After two decades spent chiseling their unique, multi-genre infused sound, Dirty Heads came into their own. Since the release of their 2008 debut “Any Port in a Storm,” the five-piece band – Jared Watson (vocals), Dustin “Duddy B” Bushnell (vocals/guitar), Jon Olazabal (percussion), Matt Ochoa (drums) and David Foral (bass) – consistently experimented with their sunny style, leaning heavily on reggae fused with hip-hop cornerstones and scaling back for more acoustic fare, darting between extremes. However, it’s with their fifth and self-titled album the group felt confident in a body of work, ready to bring their unique style to the masses.
Recorded in Los Angeles over a period of four months, “Dirty Heads” marks a stylistic heel-turn for the Huntington Beach, Calif. natives, who enlisted a diverse team of hit-makers including: Da Internz (Rihanna, Nicki Minaj), Drew Pearson (Katy Perry, Zac Brown Band), David Kahne (Lana Del Rey, The Strokes), Jimmy Harry (Madonna, Diplo) and Jonas Jeberg (Demi Lovato, Fifth Harmony). The record spans lively tracks like reggae-bounced “Oxygen” to the instantly catchy sing-along “Too Cruel” and horn-blasted lead single “That’s All I Need,” the latter of which captures the nostalgia of carefree adolescence.
“Dirty Heads” comes in the wake of their most successful release to date, 2014’s “Sound of Change,” which debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Alternative Albums chart. This album is different than its predecessors — 2008’s “Any Port in a Storm,” 2012’s “Cabin by the Sea” and 2013’s acoustic offering “Home – Phantoms of Summer,” the first of which spawned the smash single “Lay Me Down” featuring Sublime with Rome that topped the Alternative Songs chart for 11 weeks.
The band’s prior releases set the groundwork for their latest and an ambitious one at that. For the LP, they decided to toy with sequencing, splitting the album into two parts — Day and Night — guiding listeners through their day from start to finish. Duddy explained it was done in response to the listening public’s reliance on playlists, and artistically executed by color-coding each Day song (red, orange, yellow) and Night song (purple, green, black) to reflect the vibes of feeling positive, exuberant versus chilled out and low key.
“Nowadays, it’s so easy to just listen to one song,” he said. “Have a song on your iTunes playlist, you probably don’t even know who the artist is because it doesn’t matter, you just like that track. So, we were trying to provide the order we think you should listen to these in and get people in front of what we think.” Watson added, “When you do that and you’re doing it in our original way, I feel like it makes it timeless.”
With a solid fan-base already, Dirty Heads are focusing their sights on something they’ve been edging towards for years: breaking the mainstream. The band will soon set out on an epic summer tour across the US alongside Sublime with Rome, and special guests Bleeker. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Jared Watson aka Dirty J to discuss the influences who helped shape him as an artist, the challenges the band faced in bringing their highly anticipated, self-titled album to life, his creative evolution and what the future may hold for this band of the rise!
I want to start by going back to your early years. How did music first come into your life and when did you catch the bug to start creating?
I think my older brother and skateboarding had the biggest impact on me, aside from Duddy [Dustin Bushnell], who is my partner. Growing up, my family was always playing music on vinyl. My parents were hippies and they had all the classics from Bob Marley to Jimi Hendrix to Janis Joplin, all the old hippie stuff. Then my brother was super dready. This drug dealer, white guy with dreads in high school, so he got super into reggae. Since my older brother is into reggae, I’m into reggae and I want to be cool like all the older kids. Then I got into skateboarding. In skateboarding, when you make your part for a video, you have to pick your music. My friends and I would make our own squad videos. When Jared Watson’s part would come up, I would get to pick what I wanted. I always wanted hip-hop, something from A Tribe Called Quest, The Pharcyde or Wu-Tang. That was it when it came to music. I never thought I would be in a band or talking to you here today. That just wasn’t where I thought my life was going to go. Then I met Duddy in high school and everything changed! He was in a band, he played punk, he played reggae and made hip-hop beats. I was like, “Holy shit! This is insane. You are the raddest guy ever!” He said, “Come over!” We would just go to his soundproof garage in high school and make music. We quickly realized we loved the same style of music. We really loved reggae and hip-hop and Beastie Boys and Sublime were these two bands that were really blending things. We started fucking around and it organically grew into this little acoustic thing that we had with me, Jon and Duddy. I couldn’t even sing! I was just the rapper. Duddy would play guitar, sing and produce, while I just rapped.
