Slightly Stoopid

Slightly Stoopid circa 1998, Long Beach, Calif. (photo courtesy of Miguel Happoldt)

For 25 years, Slightly Stoopid has carried the Southern California musical baton passed to them by Sublime and their leader, the late Bradley Nowell. During that time, they’ve amassed one of the live-music world’s most passionate fanbases, via relentless touring and acclaimed songwriting that incorporates an eclectic range of influences from metal and reggae to folk, hip-hop and punk.

Childhood buddies Miles Doughty and Kyle McDonald formed the trio with friend and drummer Adam Bausch while attending Point Loma High School in San Diego. Quickly, they attracted Nowell’s attention and mentorship, recording their debut album for Sublime’s Skunk label. Two-and-a-half decades later, Slightly Stoopid remains a top draw on the touring circuit and a model of accomplishment for independent artists, all without significant airplay or major-label support. In total, Doughty and McDonald have issued 13 albums (including one live DVD), while managing their own indie label, Stoopid Records.

KYLE MCDONALD: [Miles and I] met when we were one and two years old. We’re pretty much brothers from other mothers. We were neighbors and our moms started hanging out. We’d skate, ride bikes, play Legos or Star Wars—all the normal stuff kids do.

MILES DOUGHTY: We wanted to form a band before we knew how to play anything. Watching Mötley Crüe videos, we were like, “Man, that looks awesome.”

MCDONALD: Mötley Crüe was the first cassette tape I ever bought. Metallica, Megadeth—we’d go see those concerts and it made us want to play guitar. Around age 11, we picked up acoustic guitars. Most of the equipment we got as kids was stolen stuff. At least, it was likely stolen because we got a really good deal on it. And it ended up getting stolen from us—circle of life. We played our first gig in high school on the quad at lunchtime. We played punk-rock—a couple of covers but mostly our own stuff. It ended up being pretty epic. We got to drive our cars up onto campus to bring in our equipment.

DOUGHTY: Some of our lyrics back then were a little aggressive. You could have slapped an explicit label on them. We got called into the vice-principal’s office. I had to write a paragraph apology explaining why you shouldn’t swear in school. We played house parties in the neighborhood for the homies. It was usually just for a few people—the surf guys and the OB crew. We took any chance to play live. When we played clubs, we’d flyer the town, trying to get as many people out as we could. We didn’t care about failure. You just go out there and go nuts.

MICHAEL “MIGUEL” HAPPOLDT, CO-FOUNDER OF SKUNK RECORDS: Probably around ‘94, they came to a Sublime gig. We met Miles and his mom. She was a nurse and she wanted to help Brad with his drug problem, and she did. That’s how Brad found out that they had a band. Brad said, “You’re going to like them. They’re really good.” At the time, they were a hardcore band playing fast material. And they were unbelievably good for their age. They were determined—Kyle’s bass playing at that age was just fantastic. Adam, on punk-rock drums, was intense. Miles had the same killer voice he has now.

MATT PHILLIPS, SLIGHTLY STOOPID MANAGER, CO-FOUNDER OF SILVERBACK MUSIC MANAGEMENT: I first heard about Slightly Stoopid through my brother and business partner, Jon. He was managing Sublime. Jon would mention these kids that were in high school that Brad loved. Brad used to always have a Slightly Stoopid sticker on his guitar. The first time I saw them was at a High Times benefit that Sublime was headlining at the House of Blues in Los Angeles. I was blown away. They were three high-school guys, but they just had power—this trio that mixed rock, reggae and punk. It was something special. It wasn’t polished at all, but you could tell they had soul. They both had amazing voices for 16-and-17-year-old kids, and they were really good musicians. It wasn’t about a career. These were just guys having fun. Miguel asked me to help them.

DOUGHTY: I don’t even know if the story of the name is true. I don’t really remember, but I think we were saying, “Slightly this” or “Slightly that.” Someone said, “That’s stupid.” Trying to make a band name is the hardest thing to do. Ours is something you definitely remember. It’s so stupid, it sticks. It’s so ingrained in my head, I haven’t spelled “stupid” with a “U” since I was a teenager.

MCDONALD: The guys from Sublime took us to this place they had called the Fake Nightclub. It was in Long Beach, right on the strip. We recorded our first record there. We were pumped. They told us we needed to put the work in on the road. That was the push we needed as kids. Once we got to make our first record and hit the road, it got really exciting.

DOUGHTY: Brad treated us like little brothers. I would hang out with him up in Long Beach—go to gigs, party until two in the morning. We were just making music and having fun. Brad and Miguel would always tell us that, to make a name for yourself, you have to get in the van 200-plus days a year. They would tell us: “Don’t be scared, keep grinding and build that organic fanbase.”

HAPPOLDT: I was doing a favor for Brad. We had a little analog eight-track studio. He wanted me to [record them] and I didn’t have anything to do that day. When I heard them, I thought there was definitely something special going on here. But that happens all the time. With Miles and Kyle, they were able to listen and learn. The stuff I told them, I tell to everybody. To their credit, they listened and put it into action. The first record is pretty hard. Unfortunately, Brad never got to hear it. He’s sometimes credited with helping make it, but he had already [passed away].

