The cold, harsh world of the music business isn't usually the place where childhood dreams come instantly true. But every great once in a while, it actually happens, swears 24-year-old Rome Ramirez, who — as simply Rome — just issued his soulful debut EP Dedication, with a full album on the way.
Growing up in Fremont, Calif., the directionless youth got his first guitar at 11. "That's when I heard Sublime for the first time and fell in love," he says of the famous SoCal outfit, which would splinter after the death of its frontman Bradley Nowell in 1996. In earnest, Rome learned to strum their entire catalog. "And then when I was around 15 or 16, I started singing, and then I started writing songs. That's when everything changed for me. That's when I realized that what I have to express, I can't do it with just a guitar anymore. I need to sing!"
Naturally, most of Rome's early songwriting efforts resembled Sublime songs, sonically. But with his mother into vintage Motown, and his father a fan of punk, reggae and hip-hop, more diversified influences began to filter into his Sam Cooke-smooth vocal style and edgy way with rhythm. You can hear it on Dedication's funky "Seasons," the delicately plucked "Hung Up," and the EP's title track about a codependent ex, which opens with the line "I can taste the gin and Oxy on your lips."
As for how he hooked up with his heroes, Rome says he was living out of a van and spending nights in the vocal booth of a Costa Mesa studio where Sublime founder Eric Wilson happened to be recording. "So I got to meet him and hang out with him, and then I started going to his parties and jamming and stuff. One day he asked me if I knew any Sublime songs, and I was like 'I know ALL of them! Pick one!' And then we would just do that whenever he had a house party — I'd come over and we'd just jam, even write a song or two."
The next step came in early 2009, when Wilson and Sublime co-founder Bud Gaugh — who'd reconfigured as the Long Beach Dub Allstars in 1997 — got together with Rome for a tiny unannounced gig. "But word got out and it was crazy — there must've been about 2,000 people there, at this 150-capacity Mexican cantina," says a still-stunned Rome. "They shut down the street and the cops had to cordon off the area."
It wasn't all smooth sailing, with Nowell's estate demanding the trio stop calling itself Sublime, which led to the unwieldy Sublime With Rome moniker. A debut album was well-received in 2011, but by year's end, Gaugh had left the band. Still, the singer couldn't have imagined a better job — singing the songs he knew by heart every night onstage with his all-time idols.
Even so, Rome feels the time's now right for a solo debut and tour. "I'm taking what I use as influences and just shaping my own sound. And this is what I plan on doing. I want to be one of those artists where, when you turn on the radio, in one second you already know who's singing, like Bruno Mars or Gwen Stefani. I want to be a signature voice."