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King of his Castle: Jakob Nowell brings new project to Ithaca

Jakob Nowell of Jakobs Castle
Danin Jacquay
Jakob Nowell of Jakobs Castle

On Friday night, Jakobs Castle makes its Ithaca debut at Deep Dive. The musical project of Jakob Nowell (son of late Sublime vocalist Bradley Nowell) recently signed to Epitaph Records and has released several singles in anticipation of a full album release in early 2024.

Jakobs Castle has been touring with the Common Kings for the past month, but to promote the one-off show in Ithaca, Nowell stopped by The Route’s studio in Rochester on Thursday to appear on “Afternoons with Yarms,” hosted by music director Ryan Yarmell. Check out some of that interview below!

Ryan Yarmel: We’re chatting today about your performance at Deep Dive in Ithaca on Friday, That's tomorrow.

Jakob Nowell: Yeah, we're super excited to go hit that market. We've never been out here before in this area.

RY: Is this your first time in the Finger Lakes? I’m assuming you’ve been in New York State down in the city, or somewhere, right?

JN: Yeah, only in the city. You know, I played a couple of shows in Long Island with my old band LAW, and Manhattan. But I've never been out of the city in the state before. So (we’re) getting to see all the beautiful countryside stuff

RY: This is the time of year when we have the leaves changing and things like that.

JN: Yes -- in California, no one's ever heard of that. We have palm trees. They stay green.

RY: So, you're from the West Coast? And I know that you were previously in the band LAW. What can you tell me about that band?

JN: LAW was definitely more of like a hard rock type of project. And it was something I started with friends and had many different members over the years. And none of us really knew what we were doing at the time. But we tried really dang hard. And I really loved a lot of what we did, but it wasn't authentically me. It wasn't my own personal stuff. So eventually, we couldn't get along perfectly so we all sort of went our separate ways.

And when we did this was at the top of last year. I thought, “I want to start my own solo projects.” You know, I've always been kind of shying away from trying to either be involved with my dad's name or do stuff that's adjacent to the Cali reggae kind of scene. But with this band, Jakobs Castle, I wanted to authentically blend who I am as a musician, and then things that I like and my influences, but also without shying away from little bits and pieces of that beachy kind of SoCal culture that people might come to expect.

Jakob Nowell of Jakobs Castle
Pep Williams
Jakob Nowell of Jakobs Castle

RY: How does it feel to come to a place where you can own that?

JN: It feels amazing. Yeah, I mean, we're coming off the back of last night – me and my band, Jakobs Castle, we played Chicago at Italia Hall. And that was last night, right? It all blurs together. But it was this magical moment midway through the tour where we were firing on all cylinders. All the sound people were great that night. The crowd was awesome. And we just played very on-point.

And when you hear songs you've been working on for a long time… Like I said, I started formulating the project at the top of last year, and when you just finally get to a point where you're hearing them how they were supposed to be in your head, and then some, it's really gratifying. Whereas even if anybody doesn't connect with this, even if anybody doesn't like this, even if it's tough, or I'm totally in the wrong here in left field, I'm hitting all the marks that I want to be as a musician for what I'm making. And I'm so dang lucky to be doing it in front of any audience at all that it just makes me very happy.

RY: It’s such a personal thing – the very simple act of writing or producing or creating music and then playing it in front of people and having them enjoy it and connect to it and then maybe sometimes you even make a few dollars from doing it that alone is really an incredible uniquely human thing.

JN: Oh totally, man! Like that's why you know the kind of experience we're gonna give. I'm so happy in the middle of the tour. We had some off days so we're like “All right, we want to try to set up a show in a market we never hit before.”

I know I do have a few fans out there who have already hit me up. They're excited to come to the show. And so even if it's a cool, small little intimate thing, it's almost better because this is the first real time that my band has been touring under the name. Jakobs Castle. My project is out there on Epitaph Records, and with the new song “Lights Out,” I just feel like this is the perfect time for a cool little proto show, almost like you're here for the prologue. You're here for chapter one, you're here for us at our most raw, but at the same time, the best it's ever sounded.

RY: I was reminded just now of Neil Young like sneaking off to play small venues unannounced. And no one even knows it's Neil Young, but here he is. And to see a big band or any group, deconstructed in a small space, it's pretty awesome.

