Dirty Heads Talk Authentic Music In A Digital Age

TikTok trends and virtual reality have nothing on the multifaceted originality of Dirty Heads, the hit reggae rockers hailing from California.

It is true that not all TikTok users are music lovers and not all music lovers are TikTok users. That being said, TikTok’s hand in the music industry has been impressive for artists and fans of all genres. Dirty Heads is just one example of a stellar, already established band whose artistry reached new heights thanks to the platform. 

Jared Watson, Dirty Heads’ co-founder and frontman, understands that better than anyone. 18 years and eight LPs into his career in one of the most inventive rock bands of our time, Watson and Dirty Heads have had a recent, unexpected breakthrough on the video streaming platform. The kind hearted, optimistic musician finds this period of time in the industry to be creative, expansive, and in the hands of fans – like it always should have been. AQ had a lively conversation with Watson about all of that, the importance of live music, and the ease of being authentic with your art.

“Earthquake Weather” and “Bum Bum” were the Dirty Heads’ true mid-quarantine releases. What made you all want to drop something, or create anything artistic at all, during these weird pandemic times?

I think most musicians instinctually jumped in the studio as soon as they heard that they weren’t going to be touring, right? So I was like, of course we’ll do that, since it takes a while to write music sometimes before we can get in the studio. Then we heard a lot of talk about a lot of bands holding their albums back, because the labels don’t think it’s a good time, you can’t tour off of it, and all these things. I just thought that was a bummer, because if there was any time where people needed music or inspiration or something to keep them happy, or busy or whatever, like, now is the time. So we wanted to release music – I mean, if it was up to me, we would have released the whole out by now.

That makes sense. Like you said, of all time for people to look for something to really immerse themselves in and enjoy, I think it’s been the past year.

Right? I agree. Everybody’s looking in so many different places to kind of use this time to find happiness and stuff, so we just wanted to try and help.

I think you did that flawlessly. I love both the songs. They’re very fun, very groovy, and I think was the perfect break from all what we’ve been listening to – good and bad.

You’re the best – this is the best interview ever.

I’m so glad to hear that, thank you. You know, Jared, one of the things I was really excited to talk to you about was the amazing second wave and success of your hit “Vacation,” thanks to TikTok. When did you and the band find out that a song of yours had become a viral trend?

I actually was gaming with a friend of mine, he is in his 20s and in college right now. He was like, “Hey, do you know you have a song that’s like a top viral trending song? It’s ‘Vacation.’” I was like “What are you talking about?” and he says, “It’s all over TikTok.” I told him that’s cool and then like day after day after day after day, it was just new people just DM-ing me and sending me videos with the song. Finally, the label called, management called and they were like, “Guys, ‘Vacation’ has blown up.” And it wasn’t some campaign that we paid for, or trying to reach out to influencers or anything like that. It just happened on it’s own and I’m so glad that it happened organically. I’m really glad that whoever started it and did the first one did such a cool trend with it and really understood what the song was about, what the message was about. 

It’s such a crazy time to be a musician and a lot of people hate on social media and streaming and things like that. I think most people are getting used to it now, but I love it. I really love the fact that it’s giving all the power back to the fans and like giving the power back to the people. Not even giving it back to them! Just giving it to them finally. It’s giving opportunities for musicians to blow up just because you write good music and somebody found it and it became popular because it was a good song. Like it’s not up to program directors anymore. It’s not up to labels dumping a bunch of money into one song from one artist and like controlling the industry, forcing you to do radio shows, and forcing you to do this and that or they won’t play your song. We’ve done so many things like “Hey, you have to do this, or else they’re not going to play your song,” and now it’s like radio will only play songs if the internet is fucking with it. Now it’s like, really, what are people listening to, and you can look at the numbers, you can see it’s success. It doesn’t matter if there’s a campaign behind it, just like “Vacation,” it was just an organic thing. It’s really giving the power to the people to pick and choose what songs are great and become popular, and that’s a really cool time to be a part of music.