When did you realize what you created was taking off? Was there a moment you knew you had to take it to the next level?
We played our first sold out little acoustic show for 200 to 300 people in this little sushi bar in Seal Beach. I think that is when I thought, “Alright … this is what I want to do.” Then we played a bigger show! I think right around 18 or 19, when you are dreaming about it, is when I started thinking about it every night. I would think about it every night but I never thought it would happen. Then we met our manager and right around the time I was 21 years old, we started getting looks, selling out shows and getting interest from labels. We got signed right around that time and I was like, “Holy shit! This is it!” Duddy and I pretty much quit everything else we were doing and put all our eggs in one basket when it came to this.
Was there anyone behind the scenes who gave you the extra push when you needed it most?
My manager, 100%! There are a lot of horror stories about managers but there are also a lot of stories that people don’t tell about the good side of when you find someone who really believes in your band and believes in you guys when nobody else does. That was our manager from day one. He didn’t take commissions for the first seven years because if he took commissions, we would have nothing to live on because we weren’t making any money. Every time we got a no from anybody, he wouldn’t accept it or would go somewhere else. It wasn’t this thing he was doing because he thought he could make money and blow up. He was just as invested in it as we were. We were his baby band. He has truly cared since day one. We have been with him for 13 years! He has done a lot of things along the way that have shown us that he is in it for the long haul if we are. We have learned a lot from him and he has helped out a lot of other bands. So, he has definitely filled that mentor role in all of this. It’s funny because you think you know everything when you are younger. There were a lot of times later on where I look back and think, “Oh!” He can totally say, “I told you so!” And I can say, “Yup. You were right and I was wrong.”
Keeping a band together and continuing to grow is never an easy task. To what do you attribute the longevity of Dirty Heads?
We had a plan. We sat down and we talked about what it was that we really wanted to do. We knew we needed to look at the big picture and we want to be around for a long time. Whether the formats change or it goes from vinyl to tape from tape to CD to CD to iTunes and iTunes to streaming, it doesn’t matter, because live music will always be there. We needed to focus on live music and be a touring act. That is what we needed to establish ourselves as. That way, you are in your fans faces and get to meet and connect with them and you are always there. Live music will never go away, no matter what happens with the format of music. We knew that and that was the plan from day one. There were certain steps that we wanted to take. We knew it was going to take a long time and we wanted our music to be the rest of our lives, so if we didn’t blow up overnight, it’s not a big deal. Really, staying humble and not letting any one thing that happened that is good be the end all, be all. If a good thing happens, it’s like, “Awesome! Keep your head down and keep going! We are blessed that it happened but keep your head down and keep going.” We just want to keep going, keep playing music and keep going. That is really all we want to do!
You have a brand new record on the way. Did you have goals when you set out to create this record?
I don’t think it is smart to go into the process saying, “We need this. This needs to be our biggest album. We need to blow up! We need to write singles!” If you do that, you are kind of shooting yourself in the foot. We just try to go in open minded every time and say, “What are we inspired by?” This time, having done a very experimental album last time, we got back to our roots. We are really secure with who we are and we know what people expect from us. We are really proud of what we built, the image we have built, the community we have built and the style of music we have built. We know what we are, so this album is the purest Dirty Heads album you can get. It was kind of like the first album but better. It is almost like if I wanted to show somebody who the Dirty Heads really are, I would show them this album.
Let’s talk about the songwriting process for Dirty Heads. How have things changed and how have they stayed the same?
It changed a lot on the fact that we usually work with one or two producers/songwriters. We really like our producers to be songwriters also, because they get it and it is fun to have another creative person who can pick up a guitar, spit out melodies and take your song somewhere else, rather than it depending purely on us. It is fun and we really like working with other creative people when it comes to songwriting but we usually just pick one or two. This time around we were like, “We are open to anybody! Anybody who wants to come write with us or produce with us, let’s do it! We are going to stay in LA. We aren’t going to go to El Paso or Florida. We aren’t going to go away and record in some location, we are going to stay in LA and write with a bunch of different writers and producers. Let’s see who we can find.” We wrote with 20 writers and producers. I think we found eight or nine that we really, really loved and then we got back in with them. There are about 11 songs on the album and there are probably eight producers but the whole album sounds cohesive. That was possible because we said, “This is what we want it to sound like.” Also, Duddy and I are always kind of backseat producing, so we would steer it in the direction of the way we wanted it to sound. We would go in with an idea and say, “Hey, this is what we want. We are going real reggae, real hip-hop on this one.” We would listen to music, songs, stuff we like and they would listen to our ideas and we would listen to theirs. So, this album was a lot different from what we have done in the past because we worked with a lot of different people. It was almost like speed dating and that can be difficult but at the same time it was really fun. It was cool because we also said we wanted to do what we did on the first album, which was to get ourselves outside of our comfort zone in a good way. Writing with new people will definitely do that! I think we are confident now to where if it is getting too whacky, we can reel it in.
