Dirty Heads: High Tea with Jared Watson of the Dirty Heads

  I’ve interviewed some of the most talented musicians of our time, but I’ve been patiently waiting for the opportunity to sit down with the Dirty Heads, the reggae rock band consisting of Jared Watson, Dustin Bushnell, Jon Olazabal, Matt Ochoa, David Foral and Shawn Hagood. Ever since I heard Any Port In A Storm playing at a party in Los Angeles back in 2008, I knew their music was different: it had the power to toss you into another dimension — one full of people boppin’ their heads to their beats and making even the most dance-resistant people (including myself) vibe to their sound. Ever since then, there hasn’t been one summer where I haven’t blasted the Dirty Heads, eagerly counting down the days to their newest releases like a crackhead in need of a fix. For that reason, I always wanted to pick the brain of one of the guys behind Cabin By the Sea, Sound Of Change, Swim Team — albums I consider game-changers. And it finally happened: I had a chance to sit down with Jared — to some, Dirty J — at the Great South Bay Music Festival in Patchogue, New York.

  Going in, I had a vision that Jared was going to be a pillar of awesomeness — but I was wrong. He was so, so much more.

The Dirty Heads have had an unbelievable career and your rise to the top is nothing short of impressive. How’d you guys do it? Do you guys still pinch yourselves when you see thousands of fans screaming your lyrics at shows?

  I don’t think it’s like a “pinch me” moment thing as more so as like a…for some reason, I try not to let it affect me and it’s not like I have to try, I just don’t think that it does yet. Because I don’t feel like we have done…how do I word this, this is in no way negative…but I don’t feel like we’ve done what I’d like to do or what we’re going to do. We haven’t reached our goal yet … which is probably a bad thing. I probably need to stop looking towards the future and really start enjoying what we’re doing, which I definitely do. There are definitely moments where I’m like, holy fuck, this is awesome

Like when you play Red Rocks?

  Any show! It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t have to be Red Rocks. It could be tonight. We love what we do, but there’s never any time we’re like, “We’re the shit, we’re killin’ it, we’re at the top of our game, we’re doin’ so well.” I’m just like … you know, we’re not! We’re doing alright. In my mind, we’re doing okay.

What more would you like to accomplish?

  I just think I would like to be completely comfortable to where we could just not have to worry about shit but music. And if that means that we’re as big as we are in the states, all around the world, then cool, you know? I really just love writing music and I love making a difference in people’s lives and that feels really good and we want to continue to do that. And I want to get to the point where we can kind of say fuck off to everybody and not have to play any games or politics … just kind of live the life that we want to live. I mean, I feel like that’s the goal whether you’re a musician or not, just being financially comfortable enough to where you’re like, fuck it, I can do what I want to do rather than what I have to do, you know?

Do you feel like it’s a job?

  No. There are definitely times where it can feel like a job, but that’s just a fleeting moment where I’ll slap myself back into reality and be like dude, look what you’re doing. This is what I do a lot: I do 16-year-old me and I do 60-year-old me — so if I’m complaining, I go to 16-year-old me. What would 16-year-old me say to myself right now? He’d be like, shut the fuck up, you’re being a pu**y. And if I’m unsure about something, then I do, what would 60-year-old me say to me? Do it or not do it? Are you going to regret not doing this or are you going to regret doing this? So I balance between 16 and 60. What would 16-year-old you say and what would 60-year-old you say? Like yes, go on that trip, you’re going to regret it, or no, that’s probably not a good idea, that’s stupid.

You just released “Visions” after putting out 2017’s Swim Team — is that an indication that you’ll be releasing a new album soon? And if so, where do you guys find the time?

  We talked about that. Yeah, we’re going to release a new album but we just did five albums in five years and we didn’t know it. We didn’t realize it. We were just having fun writing music, which is awesome, but we’re gonna take our time with this one. So we’re not gonna put a deadline on it, we’re not gonna put a release day on it yet, we’re not gonna rush it.

  We just started recording, separately and together, just to start. We’re just going to get a bunch of ideas, a shit ton of ideas and probably after the fall tour that we have in September, October, then we’ll start recording. So probably the end of this year and then we’ll record next year. And let’s see. If it takes us a year, cool, if it takes us two, fine.

How do you guys top yourselves? I didn’t think the music could get any better than Sound Of Change — but then came Swim Team.

  Wow, I appreciate that very much. We don’t even, it’s not…I…I…this is going to… ah, why am I being so honest?  But like half, 90 percent of the shit on albums I end up not liking.  I really don’t like a lot of my own work.

Really? Sound Of Change like, changed my life.