JN: Oh, it's so great, man. Because we're lucky for the opportunities we have to get the jump on the road with a big band like Common Kings. And the shows have all been amazing packing 2000-capacity venues, definitely the biggest stuff I've ever done in my life. And I'm so grateful for it.

But the other half of it is, you almost start to miss the simplicity of kind of connecting with an audience in a real cool venue – not to say that it's smaller, or less in any way but it's just different there. You just get a different vibe, a different energy.

When the headliners we're playing with on this trip go out and hit the stage, it's giant, huge, crazy right away. It's the walkout track, like from Star Wars. And that has its place, but it's almost like it's like eating nothing but candy. While sometimes you want to just get back out there and explore. We've been really bringing a fun show because we're playing with a lot of bands that are a little more mid-tempo, slow, and vibe. And we have a couple of songs that do that. But we love hyping people up. We love doing fast. We come from that old-school Long Beach punk kind of spirit, that DIY alternative space that likes messy underground internet weirdness, like we want to bring something uncanny and weird.

RY: You can hear all that tomorrow at Deep Dive So let's dig into the music a little bit. And you did mention you have a new single out on Epitaph Records called “Lights Out” that I was I've been listening to you all day. It's a great track. And I also had a chance to look into the lyrics a little bit. In this song, your lyrics are really specific and you're talking about certain things, certain bands, and everything. And I wonder what your approach is when you name-drop a band? What do you think about that? Do you ever worry about them hearing it? Or what do you think?

JN: Great, great question. And I have to restrict myself because I could talk about this for hours because I love talking about the process and stuff. But I don't want to be too, you know, self-involved or inside baseball here. And no one knows who I am, so it's like, who really cares at the end of the day? But I care a great deal. And I want that to shine through in the music.

To answer your question, when I put in those little tidbits and stuff it is a sign of me, just like any writer from the most unknown to the biggest most well-known … when you see these little nuggets of local color, and local genuineness and stuff that happened in their lives, I think you can tell the difference. And to me, especially “Lights Out,” that song means a lot to me because those are all things that really happened to me.

You know, I was going through a big bad breakup. And that's definitely what I was drawing upon for that song. And those were all real experiences that happened to me. I don't wanna get morose here, but from the ashes of things like that, we move forward into better parts of our lives and move forward into more constructive parts of our lives.

And sometimes it spurs you into being the most genuine authentic version of yourself. And here I am attempting to create the most genuine, authentic music I've ever done. And “Lights Out” was just the epitome of that to me; like, that's the Jakobs Castle song. It has a little bit of those reggae upstrokes in the beginning but they're kind of affected and weird, and it has kind of a hyperpop synth, and the background vocals have that weird pitch-shifted Autotune kind of feel.

The chorus itself is very kind of almost schmaltzy, saccharine pop, like “Baby, why'd your love go out, like a light bulb?” You know, that kind of stuff. But as far as mentioning the band names, those are bands that I really look to and idolize.

Any kind of cool niche interests... I think we as artists have a duty to involve that in our music or in our work to some degree because there might just be that one other person out there who like “No way, it was referencing this weird little thing,” because that's me!

Jakob Nowell is leader of Jakobs Castle
Danin Jacquay
Jakob Nowell is leader of Jakobs Castle

RY: A listener can hear a specific reference and know exactly what it is and it helps them resonate with it. Or even if it's you being specific about your own experiences – even if they're totally different than someone else, they can relate to it.

JN: I think that's definitely the writer’s biggest duty if you can, you know be authentic with your experiences but also make it relatable without being to lowest common denominator and without really seeming like you're trying to do everything I just said I was trying to make it effortless!

RY: Well, this track does sound effortless. Do you have an album coming out to follow this?

JN: We have 14 tracks done, and hopefully, an album dropping next year. I'm thinking of the title “Enter the Castle,” but all the songs we’re playing live, so you'll hear them tomorrow.

RY: What's it like signing with a major legendary label like Epitaph?

JN: Man, it's nothing short of a dream come true.

