Chic at Coachella: How Jakob Nowell embraced his late dad’s band


It’s Leg Day for Jakob Nowell, who’s fueling up for his exercise on a latest afternoon with a late breakfast at a Lengthy Seashore diner simply down the road from his health club.

The one son of the late Chic frontman Bradley Nowell, Jakob received into weightlifting a couple of years in the past and adheres zealously to his every day train routine. “Working actually, actually exhausting,” he says, is a necessity for somebody “not naturally good at something. Rising up, there have been all these boy-genius exhibits like ‘Jimmy Neutron’ and ‘Dexter’s Lab’ on TV. I used to be all the time like, These guys are simply geniuses at 6 years outdated? That’s f— up. I knew I used to be gonna must cheat to be good, and the perfect type of dishonest is to apply for hours and hours and hours.” He laughs over a greasy plate of steak and eggs.

“Plus, should you work out loads, you’ll be able to eat this and never really feel like s—.”

What Nowell, 28, has been working towards recently is the music of Chic, the beloved ska-punk trio his father led from the backyards of Lengthy Seashore to the brink of alt-rock stardom till his tragic loss of life in Might 1996, simply two months earlier than the discharge of the band’s first major-label album. Bradley was the identical age Jakob is now when he died from an unintended heroin overdose after a present on the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma; inside a 12 months and a half, Chic’s self-titled LP had gone triple platinum due to unavoidable radio hits like “What I Obtained,” “Santeria,” and “Unsuitable Method.”

Now, after many years during which the group’s music solely continued to search out new followers, Jakob has joined his dad’s former bandmates, drummer Bud Gaugh and bassist Eric Wilson, to entrance a brand new model of Chic. The trio is ready to carry out in public for simply the second time on the upcoming Coachella Valley Music and Arts Competition, which can even characteristic a reunion by Chic’s outdated buddies in No Doubt — maybe the opposite defining act of mid-’90s SoCal various rock.

“I name Bud and Eric my uncles, and I’m completely satisfied they’ve accepted me into their band,” says Jakob, who sings and performs guitar and who was solely 11 months outdated when Bradley Nowell died. “I’ll by no means have a look at it as my band. Chic is my dad’s band, and I’m serving to out, that’s all.”

Says Wilson: “This is sort of a second starting.”

Fashioned in 1988, Chic rapidly turned a staple of the Lengthy Seashore house-party scene with its rowdy but laid-back mix of reggae, hip-hop, punk and ska. Bradley’s witty and empathetic songwriting distinguished the band, as did his flexibility as a vocalist: In an period of one-note barkers, right here was a man who might croon, growl, toast and rap; he might even sing convincingly in Spanish, a mirrored image of the deep cultural variety of the city that additionally gave us Battle, Snoop Dogg and Jenni Rivera.

“I used to like to go see them as a result of — and I imply this actually affectionately — two out of three gigs, they’d be a complete mess,” says No Doubt’s Tom Dumont. “However then that one out of three, they have been simply transcendent.”

In 1995, L.A.’s influential KROQ-FM began spinning Chic’s “Date Rape,” a sneering ska tune about sexual abuse. The music’s buzz led to a cope with MCA Information for what can be the band’s third LP; Chic had accomplished the album and was on the highway awaiting its launch when Bradley was discovered lifeless in a San Francisco resort room.

Having declared that there was no Chic with out their proficient frontman, Gaugh and Wilson went on to kind the Lengthy Seashore Dub Allstars; Gaugh additionally performed in a short-lived supergroup, Eyes Adrift, with Krist Novoselic of Nirvana and the Meat Puppets’ Curt Kirkwood. But Chic’s music — its catchy, relatable songs about “the dramedy of life,” as Gaugh places it — endured, spawning cowl bands and gathering reward from high-profile followers comparable to Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, who’s known as Chic certainly one of his group’s patron saints, and Lana Del Rey, who recorded a tackle Chic’s “Doin’ Time” in 2019. (With fun, Gaugh recollects the time a pal advised him about overhearing somebody’s response to Chic’s authentic in a Santa Monica bar: “They have been like, ‘Oh my God, that’s the worst f—ing Lana Del Rey cowl I’ve ever heard.’”)

On Spotify, “Santeria” has greater than 700 million streams whereas “What I Obtained” is approaching the half-billion mark — figures all of the extra spectacular on condition that each songs nonetheless appear to show up on the radio each hour or so. “And that’s not simply in Southern California,” says Lisa Worden, who oversees rock and various programming for the nationwide iHeartMedia conglomerate. “All my stations play Chic.”


Bradley Nowell, with guitar, fronts Chic onstage in 1995.

(Steve Eichner / Getty Photos)

A part of what saved the band’s music in circulation — “Chic” is at present licensed for gross sales of greater than 5 million copies — was Chic with Rome, a type of dwelling tribute that Gaugh and Wilson assembled in 2009 to carry out Chic’s songs onstage with the singer and guitarist Rome Ramirez. However everybody near the unique Chic says that Jakob’s presence places the brand new venture in a unique league.