  Well see, that was a different album. Like, people didn’t like it when we dropped it and we were like, just wait, you’ll get it. You know, we try to progress and we try to push ourselves. And so it’s not about topping ourselves, it’s about writing…hmm…it’s about…writing music that we love and not being super comfortable and complacent and letting ourselves get pushed and at the same time, having fun.

  It’s a very confusing thing when you think about it or talk about it, like, it’s just what we wanted to fucking do. It’s just really what we wanted to do. Sound Of Change, we had done a lot of folky stuff, a lot of acoustic shit, a lot of reggae stuff, we did some hip-hop. We just wanted to do a more serious, more alternative-leaning album that we knew was going to be different. And Swim Team, we wanted to a little more hip-hop, and not the grimy break-beat organic hip-hop that people would think of like, “Smoke Rings” or “Cabin By the Sea” …  That’s just what we felt like at the time, so we really just follow our gut, I guess. In a nutshell, that’s where that ended up. We just follow our gut and we don’t want to make the same shit.

And you don’t.

  And we don’t, and that’s not fun. So every album we just want to do something that’s fun and new and really whatever inspires us. We always go into the studio saying, “We’re gonna make this album, we’re gonna make an album like this,” and then we go in and it comes out totally different because then you get in and you’re like, “This isn’t fun, I’m not feeling this, let’s not force this.” But what does sound fun is this, and we’re like, “Alright.” And we just write those albums.

  It’s cool that we’ve set up our sound and that our fans are very accepting of that fact. You know, I think some fans get stuck in certain styles and they want certain things from us. And there are other fans that are like, “I love the fact that you’re giving us something different every time and I love the fact that there are multiple styles on the album rather than just one.” And that’s okay though: feel either one of those ways.

It says a lot that you guys are able to be versatile and still make it work with your own sound.

  Yeah, and hopefully sound original. I think that’s our main thing: just being original. 

I feel like you guys catapulted into mainstream notoriety after Sound Of Change. What was it about that album that you think touched so many people?

  I think it was just hard work. I don’t even know if it was that album. Maybe it was. Maybe it was the music, maybe it was the style that we did but I think it was just…everything that keeps happening is just hard work. It really is. There are so many people that are talented. And so many people that are more talented than us, but we just fucking work hard and we put in the time. And we tour. And we do shit that other bands don’t want to do and we’re happy to do it. We have fun doing it. It’s not like…it’s just all perspective to us. We’re mutts, you know? We grind. This is what we’re here to do.

You guys break your asses.

  Yeah, and we’re down for that. Because you know, when we’re 50, like I said, we want to be able to tour when we want to tour. We don’t want to have to tour. We want to be able to tour when we want, you know? We know that there’s a goal and our fans are fucking awesome. I mean, really the main goal is just building that fanbase. Sound Of Change…maybe it was more accessible, and not even more accessible like in a pop culture type of way, maybe we had done things so similar like any Any Port In A Storm, Cabin by the Sea, the acoustic album, that maybe other people weren’t feeling that style of stuff. I don’t know. I have no fucking idea. I have no idea, actually.

What was the moment where you guys felt like you had finally made a name for yourselves in the music industry? Is that a loaded question?

  It’s not a loaded question. It doesn’t make sense to me because nobody’s felt that way yet. And I’m sure the 16-year-old me would be like, “Yooooo,” but the 60-year-old me would be like, “Don’t get comfortable on me.” Like no, you’re not done yet. So I’m not, I don’t feel that way in any way. Comparing is a terrible thing to do, you should never compare yourself to anybody, but there are acts out there that we really respect that are fucking massive and they are much bigger than us.

Some people would think they “made it” when they make the cover of Rolling Stone.

  That might be because you have the wrong people around you. You have a bunch of people blowing smoke up your ass telling you you’re the biggest thing ever, and you’re not. That might be some weird thing with your psyche where you want to be the biggest thing ever and so you feel like you have to act that way and you eventually lie to yourself so much that you’ve convinced yourself that you’re the biggest thing ever, and you’re not. Because I’ve fucking met people like that and you’re like, get the fuck out of here.

  You’re a human being. Everybody poops. That’s what I say in my mind. If I ever met Beyoncé, the first thing I would do is picture her having diarrhea. Just knock her down some pegs and be like, Beyoncé gets diarrhea. And then boom, she’d be right eye level with me. Maybe not, but still … Everybody’s a human being, is what I’ve learned. So don’t lie to yourself, you know? You can’t lie to yourself, you just have to be realistic — but you also have to have goals.

With touring so much, how does that affect your personal lives? You’re going to be a father soon. Do you think being a father will impact your touring — and music?

