Jakob Nowell turned 28 this year.
It isn’t much of a milestone for most, but it happens to be the same age his father, Bradley Nowell, was when he died of a heroin overdose. His dad was Sublime’s original frontman.
Nowell was born at St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach on June 25, 1995. Bradley died exactly 11 months later on May 25.
“You gotta have a dark sense of humor a little bit,” he said, chuckling at memories of those who have told him they wished they could have met his dad.
“I’m like, ‘Hey, me too!’”
Nowell didn’t grow up under the direct influence of his father, but he still found his way onto the music scene in the early 2010s. After a decade of writing music and touring, for the first time, Nowell was signed on to a record label just days after his birthday this year.
Coincidentally, the label that signed Jakobs Castle, Epitaph Records, passed on Sublime in the early ’90s over the band’s drug and alcohol use.
Nowell is the first to admit that he was hesitant to venture into the music industry for much of his early life. When you’re the son of a music legend, the idea of living up to that name and working to grow out of its shadow is a daunting feat, he explained.
“(Music) was so saturated in my life,” Nowell said. “I remember growing up backstage. It was always present. And I think I took it for granted as a little kid.”
It wasn’t until he reached his teens that he would take that fateful step into the music world. Today, he likens the decision to joining the family business, no different than a son who starts working at his dad’s car dealership.
When he first started dabbling in music, Nowell — a singer who learned to play guitar, piano and bass — said it provided an escape from an unorthodox life. That life, he said, didn’t include a silver spoon, despite his father’s legendary status.
“I love my mother and my stepdad, but it was a pretty wild house to grow up in,” he said. “There was a lot of craziness.”
Today, cigarettes are his only remaining vice, but that wasn’t always the case.
He learned to roll joints at the age of 12 in a household that did not discourage drug use. Eventually, he was “doing all of the above,” but alcohol became his greatest weakness.
“I was a human garbage disposal,” Nowell, who has been sober for six years now, recalled.
For his family, drugs were a vehicle for family bonding, Nowell said. He also questioned why his dad chose to use drugs and he wanted to find out for himself.
The untimely death of Bradley, as well as their own past drug-fueled lives, eventually led his family to establish the Nowell Family Foundation, a nonprofit that is working toward opening an opioid addiction treatment facility, specifically for musicians. It will be dubbed Bradley’s House.
Early in his career, Nowell rebelled against the idea of regurgitating his father’s sound. He wanted his music to be uniquely his — not a reproduction of Sublime. In 2012, Nowell started writing music with a friend for their Law. The group played its first show at DiPiazza’s in Long Beach in June 2013.
“Mainly, the band was just this peripheral thing in my life where I was just trying to figure out who I am and how I can be stable and how I can be a happy, competent individual,” Nowell said.
For eight years, Nowell stuck with Law through member changes and shifts in identity. Ultimately, he had a falling out with the band at the end of 2021, he said — right around the same time he got divorced after only months of marriage.
“I was just totally at my bottom,” Nowell said.
Before parting ways with his Law bandmates, his uncle Miguel Happoldt, a member of Long Beach Dub Allstars and an unofficial member of Sublime, had sent some songs to Epitaph, Nowell said. The label liked the music, but the sound wasn’t something they were looking for. But they were interested in Nowell as a vocalist.
Nowell says he owes his recent successes to Epitaph’s Chris Foitel, who scouted the singer-songwriter, and set up his first writing session in January 2022. The label brought in producer Jon Joseph and co-writer Tim Armstrong, known for his work in Rancid, Transplants and Operation Ivy.
When he branched out on his own, Nowell said he realized his past aversion to bringing his dad’s influence into his own music was “immature.”
“The music my dad made was amazing and the fans’ lives it touched are all amazing people and the life it has given me is amazing,” Nowell said.
“The only way I’m ever going to stand on my own two feet as an artist is not by completely ignoring it and also not by completely embracing it,” he continued. “It lies somewhere in the middle, I think — that middle path of authenticity.”
With that in mind, when he formed Jakobs Castle, it was with the desire to create his own sound, allowing Sublime’s influence to permeate his writing process, but not consume it.
“Me being related to my dad is a part of me and I can’t ignore that,” Nowell said. “I grew up listening to those songs just like everyone else and was inspired by them like everyone else.”
After a year of writing sessions, the small team had created 14 tracks Nowell describes as “alternative beach music” for “Enter the Castle,” the band’s debut album.
The first single, “Time Traveler,” dropped on June 28 just after the signing announcement. “Lights Out,” the album’s second single, was released Sept. 25.
An album release date has not been set, but the band’s label representative said an announcement is expected in January.
“My grandpa always told my dad to write songs of social significance,” Nowell said. “I don’t know how socially significant my material is, but I was just trying to write anything … that was meaningful to me.”
Since writing the album, even before the band name was officially announced, Jakobs Castle has performed across the country with acts including 311, Slightly Stoopid, Long Beach Dub Allstars, Common Kings, Julian Marley and Sitting On Stacy.
Starting Jan. 11, Jakobs Castle will hit the road with hip-hop blues creators G. Love & Special Sauce for a 41-show national run through March 16.
Early Jakobs Castle would have a “revolving door cast of musicians” perform live, Nowell said. Today, its lineup has been solidified.
Whether it’s with Jakobs Castle or any other future musical venture, Nowell still acknowledges that to some degree, he’ll always live in Bradley of Sublime’s shadow.
“There’s always that ever-present pressure, the expectations of people,” Nowell said. “No matter what I do, there’s always going to be that comparison. And I’ve learned to live with that.”