By Peter Lindblad
It was the mid-’90s, and Nowell could have done anything a budding rock star usually does in the late-evening hours. But, instead, as Doughty tells it, “We met him at a show in San Diego at this place called Dream Street, and somehow, my crazy-ass mom got him to come back to the pad.”
Just a teenager growing up in Ocean Beach, Calif., at the time, making home-grown, reggae-infused jams with life-long chum Kyle McDonald, Doughty couldn’t believe his luck. Here was Nowell, about to become a huge rock star — albeit posthumously — who could have laughed off the suggestion that he go hear the rudimentary recordings of some nobody high-school kids at the house of someone he didn’t know, and yet, he was willing to go along with it.
“She was just explaining how her son’s got a guitar and he’s been recording stuff, and this and that, and he’s like, ‘Screw it. I’ll come over and check it out,’” says Doughty.
Agents and promoters sometimes don’t have the kind of chutzpah Doughty’s mother showed, and were it not for her moxie, Doughty’s Slightly Stoopid crew might not be playing to thousands of people on near sell-out tours or having its single “2AM” in heavy rotation on modern-rock radio giants KROQ, in Los Angeles, and 91X, among other like-minded stations across the country. But, here we are, 12 years after Nowell signed Slightly Stoopid to his Skunk Records label, with Doughty and company poised for even bigger and better things.
Having Nowell in their corner certainly helped Doughty and McDonald get noticed, but Slightly Stoopid, whose latest LP, an odds-and-sods collection of B-sides and rarities titled Slightly Not Stoned Enough To Eat Breakfast Yet Stoopid, came out in July, hasn’t relied solely on Nowell’s patronage to get to where it’s at. Constant touring — about 200 days a year, according to Doughty’s calculations — has helped the band build an audience that’s grown steadily over the years.
Even with ridiculously high gas prices last summer, Slightly Stoopid played its laid-back grooves and earthy blend of reggae, soul, jazz, hip-hop and punk to standing-room-only crowds on tour, selling more than 95 percent of the tour’s available tickets as other concert packages struggled.
“If you look at the numbers, it’s not like we just did these numbers out of the blue,” says Doughty. “It’s not because [“2AM”] was getting pushed on the radio. It’s just the fans are… we have crazy ‘Stoopid heads’ that just make these shows nuts.”
While acknowledging the lift “2AM”’s airplay has given Slightly Stoopid, Doughty says, “I think we’ve had such a loyal following for the fact that we stay 200 days a year on tour and always go back to these towns and make sure we’re playing as much as we can. And I think the fans respect that, and they grow with you like that, because we’ve had people that have been following us our whole career, and you grow up with them, and they grow up with you. So, that’s pretty cool.”
Now barely into his thirties, Doughty is in his 16th year with Slightly Stoopid, a band he and McDonald formed when they “… 15, 16 years old,” he says. Inseparable friends grew up across the street from each other, and “…. we did everything together. Like, before we even knew how to play music, we were like, ‘We want to be in a band,’ because we were watching Mötley Crüe videos and shit like ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’ and you’re just kind of going, ‘That’s what I want to do,’ you know what I mean (laughs)?”
About the age of 12, Doughty and McDonald began playing guitar, and in a few years, after forming Slightly Stoopid, the group “… just kind of went from [playing] backyard parties to playing this local club called Soma, which is like the punk-rock club. They still have the same club. But, back in the day, that was like where pretty much everybody went. When I was a kid, that’s where they all went to hear those kinds of shows.”
Soon would come the chance Dream Street meeting with Nowell, where Slightly Stoopid also connected with Miguel (just one name), who would become the band’s longtime producer.
“That really got our foot in the door to start touring and get out there and just kind of laid the groundwork for how things should be done as far as busting your ass on the road and letting everything come, you know, gradually to you,” says Doughty.
Being from Southern California, and having immersed themselves in the region’s musical diversity, Doughty and McDonald have cooked up an eclectic, organic musical stew with the help of an ever-evolving lineup that has experienced numerous personnel changes over the years. Early on, however, Doughty and McDonald, being skateboarders, were influenced by skate-punk and thrash-metal. Over time, their hybrid sound has taken on more flavors, morphing into good-time jams that recall the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink aesthetic of The Grateful Dead and exude a relaxed, sunny California vibe.
“Like, every band member listens to different kinds of music, from jazz to hip-hop to classic rock… you know, blues, soul — a little bit of everything,” remarks Doughty. “So, it’s like when we start making music, all those influences are going on in our heads when we’re making our own music.”
And so they were when Slightly Stoopid made its eponymous debut, a highly prized collectible among Sublime fans due to a hidden track that features Nowell. “We were at my house, recording, just jamming one day, and he heard that song, and he’s like, ‘Dude, I want to play bass on that.’ And I was like, ‘Cool.’ And we started playing (laughs). And he started playing the bass on it and a little tambourine.”
Nowell died of a heroin overdose in May 1996, before what would become Sublime’s last album came out. On the strength of hook-filled “What I Got” and the jumpy ska-infused workout “Wrong Way,” Sublime took the alternative-rock world by storm. But Nowell wasn’t around for the party.