Every project presents its own set of challenges. What did you experience this time around?
We were just worried about getting burnt creatively. We were worried about the gas tank emptying because we were writing with so many people, so quickly. It was literally one guy a day. We would do five days in a row with five different producers. That means that is five different ideas, five different guitar parts, five different choruses and five different verses that you have to come up with. We were juggling all of these songs and thought, “Fuck! This is a concern! We might get burnt!” We didn’t really. Toward the end, we were more worried about it so it may have just been something in our heads. Every time we would go to a session, Duggy would be like, “Man, do you have any ideas?” I would be like, “Nope! Do you?” He would say, “Nope!” Then we would get there and something would happen! As soon as we got in the studio, we would be inspired by one little thing, one little lick or we would sit there and talk and a word would come up and it would all work out. I think that was our main concern.
Is this approach something you will try again in the future or will you potentially be going in a different direction?
I actually think that maybe on the next album we will probably go back to some of these producers and maybe tighten it up. Now that we have found these producers that we like, we will probably get back in there with them. Every time we would get in with a producer that we liked, we would do one or two songs and it would be like, “Fuck! I wish we had more time!” Next time, maybe we will get back in with these producers and we will have more time to do two or three songs with each guy, if you know what I’m saying. I think we will probably do what we did on this album but not so extreme. I think we will go back to the ones we found, so we will have multiple producers, but we won’t be trying out 50! With that said, if somebody new comes along, we aren’t going to poo poo that either because it has worked out and has been really fun.
I’m sure some songs came easy and some were much harder to nail down.
Definitely! Actually, the single, “That’s All I Need,” was one of the most difficult in a really weird way! We had everything done musically within a day but we didn’t have the hook. We could not land on a hook! We had everything done and were saying, “This track is fuckin’ smashing! We are going to knock this out of the park! This is easy! What’s the hook?” We would literally drive to LA and we would all go through every idea that we had and nobody would be feeling any of them. It was like, “OK. We have been sitting here for four hours. Nobody likes anything, so let’s call it.” So, we would call it and the next day we sat there for eight hours and nobody liked anything. “OK. Let’s call it!” On the last day, we said, “We have to land on something.” There would be a few words that would always stick like the mixtape and that’s all I need. We were like, “Fine. That’s what we are going off of, this first line and that’s all I need.” We were waiting for something to finally click in someone’s brain, where someone says a word and everybody’s eyes perk up and someone says, “That’s it!” It happened on the last day. We were working with Justin Gray, the producer, on that one. That one was a little challenging. Sometimes you just get a little stuck! The same thing happened with the song called “The Truth.” We had all the music, everything was bangin’ and all we needed was one word. We had the melody and everything! All we needed was one word to stick to this melody! I think it only took us one or two days but I said, “Let’s call it. We are all fried. We are not getting anywhere. I guarantee we are going to drive home and listen to it in the car and one of us is going to get it in like two seconds.” On the way home, after I dropped Duddy off, and from Duddy’s house to my house, which is only like 10 minutes, I got it! I texted him, “Hey! I have it.” He said, “Send it over. Tell me what it is.” I said, “No. I just want to wait until we are in the studio tomorrow.” It was, actually, just the word truth. That word sparked everything for us to go off of for that song.
Songs like “Realize It,” “Moon Tower” and “Smoke & Dream” only took a day. Sometimes it is just like creative vomit, in the best way! It just comes out of you so quickly and you are like, “Cool! That was fuckin’ awesome! We just knocked that whole thing out!” Verses, hooks, pre-choruses, the music, whatever! You are just so inspired it all just comes pouring out. Sometimes you hit roadblocks and sometimes it is smooth sailing! I think that is my favorite part about writing is putting those puzzle pieces together and talking it out within the crew that is sitting there. You ask the questions, “What are these lyrics about? Do they even make sense? Do they inspire you in any way? Are you just putting words on paper or do these words really mean something to you?” “Under The Water” is a really meaningful song to me. It was easy to write in one way but in another way it was hard to write because it was me making myself vulnerable. It is cool to put puzzle pieces together and figure it all out. I think that is my favorite part of songwriting.
