Rome & Duddy

Rome & Duddy

Over 15 years of sharing stages and studios with each other’s massively beloved bands, Sublime with Rome’s Rome Ramirez and Dirty Heads’ Dustin Bushnell AKA Duddy B have forged the kind of creative chemistry that often leads to unexpected magic. The first song the duo ever wrote together, Dirty Heads’ 2010 smash hit “Lay Me Down” featured a soulful vocal performance from Ramirez. This song quickly made history as the first track from an indie label to reach #1 on Billboard’s Rock Songs chart, in addition to holding steady as number one on the Alternative Songs chart for 11 weeks. Soon after wrapping up the hugely successful Rome & Duddy Friends & Family Acoustic Tour—a 2019/2020 co-headlining run cut short by Covid—the two California-bred musicians holed up in a cabin in the woods of Idyllwild and began teasing out new songs, tapping into such eclectic inspirations as Peter Tosh, Dr. John, and the cosmic country of the Flying Burrito Brothers. The result: a one-of-a-kind new project that matches the rootsy simplicity and true-to-life storytelling of Americana with the hypnotic rhythms and breezy guitar tones of reggae, arriving at a bold and timeless sound all their own.

“Both of us started out playing our acoustic guitars around the campfire, and this collaboration was a way to get back to our roots while doing something way outside our comfort zone,” says Ramirez. Bushnell adds: “We’ve both been making music for a long time and we know what makes us happy, what works for us and what doesn’t. We’re at a point where we’ve got the freedom to completely do our own thing, and this project is a perfect example of that.”

Co-produced by Vance Powell (a four-time Grammy Award-winning producer/engineer known for his work with Chris Stapleton, Jack White, and Phish) and Leroy Powell (a producer/multi-instrumentalist who’s worked with artists like Shooter Jennings and Sturgill Simpson), Rome & Duddy’s debut EP Cactus Cool took shape at Sputnik Sound in Ramirez’s homebase of Nashville. In bringing the six-track project to life, Rome & Duddy joined forces with A-list musicians like legendary Dobro player Jerry Douglas (Béla Fleck, Eric Clapton), bassist Brian Allen (Chris Shiflett, Brent Cobb), saxophone/flute player Jovan Quallo (Keb’ Mo’, Dan + Shay), drummer/percussionist Chris Powell (Brandi Carlile, The Oak Ridge Boys), and pianist/organist Michael Webb (Grammy Award winner/Hank Williams Jr., Zac Brown Band), with Leroy Powell also playing guitar, pedal steel, and harmonica. Written on acoustic guitar and recorded solely with organic instrumentation, Cactus Cool ultimately spotlights the vibrant musicianship most recently shown on albums like Sublime with Rome’s Blessing (a #2 hit on Billboard’s Top Alternative Albums chart) and Dirty Heads’ 2022 full-length Midnight Control (featuring the top 10 single “Life’s Been Good”). “We decided from day one that we wanted to make music with a classic feel to it—something that you could listen to 30 years from now, and it would still hold up,” Bushnell notes.

The first song created for Cactus Cool, the EP’s lead single “Cannabis Tree” immediately draws the listener into Rome & Duddy’s singular sonic world. With its swaying grooves and dreamy steel-guitar work, the warm and radiant track invites everyone to slip into an easier mindset, an effect multiplied by its soul-soothing melodies. “We’d gone up the mountains in Idyllwild and locked ourselves away in a cabin, and pretty soon we ended up stumbling on this concoction of traditional reggae-folk and Americana,” Ramirez says in reflecting on the song’s origins. “It was uncharted water for us, but at the same time it felt so natural.” After their Idyllwild trip, Bushnell began making frequent treks from his home in Huntington Beach, California, to Ramirez’s spot in Nashville, with the two steadily building up an expansive body of work. In a particularly fruitful writing trip, Rome & Duddy headed to the seaside South Carolina home of longtime Zac Brown Band collaborator, Wyatt Durrette, where they penned several songs set to appear on their forthcoming full-length debut. “Wyatt’s a very notable writer and he doesn’t take on a lot of stuff, but he heard what we’re doing and wanted to work with us,” says Ramirez. “We went to a session at his house and wrote songs until the wee hours of the morning and spent some time partying on the beach, and that whole atmosphere really left its mark on the songs we came up with.”