“It’s so surreal,” says Troy Nowell, Bradley’s widow and Jakob’s mother. “However this actually is Chic.” Provides Joe Escalante, the longtime member of Orange County’s Vandals who’s serving as certainly one of Chic’s managers: “It’s like Walt Disney getting unfrozen.”

Jakob first received along with Gaugh and Wilson late final 12 months to play a profit for H.R., frontman of the pioneering hardcore band Unhealthy Brains, at L.A.’s Teragram Ballroom. The collaboration had been a very long time coming — Jakob says folks have been floating the thought for his whole grownup life. However he’d all the time been reluctant for private and musical causes.

The youthful Nowell grew up between San Diego, the place he lived in “type of loopy white-trash” circumstances along with his mom and stepfather, and Lengthy Seashore, the place he spent the summers along with his paternal grandparents, “who have been way more secure,” he says between bites on the diner. As he’s consuming, a server comes by to say whats up and provides a reminiscence of Jakob as a child in a automobile seat plopped on the desk. The mythology that had grown up round Bradley after his loss of life — to not point out Jakob’s personal drug downside that started when he was 12 — interfered along with his skill to attach with a person he’d by no means actually identified; at this time Jakob says he’ll by no means return to his father’s grave in close by Westminster “as a result of it’s exhausting to mourn when there’s a bunch of strangers round you.”

His style was additionally totally different: As a teen, Jakob cherished Software and Queens of the Stone Age and finally began a hard-rock band known as Regulation. He cringes on the considered trying up an outdated video of him making an attempt to sing Chic’s “Caress Me Down” at another person’s behest. “People assume I’ve simply all the time identified all of Chic’s songs,” he says. “However they weren’t, like, downloaded into my DNA. This isn’t one thing I ever thought I’d do.”

His pondering started to alter final 12 months whereas he was on tour along with his solo act, Jakobs Fort. In Petaluma he made what he calls a “non secular pilgrimage” to the Phoenix Theater, the place Bradley performed his closing gig, and occurred upon a restoration assembly in a room with Chic stickers on the partitions; for Jakob, who’s been sober for seven years, the coincidence felt like some type of signal.

Says Troy Nowell: “I don’t know if Bradley’s someplace within the different dimension turning knobs, however Jake simply stepped up.”

Each Gaugh and Wilson say Jakob is the one individual for whom they’d think about reviving Chic, which past Coachella is booked for a handful of different festivals together with June’s No Values in Pomona. Gaugh stopped enjoying with Chic with Rome again in 2011, whereas Wilson introduced in February that he’d stop the band, which has labored steadily over the past 15 years. “It had began to really feel like a manufacturing facility,” the bassist says. “They have been utilizing backing tapes and click on tracks. It was like a well-greased machine, and that’s not Chic.”

Regardless of Wilson’s departure, Chic with Rome has a tour booked via the autumn, which clearly vexes the members of Chic. Gaugh notes the potential for confusion amongst followers, saying a pal reached out excitedly the opposite day to inform him she’d purchased tickets for his or her present in Maui — a Chic with Rome date, because it seems.

Troy Nowell

Troy Nowell holds her 1-year-old son, Jakob, in 1996.

(Clarence Williams / Los Angeles Instances)

Jakob views Rome’s resolution to maintain going in additional dramatic ethical phrases. “That man actually thinks he’s entitled to play as a band with no members of the unique band in it,” he says. “Everybody’s like, ‘Effectively, he actually saved the dream alive.’ Saved the dream alive? There are children sporting Chic shirts proper now that don’t say ‘with Rome’ on them. What are we speaking about right here? It’s madness. The reality is that he thinks he can frequently revenue off of a household’s tragedy with none connection to it.”

“It breaks my coronary heart if he thinks that’s true,” Ramirez says. “Not within the least do I really feel any type of sense of entitlement to play as Chic. In my eyes, Chic has and can all the time be Brad, Bud and Eric.” Ramirez provides that he’d want to play his band’s upcoming dates — most of which he says have been booked greater than a 12 months in the past, effectively earlier than Wilson left — beneath the identify Rome. “I don’t need to be up there enjoying billed as Chic as a result of it’s not,” he says. “However sadly, legally, we’re obligated to play these exhibits.”

Jakob says he known as Ramirez earlier than Chic introduced it was enjoying Coachella to debate “how we have been gonna deal with this media rollout.” But Ramirez, he provides, solely needed to know what number of exhibits the band deliberate to play. “What number of exhibits am I enjoying with my dad’s band?” Jakob recollects. “You’re tripping, bro.”

“We talked for like 40 minutes,” Ramirez says. “There was by no means any point out of them eager to work amicably on the launch of this tour.”

Jakob sighs. “He’s simply proven me and my household no kindness. And if something me and Rome ought to be finest f— associates,” he says. “I imply, who else might higher relate to dwelling in one other man’s shadow for everything of your profession?”

That’s how Chic feels to Jakob? “It’s all the time felt like loads has been hinging on me,” he says closely. “However you both get busy driving otherwise you get busy dying. I’m a powerful individual, and though I’ve my low moments, I’ve picked myself up from them.

“If I wasn’t the best individual for the job, I wouldn’t be doing it.”


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