PHILLIPS: That first record was really gritty and raw. Their second record, The Longest Barrel Ride, was the first to be recorded at a real studio. It didn’t sound like anything else I had ever heard. I remember Miguel used to call it metal-dub. It was jammy and really experimental. A lot of people back then were [dismissive], like, these are Sublime’s kid brothers. That’s when I took over managing them. I remember going to Miles and Kyle’s house, hearing them play acoustic guitars and singing. The way their vocals meshed together, there was nothing else that sounded like that. I thought this could go beyond the Southern California punk scene. It had the potential and the elements of Jimmy Buffett or the Grateful Dead.

HAPPOLDT: We put together a band called Long Beach Dub Allstars when Sublime died. And that band got bigger than Sublime as a live band, overnight. Sublime was blowing up on the radio, but they were gone [after Brad’s passing]. Long Beach Dub Allstars didn’t last too long, but we put Slightly Stoopid on as a supporting band at a ton of those shows. That put them in front of a huge audience. When Long Beach Dubs collapsed, Slightly Stoopid was able to grab the headlining spot. They worked hard, toured constantly. They earned and held that slot and that’s not easy to do.

PHILLIPS: Around ‘98-‘99, it was a major-label world. Sublime had blown up and were maybe the biggest band in the world. We were talking to labels, and there were deals on the table for Slightly Stoopid. Miles and Kyle didn’t really care about that side of the business. All they cared about was going out and playing music for the fans. I give them credit for that. There wasn’t the internet or social media at that time. Their philosophy was to bring the music to the people. The guys would tour in a van, sleep on floors—any means necessary. They didn’t care if it was for five people or 500 people. They wanted to play the best show of their lives that night so those five or 500 fans would spread the word.

MCDONALD: Once we found music as a form of expression, as an outlet, we did whatever it took to survive. When we came home from touring, we’d work whatever jobs we could. Miles and I would set up chairs for concerts at Humphrey’s by the Bay. One time, I was the last man standing. Everyone had quit or been fired. James Brown’s manager saw me and said, “You’re setting all this up by yourself?” He invited me to the show for all my hard work. He wanted me to meet James and the band. Unreal.

By 2001, Bausch had departed. Doughty and McDonald cycled through several replacements, issuing their breakthrough album, Acoustic Roots: Live and Direct, their first for their own Stoopid Records, and, along the way, fleshing out their lineup to include percussionist Oguer “OG” Ocon in 2002, drummer Ryan Moran in 2003 and the horn section of C-Money (trumpet) and Daniel “Dela” Delacruz (saxophone) in 2006. Before joining Slightly Stoopid, both brass players had played with John Brown’s Body.

DOUGHTY: It’s a grind playing shows, being in the van, driving to the next town. I don’t really like to talk about who left and who didn’t leave. After Adam, we toured with a few different guys. I have nothing but love for all of them. All those guys contributed to us moving forward. Finally, we found Ryan Moran. When he came around, it really stabilized the band. Adam helped put us on the map. It just didn’t work out. Unfortunately, that’s how it goes sometimes. MCDONALD: I’m still friends with Adam. I see him out on the water all the time. We tell each other we love each other—no hard feelings. At the time [of his departure], we were probably butting heads. Being in a band is a marriage. You’re going to get into it. Whether it was musical differences or personal differences, we weren’t getting along. You can’t be unified as a band making music if you’re not getting along. That’s when you have to do something else.

PHILLIPS: They were invited to do a radio event with a big alternative station in San Diego. It was pretty much: Play live for 40 minutes. At the time, they were between drummers. Kyle and Miles went in with just two acoustic guitars. It was so good. It was a huge, career-changing thing. We started getting requests from people all over the country wanting to hear it. It was a different look for them; very folky mixed with reggae. Because we didn’t go the major label route, we ended up putting the session out as their next record, Acoustic Roots. That did two things for us. One, it only cost us about $1,000 to make. And two, people started looking at Slightly Stoopid differently—not as much like Sublime, Rancid or NOFX, and more like Jack Johnson or Dave Matthews. The goal from the get-go was to have everything under our own wing. We wanted to build our own independent label and put out records on our own, to have complete creative control of our music and what we wanted to do. So many people get lost in the words “record deal.” For Slightly Stoopid to exist, we needed to be in control of it. I would never want to jeopardize that for the sake of a label.

MCDONALD: This is us. We’re not changing. We are where we are in life because of how passionate we are about the music. We own all the master of all our records. We have our own record company—not to make money but to help hard working, good musicians.

PHILLIPS: Major labels would’ve been focused on breaking singles, not a career. I don’t know if we would be in the position we’re in today [if they signed with a label]. So, we decided to start our own label.