RY: I remember speaking to someone about what it was like to go into the dressing room of the Grand Ol’ Opry and those inelegant spaces were legendary to see. Have you found anything like that happening? And with this new deal?

JN: Oh, I think so, 100%. It’s a really interesting story -- Epitaph was actually going to sign my dad's band Sublime back in the day. But that head of the label, he was getting sober at the time. And he still is, you know, and I am as well. And so that's how we kind of bonded. That and he was telling me, “I was gonna sign your old man. And I was asking some friends about them. And they were like, well, ‘Sublime likes to hang out with hookers and smoke crack and flip over tables and stuff.’” And he was like, “Yeah, I'm six months sober, I can't sign this.”

And so many years have passed since then. To see where Epitaph has grown into what it's become and how it's been instrumental in so many different musical movements – it's just such a great place for these first few albums to live because that's ultimately what I think any artist seeks to do.

But as I was talking about when we were listening to the song, I’m just trying to organically fuse together all the elements in my life that make me who I am. And hopefully, anybody else who's interested in any of those things comes together and you get this scene of people who maybe normally wouldn't mix but are banded together because that's what music’s powerful ability to do is.

RY: I think these days, too, when you have musicians and producers able to make any music sound like it's from different time periods, or with production value, or kind of move genres around, it's important that music can exist just on a plane of music and not have to be a certain genre necessarily, or can only be played with certain things. And your music definitely embodies all that.

JN: Thank you so much. I mean, there was that kind of era for a while – I want to say like in the 2010s – where everyone's like “Music sucks nowadays, music’s awful.” I don't even hear the most jaded cynic saying that anymore. There's just so much interesting music out there and all genres. And in each space in the genres, there's a space for people who are experimenting with it and taking from other places.

I kind of see the landscape of music right now as sort of a renaissance of that 90s spirit. I think enough time has passed as these trends go in these 30-year cycles. I think we're coming to another time in music where it got very artificial for a while, it got really blown out played out – and then bam, you have the emergence of bedroom producers and bedroom pop and hyper pop stuff and all these people just breaking down genres, mixing them together, pushing under their absolute limits or being very minimalist with them. And I want Jakobs Castle to exist in there as sort of a palatable version of all of the weird elements that I want to fuse that I don't see anybody else using, you know?

Jakob Newell will bring Jakobs Castle to Deep Dive Friday night
Pep Williams
Jakob Newell will bring Jakobs Castle to Deep Dive Friday night

RY: What was your biggest musical influence growing up?

JN: Definitely Gorillaz. It was the first time… if anybody could remember when they heard a song when they were like six years old and that it gave you the chills, you know, your first goosebumps. I was born in 95 … and that track, the single off it, “Feel Good Inc,” I remember hearing that as a kid and just being transported away from my home life, my problems, my uncertainties. I mean, I don't know what a six-year-old has to be uncertain about, but it definitely cured whatever I was uncertain about and just stayed with me.

Then Outkast and “Hey Ya” – there’s something about that little synth line in the hook.

RY: And both of those bands – Gorillaz and Outkast -- they were totally combining different genres, just sort of like we were talking about.

JN: Yeah. And it just felt genuine, too. Even though sometimes you can't really tell what Damon Albarn is talking about in his lyrics, it doesn’t matter, it still feels genuine to him.

RY: Well, we have time for another track. And the other track that you released recently was “Time Traveler.” And I will play this but I just want to say goodbye and say thank you so much for coming in and taking the time to come by the studio and for coming to our Finger Lakes area.

JN: Thank you so much for having us. We are Jakobs Castle. We are second-generation Long Beach music straight from the source. And we're trying to mess with the formula a little bit. So Jakobs Castle 1000 years -- it's your castle too. And we love you.

RY:  Thanks so much for stopping by, Jakob, and we'll see you we'll see you soon.

JN: We'll see you in my future, that's right!

RY: This is the song “Time Traveler.”

Note: this interview was edited and condensed by Jim Catalano

If You Go

Who: Jakobs Castle, with openers Metasequoia

When: 9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 29

Where: Deep Dive

Cost: $9 in advance, available online here; $15 day of show

Event Info

Ryan Yarmel is music director of The Route and host of "Afternoons with Yarms" on WITH in Ithaca and WRUR in Rochester.