All throughout Cactus Cool, Rome & Duddy balance that blissed-out energy with the nuanced realism of their lyrics. On the EP-opening “Cannabis Tree” the duo narrate their journey through the years and across the miles, bringing bright percussion, swooning steel guitar, and luminous flute melodies to their tender serenade to the land south of the border. A gently uptempo track laced with Jerry Douglas’s spellbinding Dobro playing, “I’ll Be Right Here” presents a sing-along-ready statement of sweet reassurance in troubled and chaotic times. “With this whole project, we talked about wanting to make music that we can listen to with our family and friends, and we put a lot of thought into the kind of message we wanted to send them,” says Ramirez. “In the midst of the pandemic, when so many people were far from their loved ones, this song became our ode to always being there for somebody.” Another intimate reflection on love and longing, “Whisper Song” shifts into a more wistful mood as Rome & Duddy open up about life on the road. “We’re away a lot, and sometimes when you’re missing your lady or your family or your friends, those little things they say or do just play in your head—you bring that with you everywhere,” says Bushnell.

One of the most revelatory tracks on Cactus Cool, the piano-driven and sax-infused “Good Times” unfolds as an unbridled party song graced with some bittersweet wisdom on the passing of time. “We’d been listening to Dr. John on the way to Wyatt’s house, and decided we want to write a song in that vein,” says Ramirez. “We stayed up late, gathered around the upright piano, and ‘Good Times’ was born.” And on “Soft on the Water,” Rome & Duddy drift into a reverie lit up in lush guitar tones, ornate organ melodies, and fantastically idiosyncratic guitar riffs. Co-written with Durrette and Chris Gelbuda (Lady A, Maggie Rose), the track takes an unforgettable lyrical turn at the chorus, with Ramirez’s smooth vocals delivering the showstopper of a refrain: “I hope that plane goes down and everyone’s okay.” “It’s the story of the life of a musician: you’ll be playing somewhere beautiful like Mexico or Hawaii, maybe your wife’s there with you, and the last thing you want to do afterward is go back to real life,” says Ramirez. “So it’s essentially a song about low-key wanting the airplane to crash safely, so that we can all keep having a good time together.”

At every moment on Cactus Cool, Rome & Duddy’s songwriting and sound echoes the unabashed joy they found in creating the EP. “There’s so many musicians out there who are amazing at what they do, but what makes a project like this work is all the fun we have doing it,” says Bushnell. First linking up a studio in the late 2000s, the two musicians followed a similar path to music stardom, with each taking up guitar as kids and finding endless inspiration in seminal reggae artists of the ’60s and ’70s. A lifelong punk rocker, Bushnell played in punk bands in high school and formed Dirty Heads with co-founder Jared Watson in 2001, with the band later turning out hit albums like 2014’s Sound of Change (a #8 debut on the Billboard 200). Ramirez, meanwhile, made his debut in Sublime with Rome in 2009, then went on to release three albums with the iconic band in addition to touring with the likes of Cypress Hill, Incubus, and The Offspring. “At this point we’re both grown men with established bands, but we still want to constantly challenge ourselves like we’re doing with this project,” says Ramirez. “It feels really exciting, and gives everything a whole new purpose.”

With the release of their debut EP, Rome & Duddy hope to extend that sense of purposeful excitement to their audience—and to provide a much-needed escape from the uncertainty of modern life. “Both of us make music because that’s what makes us happy—it’s the oxygen in our lungs,” says Ramirez. “I hope when people hear these songs it gives that same kind of happiness, the feeling of being with family and friends and just enjoying that time together. If they need to turn off from the day and put themselves into another state of mind, that’s what this music is there for.”