When you take a look back on your body of work, how have you evolved as an artist?
I think a lot of what I have learned comes from just becoming with who you are. That has been the most important thing. Being comfortable with who you are on stage, on the mic has been a big thing, along with becoming a better singer, lyricist, rapper and frontman because I don’t play any instruments. That confidence level comes with experience, from practicing and having your chops up and you know that you are going to hit these notes, go out and sing the song properly and that you have a badass band behind you makes it really easy. I think experience and not comparing myself to or trying to be anybody else has been a big thing. I am just trying to be me, be original but still do a good job while making sure everybody has fun. We really just want to give people what the fuck they came for! I say this all the time, I don’t know what other artists think, but people might work their asses off at jobs they fucking hate to spend their money to go see your show. If you don’t take that with weight and want to go out there and give them the best fucking time they could ever have, I don’t know what the fuck is wrong with you. That is how we think about it.
What is the best way for us fans to help support Dirty Heads and other bands out there in today’s industry?
First of all, come to shows. That goes for any band. Come to shows and buy a t-shirt. Any band! I don’t care if it is us or a new band you just found that has zero followers on social media. Fuck all that stuff. What they need to keep going is for you to show up at their shows and buy a t-shirt, so they can keep putting that money back into the band so they can get to the next destination, get the next producer or rent the studios out. We don’t get all this money from the album, sit around and laugh. You owe everything back that you take from the label. Everybody downloads shit. If you can afford to buy their music, that will certainly help their numbers but at the least, watch their videos and try to support everything you can. I think the most important thing is just showing up at their show!
We will do that and look forward to seeing you at your upcoming shows, Jared. Thanks so much for your time today!
Thank you so much, brother! I appreciate it!
Dirty Heads are currently on the road with Sublime with Rome and Bleeker. Catch them at a venue in your neck of the woods:
July 1 – St Augustine, FL @ St Augustine Amphitheater
July 2 – Miami, FL @ Bayfront Park Amphitheater
July 3 – Tampa, FL @ MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheater
July 5 – Charlotte, NC @ Uptown Amphitheater
July 7 – Baltimore, MD @ Pier Six Concert Pavilion
July 8 – Holmdel, NJ @ PNC Bank Arts Center
July 9 – Philadelphia, PA @ Festival Pier at Penn’s Landing
July 10 – Wantagh, NY @ Nikon at Jones Beach Theater
July 12 – Boston, MA @ Blue Hills Bank Pavilion
July 14 – Sterling Heights, MI @ Freedom Hill Amphitheater
July 15 – Cincinnati, OH @ PNC Pavilion at Riverbend Music Center
July 16 – Indianapolis, IN @ Farm Bureau Insurance Lawn at White River State Park
July 17 – Chicago, IL @ FirstMerit Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island
July 19 – Kansas City, MO @ Crossroads
July 22 – Eagle, ID @ Eagle River Pavilion
July 23 – Missoula, MT @ Big Sky Brewing Company
July 24 – Seattle, WA @ WAMU Theater
July 25 – Eugene, OR @ Cuthbert Amphitheater
July 27 – Murphys, CA @ Ironstone Amphitheater
July 28 – Concord, CA @ Concord Pavilion
July 29 – Irvine, CA @ Irvine Meadows Amphitheater
July 30 – Chula Vista, CA @ Sleeptrain Amphitheater
July 31 – Phoenix, AZ @ Comerica Theater
August 3 – Corpus Christi, TX @ Concrete Street Amphitheater
August 5 – Austin, TX @ Austin360 Amphitheater
August 7 – Spring, TX @ The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
August 14 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Reggae Rise Up *w/ Kongos
August 16 – Morrison, CO @ Red Rocks Amphitheater
August 19 – Syracuse, NY @ 95X Summer Survival Concert Series *w/ Sublime with Rome
August 20 – Middlebury, VT @ Ciderstock 2016
September 23-25 – Downtown, NV @ Life Is Beautiful *w/ Slightly Stoopid
December 14-18 – Ecatepec De Morelos, MX @ Closer To The Sun 2016