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The Sound

Badfish, good music


Badfish plays the Val Air Ballroom on Thursday, Jan. 30.

Badfish plays the Val Air Ballroom on Thursday, Jan. 30.

California ska act Sublime had a mercurial career that was cut short when front man Bradley Nowell overdosed at the hands of Mr. Brownstone. Short as it may have been, Sublime’s career turned out two of the more iconic albums of the 1990s, “40oz. to Freedom” and its final, self-titled release.

Despite nearly a quarter century passing since Nowell’s death, Sublime’s legacy has endured and continues to be a staple on college radio stations throughout the nation. And from that music spawned Badfish.

“We were in college when we started the band,” explained Badfish drummer Scott Begin in a phone interview. “Sublime’s legacy was still very fresh. That music kind of became a bit of a soundtrack to those college years to us. I met (bassist) Joel Hanks in school, and the idea just sort of took off from there.”

Ben Schomp and Dave Ladin were soon added, and Badfish was born.

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“It sort of took on a life of its own over the years,” Begin said. “We finished up school and pursued it even more seriously, and it kind of snowballed.”

The band has evolved over the years — Ladin and Schomp have been replaced by current keyboardist Dorian Duffy and front man Pat Downes — but the sound has stayed the same. Playing exclusively Sublime tracks, Badfish (named after a track from “40oz to Freedom”) has grown in surprising levels of popularity: The act regularly books 150-200 dates a year and sell out venues around the country.

“I think it makes a little sense now,” Begin said, referring to the band’s popularity. “Back in 2001 when we started, I probably didn’t expect that it would be successful. I figured, you can play in a tribute band and work your 9-5, and that’s that. I didn’t expect that we’d be touring the country and playing six days a week.”

One major difference between Badfish and most every other tribute act you’ll see is that these guys don’t go out of their way to emulate the look of their source band. They’ve tapped into the core feeling of the band without crossing over into impersonation or kitsch. Or, as it says on the Badfish Facebook page, “(We) perform not as Sublime would have or did, but as Badfish does.”

“There was never really a serious discussion about emulating the appearance of Sublime,” he said. “One can argue that Sublime has a look — that SoCal style or whatever — but it’s not like they’re KISS. They didn’t go out of their way to dress a certain way. We’re just a bunch of guys playing in our T-shirts and jeans, just like they did.”

The biggest drawback of covering a defunct band, of course, is the finite material. There’s never going to be another Sublime album, so there’s never going to be a fresh Badfish set. But for Badfish and its following, the appeal of Sublime never wears thin.

“I was just thinking about that the other day,” Begin said. “We were in the bus and one of the guys put in (Sublime’s) latest live CD. I don’t go out of my way to listen to them now, because we play them so much, but we listened to that CD the whole way to our next stop. They had something so unique. It’s easy to lose sight of that, but it’s nice to go back and have a little refresher session.” CV

Chad Taylor is an award-winning news journalist and music writer from Des Moines who would love to take his talents abroad if the rent were not so much more affordable in Des Moines.

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