  No, I don’t think so … The more we’re doing this, and the more successful you get, the less you have to tour, which is the goal. Like, tour a couple of months in the summer, a couple of months in the winter, and then you get to be home and enjoy your family the rest of the time. Because we’ve sacrificed a lot. The last 15 years we’ve been gone pretty much, but I wouldn’t change anything.

  I would do it again because we’re setting up to where I can go out for two months and work and I get to come home for two months and be home. A hundred percent. I get to be there, in the present, for my wife and for my kid every day all day. Sometimes we have studios, sometimes we have shows, it’s not a big deal — I’m fucking home. And I love that. So if I have to leave for a month and a half, that’s alright because when I get to be home, I get to really be home and not be distracted by other things, so I like it. I enjoy it.

Is it hard on the band member’s significant others?

  No. I think it’s smart. I think, being a human being, you would think it’s hard and “I miss you” and “This is so difficult,” but once again, it’s all perspective. I think it’s great for a relationship. I think if both people trust each other and both people aren’t needy little leeches, it’s great because you don’t get sick of each other and you miss each other and you get to remember all the little things that you loved about that person that you forget about because you’ve seen them every day, all fucking day, every vacation, every this, every that.

  Not enough people spend enough time away from each other. I don’t care if it’s your mom, your brother, your sister, your girlfriend, your wife, you’re not supposed to spend every waking moment with somebody. It’s not healthy, no matter who the human being. It’s not healthy. So leaving for a month, I’m sure my wife is like, “Fuck yeah, house to myself,” and at some point, she’s like, “Dude, I’m super bummed, come home,” and I get it. I go out and I love it and a couple of weeks later, you’re like, “Alright, I wanna see my wife.” You get to miss them. I think it’s cool. I do think it’s healthy.

What’s one thing you love about touring and one thing you don’t?

  I like the shows. That’s about it. Touring gets boring. Touring does become a little bit like work.

Being with a bunch of men on one bus?

  Yeah. Like I said, and I’m going to say this so many times, but it’s all perspective. It can get…it just drains emotionally out of you. It’s not a big deal though. I just really fucking love the studio. It’s my favorite thing in the world. Being home, writing music is just…the holy grail of this job. The show is also. But there’s so much time on tour other than that hour and a half that you play. But the summer tours? Love them to death. Love them. They’re amazing. You get to go do shit, you get to see the city, you get to golf, hang out, whatever we want.

  It’s the winter tours that I’m just like, not a happy boy. I don’t like it. It’s dark, it’s stormy, it’s cold, there’s not shit to do, it’s fucking depressing. The hour and a half on stage? Dope. That’s just the reality. I’m not complaining. It’s…it is what it is. You do anything for 15, 20 years…it’s just a little emotionally draining. Not physically, but then you know, once you get emotionally drained, you get physically drained. But it’s not…anybody that says, “Oh, touring, it’s so hard.” No it’s not. No it’s fucking not. We used to do three-month tours in a fucking van. So four weeks in the winter time in a tour bus? All good. 

So when it comes to recording…

  We all come up with ideas on our off time, pretty much … We are all separately working on music … We all come in with a lot of ideas and we just throw them on the table and we just listen to them all. If there’s any cool ones, we take them and we put them to the side and say, “We’re gonna work on that,” or we come up with shit, brand new, right there on the spot. Sometimes you’ll listen to stuff and be like, “I like these 10 out of those 50 ideas but I don’t feel like working on any of them right now, let’s do something new,” and then we do something new and we’re like, “Alright, this feels good.” It changes. It’s fucking crazy, it’s different every time.

That’s what works for you guys.

  Yeah, it’s great. We don’t have any set way.

And if you did, it would probably be too uniform and boring.

  And there’s no ego in the studio. That’s not allowed. Leave your ego at the fucking door. If you come in with 50 ideas and all 50 of them suck, then it is what it is. And if you come in with a bunch of ideas…and it’s not like we don’t want “you” to come up with ideas, the engineer running the board could be like, “Hey guys, I have an idea, wanna hear it?” and we’d be like, “Great, here’s your publishing dude, you’re credited.” We don’t care. We just want good music. We just want to write good music.

You guys are pretty chill when it comes to that, huh?

  We’ve seen what the ego can do and it never looks fun.

That was another question I had. The one time I reached out to Dustin and he clarified the lyrics to “Burials” for me. I thought that was a genuine move on his part. How do you guys stay humble?

  I think it’s who we surround ourselves with. And we’re mindful of it, and we’ve been mindful of it since the beginning. We’ve talked about it since the beginning. And I think it’s just really who we are, as people. Our personalities are this way. A lot of people that you meet that are conceited and aren’t very humble and have big egos, they were probably a little bit like that before they became famous.