“He was a friend, so it’s like… just like if you lost a friend, it’s heartbreaking,” says Doughty. “We were supposed to play a show with him the very next day. So, just to hear that news, it was just kind of like, ‘What the f**k?’ That’s all you can say. You don’t believe it when you first hear it. It’s like, ‘No, that can’t be true.’ I had to get like six different phone calls just to find out if it actually… really did happen.”
Undeterred by the death of such an ardent supporter and creative inspiration, Slightly Stoopid forged on with 1998’s The Longest Barrel Ride album. With the onset of the new millennium came maturation. While the band still engaged in the child-like preoccupations of skateboarding and other, less legal pursuits — Doughty freely admits that “we like to party; we like to smoke weed” — Slightly Stoopid’s sound began to mature as Doughty and McDonald grew more accomplished on guitar.
A trio of major labels began to take notice, each pushing the band to sign a deal. In what turned out to be a very smart business decision, the band declined.
“Ultimately, it comes down to creative control,” says Doughty. “We’re not making music for these heads of record companies, you know what I mean? We’re making our music for fans and for ourselves. And I don’t want somebody’s outside influence telling us how we should make our music when we’ve been making it the way we’ve been doing it and the people like it.”
Who knows where Slightly Stoopid would be if they’d caved. “Look what happened to a lot of those bands that signed with these major labels,” says Doughty. “They get locked up in these four-record deals, and their record gets shelved because, you know, they don’t hear a single, or they’re not feeling this or that. We’re a band that generates our own steam. So, it’s like, why take away from that and like bring in these side people to give you their vision of what the band should be like?”
Hearing Doughty passionately expound on why the band drew a line in the sand stands in sharp contrast to Slightly Stoopid’s relaxed, good-natured approach to life and recording. Liberally incorporating varied styles of music into their own, unique genre grab-bag yields an intoxicating, humid amalgamation. At its heart, though, is reggae, and while some might be suspicious of a gang of white wannabes from California trying its hand at a form of music that demands of its practitioners a deep knowledge and reverence of its history, Slightly Stoopid has earned respect from some of the genre’s highest priests, touring with such artists as Yellowman, Toots And The Maytals and the so-called “riddim twins,” Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare.
“Listening to Half Pint. Listening to Bob [Marley], Yellowman… You’re, like, schooled in that kind of… Miguel used to call it the ‘holy homework,’” says Doughty. “It’s like you listen to that music and kind of engrave it in your head. You don’t want to come out with, you know, cheesy… you can call it cheesy ‘white boy reggae.’ You know, Sly and Robbie came up and said it’s cool what we’re doing for reggae, because even though we’re not Rastas or anything like that, we’re guys preaching the good times, and we want the same for everybody.”
The good times keep coming for Slightly Stoopid. In 2007, the band — now featuring Doughty, McDonald, drummer Ryan Moran, Oguer Ocon on congas, percussion, harp and vocals, DE LA on saxophone and C-Money on trumpet and keyboards — released Chronchitis, the album that birthed the slinky, smoky grooves of “2AM,” which chronicles the story of a late-night pot bust.
“It’s talking about the police coming in and shaking stuff up when you’re just kind of chilling at your pad, doing your thing and [how you’re] always, like, there at the wrong time,” says Doughty.
The fact that radio is just now picking up the song is something that doesn’t really concern Doughty. “We’ve never really been a band that’s been on the radio, so I don’t really even know the gist of how all that stuff works,” he says.
And though Slightly Stoopid has never been all that interested in radio and the business end of things, having a song on the radio is a trip. “For us, it only adds fuel to the fire, because we’ve already been known for having really great success on tour,” says Doughty. “It forces people that may have never heard of the band — to have someone like KROQ or 91X pushing it — other stations around the country go, ‘Oh, this is what must be going on,’ and then they start to push it, and like I said, your fan base just continues to grow.”
And what does a growing fan base, with a large number of neophytes just getting hip to Slightly Stoopid’s vibe, need? Something like Slightly Not Stoned Enough To Eat Breakfast Yet Stoopid, which houses all kinds of ephemera, including — along with the B-side and rarities already mentioned — previously unreleased outtakes and eight new studio jams.
“What happened was, we had released a seven-song EP that had part of the songs from Slighty Not Stoned Enought To Eat Breakfast on it that those songs were like in limited release,” says Doughty. “So, what we wanted to do was, since we got so many requests for those, we still had a bunch of songs that we wanted to record, and we had stuff finished that was just sitting there.”
“Sensimilla” and “False Rhythms” are two of the 15 tracks, and they developed from Slightly Stoopid’s slightly improvisational approach in the studio. “I think it’s important, like when you’re in the studio, to get a fresh vibe,” says Doughty. “Like, you don’t always want to go in there with stuff so rehearsed that you lose the flavor to it, you know what I mean? I think the most important thing we try to do is very studio session we set up so it’s a live jam, and that way you get the feel of the live drums, you get the feel of… you want that swing. You don’t want everything so locked in that it sounds programmed. You want to keep the organic feel of the music.”
And that’s something they transfer to the stage. Doughty describes the band’s electric live show as “a melting pot of madness,” and believes it’s a good tension release for the audience. “I think we bring a lot of energy, and it’s just, we come to town, and we’re going to party with the people. We just try to bring it all in one night and go to the next town and do the same thing.”
Sounds like a good way to do business.