Take a Bite Out of Burritos: A Brad Nowell Tribute Band Created For a Good Cause

Ever since Casey Sullivan was a kid, he has had a deep connection to music. His dad (alias: “Pops” at shows) introduced Sullivan to the Beatles, Phil Collins and many other classic legends, but when his brother tossed the then 11-year-old a Sublime tape (yes, TAPE), it was love-at-first-note. Growing up in Santa Ana, Sullivan was naturally drawn to punk, ska and reggae, so, it was no surprise that the late and great Bradley Nowell’s reggae-infused punk tunes would grab hold of Sullivan and become a major influence over his music career.  

From developing Sullivan’s reggae band Seedless to now devoting his latest band Brad Nowell tribute band Burritos to the Nowell Family Foundation, his crew, Shay Pino, drums, Katie Jo Sullivan, bass, Adrian Olmos, sax, and Alex Vo, lead guitar aim to raise enough funds so the foundation can build a treatment center for musicians who are struggling with addiction.

Call it serendipity or a crazy coincidence, —but after watching their YouTube videos from their Slidebar show in February, a recently shaved head Sullivan could have passed for Nowell himself.

What motivated you guys to start Burritos?

I’m good friends with Bradley’s sister. She used to see my band Seedless and I met her at the Slidebar a while back and we just kept in contact. One day I saw her post that they were going to start working towards a treatment center called “Bradley’s House.” It’s a six-bed treatment center for musicians struggling with opioid addiction. They were trying to raise funds and I’ve been playing Sublime my whole life, I fell in love with them since I was 11, so I wrote her and said ‘maybe we can do a benefit/cover show of Sublime tunes’ and donate the money to Bradley’s House. She loved the idea and got their foundation behind us.

It’s been like four shows now and the first one was the Slidebar. The place was packed the first time we played, so we’re like ‘okay great, we can help out the foundation and keep the spirit going.’ Our show on Friday will be our fifth show.

Man, that’s exciting, really awesome! I watched the Slidebar show on YouTube and you had quite the impressive crowd! I don’t know if anyone has ever told you, but you look like Bradley a little bit up there.

I’ve had kind of longer hair, but before the show, my brother said ‘you should buzz your head to see what happens.’ I thought why not! Summer’s coming up. And ever since then, everyone’s been saying I look a lot more like Bradley now.

How did your band get together?

The drummer, Shay is from Seedless, and we met at Hewes Middle School in Tustin. Since then, we’ve been pretty much best friends. We started hanging out. His dad always made him practice drums for three hours every day after school. So while he was practicing drums, my uncle gave me a guitar and eventually we started jamming together and formed Seedless in ’07. The rest of the band, Alex, Adrian and Katie were in a band before called The Outriders. They were kind of a bluegrass fun sounds and they put on a really fun show, always laughing and having a good time on stage. We were happy to have that vibe from The Outriders mixed with Seedless from me and Shay.

And the bass player is my wife, Kate. Alex the guitar player taught me and Katie how to play guitar in high school, so we’ve all known each other since we were pretty much kids. Once I knew everyone was perfect for the job, it just worked out.

That’s really cool how it all fell into place. So, you’re wife was in another band before Burritos?

It’s funny—she has a WAY better voice than I do, she’s an amazing singer. She doesn’t like getting up in front of people and doing the whole ‘talking’ thing, so she switched over to bass. But I didn’t think she was going to want to do this project, it was kind of like ‘hey you wanna try bass?’ And she killed it from the first practice.

She switched from singing and playing acoustic guitar to playing bass. I can’t believe how good she is—it’s crazy.

She’s only been playing for four months, maybe? The first show, she played on bass at Slidebar.

Quite the musical family! Do you play any other instruments?

I play a little bass, too. I produce music, so I kind of know how to play keys, but mostly guitar and singing is my background.

Any kiddos?

We have a boy, he’s going to be a year on Saturday, so we are having a drum party the day after the Wayfarer. So everybody’s got to bring a drum. He loves drums, we got him a drum set in the living room and he just wails away. I also have an 8 year old son, Jameson. He lives in San Diego and attends a music school and also has a huge love for music, amazing kid.

Too cute. What’s it like jamming and practicing with your wife?

It’s amazing for a few reasons—one reason is that we used to go band practice and have to split up for the night. Now, we go to band practice and have to stick together and enjoy music together—so that’s cool. It’s funny because before we did Burritos, Katie and I would try to play acoustic guitars together and try to jam and for some reason, our styles didn’t mesh together. But once Katie got on bass and I’m on the guitar, it’s a whole different world. It’s like we can talk together. It’s so much fun.

She shreds, so it makes it a lot easier to have a good band because she’s really good at it for [only] being five months in.

So, as a band, do you guys have a favorite set or song that takes you back to the days of listening to Sublime on tape?

There is a song called “Slow Ride” that we play and it’s funny because there is a skit on the song where a guy calls a girl and she’s like ‘Stop calling me!’ it’s kind of a funny little song conversation. So, Katie gets on the mic and does the ad lib with me. That’s probably my favorite to play right now.

And then we’re working on covering “Saw Red,” too, which is a duet. I don’t know if we are going to be able to bust it for [the show tonight], but we’re playing the Garden Grove Amphitheatre on July 13th and we’re calling it “Trip to Garden Grove.” We’re going to have a lot of cool tricks for that show.

We just booked in Marty’s On Newport in Tustin on May 31st. I went to sushi the other night with Todd [“Zman”] Zalkins, he is THE man—he was Sublime’s master of ceremonies/announcer…he is in Corn Doggy Dog, the opener for the show [at the Wayfarer] on Friday. He’s keeping the authenticity of the whole scene alive.

We want to start taking some short tours and playing for people outside of Orange County and have his band roll with us and make it like a ‘celebration of the music and a fundraiser for Bradley’s House and the Nowell Family Foundation.

With the Nowell family, you work through Burritos to help raise funds for Bradley’s House construction.

The main goal is to try to get Bradley’s house off the ground and raise enough funds to get it going. I’ve been printing the t-shirts for the Nowell Foundation and they involve me with a lot of the things for the foundation. We’ve been getting together at Brad’s dad’s house, Jim Nowell, in Long Beach a couple of weeks and I got to hang out with him and the whole band. We’ve all just been getting together and just trying to figure out the best way to raise money.

Does Bradley’s House have an opening day?

Once they hit their goal of $500,000, that’s when the opening day will be. I’m pretty sure Long Beach would be the location. I know they’re working on getting something started and getting more exposure to the foundation to raise more funds. But right now, as far as Burritos goes, we’re just trying to play as many shows as we can and we’re splitting the show and donating as much as we can after taking care of gas and getting people there.

We’re definitely trying to do all we can to help them try to hit their goal.

Burritos: A Celebration of the Music of Bradley Nowell performs tonight at the Wayfarer, 9 p.m. $10. For tickets and full info click here.

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