Since 2003, Slightly Stoopid has released seven studio records and four live sets, including a collection captured at Bob Weir’s TRI studios. They have also toured the world, collaborating with heavy hitters such as Snoop Dogg, the Marley Family and Dave Matthews Band. Slightly Stoopid has also gradually expanded their roster, which now features keyboardist Paul Wolstencroft and jamband-scene staple Andy Geib on trombone and trumpet. San Diego hero Karl Denson has also served as an auxiliary member in recent years in between his commitments to The Rolling Stones, Greyboy Allstars and his own Tiny Universe. (Though C-Money has since moved on to other endeavors.)

DOUGHTY: The climb has always been this slow, gradual rise. There have never been peaks and valleys where you are crazy high or crazy low. We have a very grassroots, organic fanbase that has been with us for years. You see people who have been around us for 15 years bringing their kids to shows. We call them Stoopid Heads and, like Deadheads, they follow the band and give us fuel for the fire.

MCDONALD: There are places we go where, if we’re not down to have a good time, we may as well not even show up because they are so ready to have a good time. There’s a lot of places in the U.S. like that. There’s a lot of places overseas—when we go to Japan—where the people are so appreciative that we came to show love. The farther you go to get somewhere, the more people appreciate that.

DOUGHTY: Colorado has been amazing for us. For the longest time, we played Colorado and west [of there]. We didn’t really branch out to the East Coast. We were touring pre-internet, and there was not really a way for people to know who we were. In Colorado, we’d play a dozen-plus shows, hitting every ski town and city every year. It was like a second home. We’ve been playing Red Rocks for years. The vibe and energy we get from the people out there is second to none.

MCDONALD: When you’re young, you’re in a bubble. Over the years, you mature in what you listen to. We also get pretty bored. We don’t want to do the same thing over and over.

HAPPOLDT: People would say they’re a reggae band. When I hang out with Kyle, we’re listening to The Meters, we’re listening to The Dap-Kings. They grew up in San Diego. They had punk-rock influences. Now, they have a profound love for New Orleans music, for New York hip-hop. They’ve always been a band I thought celebrated the heritage of American music like Zeppelin or the Dead or Sublime did. Even Django Reinhardt gets in there. The Jamaican thing holds it all together.

MCDONALD: It’s weird but I always thought a band wearing all the same outfits was rad. We don’t do that. We wear shorts and T-shirts everywhere we go, whether it’s onstage or walking down the street. We are who we are—a product of Southern California.

DOUGHTY: We don’t like to make videos. We’re not those people. We love to play music, we love to be onstage, but we don’t want cameras in our faces. I’m not going to style my hair differently because that’s what’s hip.

PHILLIPS: They have good heads on their shoulders and they’re so well-rounded; a genre-defying band. Plus, there’s no substitute for really great songs. And, it’s a brotherhood. That’s huge for longevity.

Earlier this year, Slightly Stoopid released Everyday Life, Everyday People, which featured guest appearances by longtime friends G. Love and Don Carlos. They followed that record with a summer amphitheater tour, as well as the their fifth annual Closer to the Sun destination event in Mexico.

DOUGHTY: G. Love inspires me because he’s so hungry with music. He always wants to jam. If he’s near the water, he wants to surf. We’ve been friends for 15 years. He’s toured with us countless times. He does Closer to the Sun every year. Don Carlos is a childhood hero and the nicest man I’ve ever met. When he’s not doing his own shows, he’s on tour with Slightly Stoopid. He brings the old reggae to the new fans. His soul is so beautiful.

MCDONALD: Don Carlos calls us his nephews. We call him Uncle. All these people: We are big fans of their music, and we get to collaborate with them. We’ve become family.

DOUGHTY: Kyle said it best about Bob Weir: When you look into his eyes, you see a galaxy. He’s been a part of such a movement of music. The Grateful Dead revolutionized a way of touring. They built such a crazy fanbase that they didn’t have to be a successful radio band. That’s one of the models we looked at for touring. We had the opportunity to play with Bob at his TRI studio. That was nuts, doing harmonies on “I Know You Rider.”

HAPPOLDT: Sublime to Long Beach Dubs to Slightly Stoopid—that’s how a lot of people came to know the band. If Slightly Stoopid didn’t work hard, write killer songs and tour constantly, that whole scene would’ve collapsed. They were dedicated and honored the muse.

DOUGHTY: We’re crazy blessed. I never could have imagined, at 16, I’d be playing at 41. It has been a special ride, playing as many shows as we could for our fans. And the shows are just out of control. This past summer, with Pepper and Stick Figure, was absolutely bonkers.

MCDONALD: I don’t tell many people this, but when I was growing up, I was not the most popular kid in school. I was the opposite. I didn’t have many friends. In elementary school, I would think that once Miles and I graduated from high school, we’d go to college, probably in different places, get married and then not see each other much anymore. That bummed me out. I feel like someone was listening because we see each other now more than some families. It’s a special bond.

DOUGHTY: A perfect set of waves or a perfect set of songs? Can’t you have both?

This article originally appears in the December 2018 issue of Relix, written by Larson Sutton

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