendly electro-pop of “Lights Out,” the album references Nowell’s pedigree while keeping his eyes toward the future—and he believes that now is the perfect cultural moment for an album.

“I feel like there are so many bands today who are trying new things and experimenting with new sounds the way people did in the nineties in the sense that I think a lot of bands in that era were a response to the artificialness in music,” Nowell explains. He says the latest generation of bands have a responsibility to carry on that tradition of creativity, while still building on musical motifs that are universal to listeners across genres.

“I wanted to call this project Jakobs Castle because I think of it as a big collective that involves a lot of people,” Nowell explains. “I’m at the helm of it but it’s not just me; everyone who comes out to see me or writes with me or participates in any way is part of the Castle.”

This isn’t to say that the project doesn’t have a sense of humor and there is an element of irony present on the album, but it comes from a place of confidence and self-awareness that Nowell has cultivated over the course of his musical career. Signing to Epitaph Records is also a full-circle moment for a musician who was born into the thriving California punk scene yet decided to forge his own musical destiny in a way that’s relevant to today’s generation of listeners.

“The tagline I’ve always had for this project is beach meets internet,” Nowell summarizes. Once you swim in these songs for a while, that description makes perfect sense. I left this afternoon’s listening session and conversation with a sense that once again a Nowell can create an entire new genre and leave a massive musical legacy for generations to enjoy. Time will tell but without a doubt Jakobs Castle first record is a masterpiece of sonic beauty.

Written by: Mike Oxwelling

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