Kellie Nowell remembers the last time she spoke to her older brother well.
“It was the night of the reception, and he thanked me for helping with the wedding—he was clean and really happy,” she says. “The next morning, when I brought his son back who had stayed with us that night, I just waved to him across the room. And six days later, he was gone.”
The sibling whom Kellie remembers so happily was Bradley Nowell, the late singer of legendary Long Beach ska band Sublime. On May 25, 1996, Bradley tragically died of an overdose, just months before his band released the album that would make them a household name. In his honor and memory, Bradley’s kin created The Nowell Family Foundation, which provides a wide range of addiction recovery services for the music industry.
Along with LAW Records, the foundation are releasing The House That Bradley Built, an eclectic, 24-song compilation made up of a number of talented and notable artists performing acoustic renditions of Sublime songs. The profits from this album will go towards the construction of Bradley’s House, a six-bed opioid recovery center for struggling musicians, providing potentially life-saving services free of charge.
Kellie, who is the executive director of the foundation, says she was “blown away” by the enthusiasm of artists to contribute to the record.
“I was really touched by all of the people and artists who wanted to participate and contribute their voices to the album,” she says. “A lot of these people are artists I love and listen to, and it’s really a trip to hear them singing my brother’s songs.”
One of these artists is Milo Aukerman, lead singer of punk rock pillars Descendents. Aukerman contributed a ukulele version of the song “Hope,” interestingly, a Descendents song that Sublime covered on their 1992 debut album 40 Oz. to Freedom.
“It’s kind of a meta cover,” Aukerman says with a laugh. “And I thought that was a cool idea. So, I did it acoustically in my basement studio on a six-string ukulele. I really liked their cover of our song, and they did a good job of it.”
Aukerman, who says Descendents have tracked 20 songs for their new album, still can’t believe the timing of Bradley’s passing.
“When the self-titled Sublime record came out, posthumously, I thought it was such an utter tragedy that he was taken from us before they could play that record live—it’s such a masterpiece,” he says. “It’s just a great, great record, and the band was cut short in their time.”
Another noteworthy act on the compilation are California ska-punk heavyweights Mad Caddies, who were heavily influenced by Sublime back in the day. Mad Caddies cover “New Song,” a lesser-known track also off of the first album.
“We’re just really proud to be a part of this,” says Mad Caddies lead vocalist and guitarist Chuck Robertson. “There are so many great artists on this album; it’s a great tribute and it’s also for an amazing cause. [“New Song”] is one of my favorite songs that is deeper in the record … an off-beat song that was cool for the Caddies to put our weird, eclectic sound on it.”
Robertson says he shares the Nowell Foundation’s passion of helping musician struggling with addiction—an issue that is very personal for him.
“I’ve struggled with addiction my whole life, and I’ve been lucky enough to stay off the hard drugs even with my addictive personality,” he admits. “I’ve lost so many dear friends to opiates and it’s the devil—three of my fucking really dear friends have passed in the last 10 to 15 years because of it … so it really hits home. We want to help people in any way we can because there is a way out.”
When posed with the difficult question of what song on the compilation resonates with her most, Kellie thinks about it for a few seconds before conceding, “Rivers of Babylon,” which was sung by her father, Jim, with her nephew and Bradley’s son Jake.
“That song is so special. I’m glad I talked my dad into doing it,” she says, quietly laughing. “Brad and I grew up listening to him sing and play guitar. We come from a very musical family, and that was just a normal thing for us. I know Brad would be super stoked that his dad and son are doing a duet together.”
When they created the foundation three years ago, Kellie says they had a clear mission in mind to not only celebrate Bradley’s memory but help the music community struggling with addiction, an issue that, unfortunately, has plagued the industry for as long as it has existed and a problem that seems to be getting increasing more deadly and dire.
“We want to honor his memory and help other families avoid all the pain we’ve had to go through,” she says adamantly. “And we wanted to somehow have an impact on this crazy opioid epidemic sweeping the country, if not the world. We’ve seen the challenges that musicians face in trying to get clean and stay clean—we thought this would be a good way to do that.”
On the other end of the phone, you can hear her take a deep breath.
“I think he would be proud of the way we have taken our pain and tragedy and turned it into something potentially really positive.”
Pre-order The House That Bradley Built HERE