It's hard to tell whether bassist Eric Wilson is serious when he says Long Beach Dub All-Stars' debut is an album of campfire songs.
The former member of the highly acclaimed ska/punk/reggae trio Sublime sounds like he's blowing hot air when he says he and his eight bandmates are writing songs about tents and brands of charcoal. But when he elaborates on why the All-Stars find such topics inspiring, he's more believable.
"We go on camping trips in the summertime with a group of friends and go to the river and go rock-jumping and swimming," Wilson said recently from his Long Beach, Calif., home. "And then, at night, we sit around a campfire and make up music with whatever instruments we have, and we just figured we can take pieces out of that and make a record."
"All we really know is it's going to follow a camping theme -- a lot of campfire songs," he said.
The process the All-Stars have chosen to record the album may be more original than the concept. Because singer Opie Ortiz will be absent for many of the recording sessions -- to be held in New York City this month and in October -- his vocals were recorded in a Mendocino, Calif., studio last month. Wilson says Ortiz has put down about 17 tracks thus far.
"We didn't want anything to interfere with what he's doing, so we decided we'll just make the music fit the vocals," Wilson said. "It's just an idea we had, and we're pretty sure it's going to work."
Tentatively titled Burn Unit and slated for an early 1999 release on Skunk Records, the album will feature acoustic work, with the electric parts toned to sound "not too technical," in order to correspond with the album's theme, Wilson added. It will feature appearances by former Bad Brains frontman H.R. as well as reggae artists Notch of Born Jamericans, Half Pint and Barrington Levy. And it is shaping up to be a continuation of Sublime's punk-reggae hybrid emphasis.
Wilson says Long Beach Dub All-Stars continue as they began, as a tribute to Sublime, who came to an abrupt end when frontman Brad Nowell overdosed on heroin in a San Francisco hotel room in May 1996.
A few weeks after his death, the band's self-titled third album was released. It since has gone double-platinum.
With its feel-good sound and lyrics that proved to be cruel ironies, the album featured the radio hit "What I Got" (RealAudio excerpt).
Long Beach Dub All-Stars were born last year when Wilson and ex-Sublime drummer Bud Gaugh began jamming with friends, many of whom had been associated with their former band. In addition to acting as Sublime's producer, guitarist Michael "Miguel" Happoldt played on several recordings, along with organist Jack Maness and Marshall Goodman, a longtime contributor of scratches, percussion and samples.
Singer Ortiz had produced artwork for Sublime and designed several of their tattoos. Guitarist RAS1, keyboardist Ikey and saxophonist Tim Wu are newcomers.
Though he said singing for the new outfit was daunting at first, Ortiz contends that Sublime fans recognize his unique voice and don't force comparisons with Nowell. And that's the way it should be, he said.
"I'm not a f---in' musical genius like Brad was," Ortiz said. "I'm not trying to be Bradley Nowell; I don't compare myself to him at any point. I can't fill anybody's shoes. Nobody can. We're just trying to play music, have fun and do what we can do."
Until recently, the All-Stars' shows were primarily made up of Sublime songs and covers, ranging from seminal punksters the Descendents' "Myage" to legendary psychedelic-jam-band the Grateful Dead's "Scarlet Begonias." New material was revealed in fragments during the band's freewheeling jam sessions, which took place mostly around the SoCal area from which they sprang.
"We're not trying to keep it a big surprise," Wilson said. "It's just nice to bring it out all at once."
The Long Beach Dub All-Stars feel like the logical step from Sublime, he added.
"We graduated smoothly from this to that," Wilson said. "It's not like we're going anywhere different from where we were going in the first place."