  Fame is just a magnifying glass, from what I’ve heard and from what I’ve seen. So, however you were before, it’s just going to magnify you. I think this was all our temperament anyway. And at the same time, from our manager to our booking agent to our crew to our tour manager, the way that we have relationships with our camp is on a level that we can knock them down, they can knock us down if need be. Nobody is bigger or better than anybody. There’s no top dog. If you got an ego, you’re getting an attitude, someone’s going to knock you down a couple pegs.

  And on top of that, our friends from home. Just older brothers, close personal friends, the guys who were in our wedding, like the dudes behind the scenes that we grew up with, they don’t give a fuck. And they’re not going to be cool with us trying to be some big time guys. There are some older guys that we hang out with, guys that we grew up with, that were kind of our older brothers who kind of kept us in check and shit like that. And you can still probably get some hands on you, like if we come home and start acting like some fucking assholes, somebody is gonna fucking slap you. They’re gonna be like, “What are you doing, why are you talking to people like that, who the fuck do you think you are?” Somebody’s probably going to punch you and we love it. It doesn’t happen, but it would, and we all know it.

  I think it’s really just who you surround yourself with and who you wanted to be. I met dudes when we were younger that were super fucking cool and like wow, that famous person was the nicest guy ever and then you meet other people who aren’t that famous and they’re assholes and you’re like, “I want to be the nice guy, not the asshole.” Like I said, human beings are human beings, it doesn’t matter what you do. Fame is crazy to me. What society has done with fame and why people are better than other people because they’re good at certain things is fucking nuts when you really break it down. Why are you better? Because you can put a ball in a hoop or run faster?

Or have a reality show?

  Yeah! Or you have no fucking talent at all! Like, it’s crazy and people are going fucking nuts over it. Whether you sat in your room and did 10,000 hours on your guitar and you’re an amazing guitar player, it doesn’t mean you’re a good person. It doesn’t mean you’re nice. That’s crazy that people will automatically go, “You’re better than me, I’m going to idolize you.” I’m sure some good must come of it, maybe it’ll keep you driven, you’ll have goals to go after. But the whole idea of fame just weirds me the fuck out. I don’t think we’re really the most egotistical guys in the first place. I’m pretty insecure anyway, like I said, I kind of hate everything I do anyways. We just want to always be better. 

So what can fans expect to see from you in the future? You already mentioned working on the next album…

  This next album, we’re not worried about shit. This next album, I don’t want to say is for the fans, but we’re really just gonna get it, we’re not going to worry about anything, we’re just going to try to write. We want it to be more organic to what we’re feeling right now. So it’s going to be really heavy on the acoustic. It would be in the vein of Cabin By the Sea, I would think. And we just want to write an album. Take our time with it and really sit with the band. Really dive into drum sounds, drum parts … we really want to go in and get back to the grind.

  Not saying that we didn’t, but we just had fun on Swim Team. We were like, “Fuck it, let’s just have fun, let’s not worry about shit too much, let’s not overly think about anything.” But on this album, we really want to take our time and make everything perfect and make a masterpiece. We want to really push ourselves with this album and I think the last one was really mellow, dickin’ around, and it was so much fun. There’s nothing wrong with doing either of those things.

  I don’t want to sit around and pull my hair out about lyrics, and then some people can say, “Well then you’re not giving us your best work.” Well, no, we are, because sometimes your best work comes from just doing what feels right and having fun. And sometimes you get your best work from really pushing yourself and you need both of those things because I think if you do one or the other too much, you’ll get really sloppy and lazy and you’ll be able to hear that through your work. Or you’re going to overthink it and it’s going to sound like garbage because you fucking overthink it and you’re just, mashed potato-brain, and you’re like, “I don’t know what’s good anymore” because you sat on this one lyric for four weeks. It’s balance. I think we’re going to balance out this next album from Swim Team to the next one of just being way more organic.

Last question: With the band’s endless catalog of music, what’s your favorite song that you’ve put out?

  Off the top of my head, “Oxygen”. It’s just so solid, not just me, but with everybody in the band. But there are some acoustic songs that are such deep cuts that no one really likes that much or gives a fuck about…

Like, “Celebration”?

  No, more like “Strike Gently”. Like shit on the acoustic album that is like  … like “Realize It” or deep cuts, where I’m like ah, man, that’s such a great song. I’m probably more proud of it as a songwriter than I am…it’s probably more of me just being proud of what I think I’ve done because it’s crazy when you write a song. You’re like, “This is the best song, I love this song,” and then fans hear it and they’re like, “Eh, this is alright,” and then you get a song where you’re like, “Eh, this one is okay,” and the fans, like, everybody loves it, and you’re like, “I don’t know what the fuck is going on!” And you don’t. So I’m like alright, just write music…because I just cannot tell. You just gotta go with the flow.