You are absolutely correct, I 100% agree. You touched on something really important, too, and that is that you didn’t set out to make “Vacation” a trendy TikTok hit years before the app even came to be. But looking towards making more music and the next era of your career, is trend-able or TikTok-able music going to be on your radar? Or would you just be hoping to have an organic thing come about once again?

I think that’s the same kind of hole that you’ll dig yourself in, if you go into the studio, looking for a hit, right. Everybody in the industry has said this and every band has said it, a lot of managers and toxic people say, “Well, we want another one of these, and we want another one of these, and that song works.” If everybody could write hits, if hits were that easy to make, a lot of people would just write hits and everybody would be successful. You don’t know and you can get caught up in that, but it always ends up garbage. You know, because you’re trying too hard. It’s not real, it’s not personal, it just never works. So I think if you start going into, you know, writing music, like “Ok, let’s write a song that will work for TikTok,” it probably won’t work. I’m sure there’s some genius songwriters out there that will nail it, but for us, that’s not what we’re about. I wouldn’t enjoy that. I don’t like that. That gives me anxiety. Like I just want to continue writing music. It’s funny, because we’ve had these conversations where, you know, you hear from whoever in the industry that you “need to do more of this, you need to do more of that you need to do more something like this, you need to follow this trend or whatever,” And it’s like, no, we don’t. We don’t and we’re just gonna keep writing music, the music that we like, and hopefully our fans are gonna like it. This song has proven that point. We didn’t plan on this, like, I was just walking my dog and wrote a hook. I brought it to my friends and we wrote a song in the studio. Now it’s the thing that’s proving to you that just writing good music is hopefully going to work. I do think that there might be some songwriters out there that are going heavy on like, “Ok, what can we do for a TikTok song?” I just hope songs don’t become, you know, 15 seconds long. [Laughs]

You make another great point that artists are making music as much for themselves as they are for their audience. I think if an audience picks up on the lack of genuineness and heart in a song, because if the artist was aiming to make a song for TikTok, it’ll come across so unauthentic. I think if you have an authentic song that will help it be successful, if anything.

Yeah, I agree. I think maybe a lot of people on the business side of it think that people are a lot more, like sheepish and will just follow whatever is put in front of them and they can listen to it and it’s easy. Not everybody is a music buff or a crazy music hipster and I understand there’s some people that just want to listen to Top 40 and that’s fine. I’m not knocking anything. But I don’t think people are as dumb as some people think, so I think when you do put things out that are fake, people see through it really quickly, you know? 

I agree. I think the relationship between an artist and their fans is so integral to the way that they create and perform, so maintaining that should be a priority.

Yeah, definitely.

You know, I was thinking about the genre of Dirty Heads, which as a fan for a couple years now, I know has consistently been up in the air. Are they alternative? Are they urban? Are they reggae? People love putting things in boxes, but there isn’t quite one for you guys. Your music is groovy nonetheless, but I was wondering what the band’s process is like when creating a song. Do you set out to have a certain sound? Or is everything just an organic cultivation of what you know and love?

Oh, I thought you were gonna finally answer the question for us, because we still don’t know. The funny thing is when you meet somebody that doesn’t know the band, it’s like the most awkward question. “Oh, really, you’re in a band? Well, what kind of music do you make?” And you’re like, “Oh my God, here we go again, trying to explain it,” and it’s like, it’s impossible, but I love that. It’s us. I don’t think we could be any other band, I would probably be really uncomfortable if we were one thing. It would drive me mad, It might be a bad thing, but I think it’s just how me and the guys write songs, like we can’t just ever write one song down the pipe, like straight down the middle, this is what type of song it is. We always have to twist it and make it alternative – not in the sense of alternative music, but do something different to it to make it unique, because what we like in music, and what I personally like in music, is things that are original, things that are unique, and things that are different. I think that that’s what we’re kind of always striving for, but I think it’s very natural also. I think it’s like when you hear our music, you hear our voice. When people have a very distinct voice or a very unique voice, whether they’re the greatest singer or not, you know, you can just tell that it’s them. I think we naturally just make Dirty Heads music without going like, “Oh, this doesn’t sound Dirty Heads enough and this doesn’t like to do this.” You know, we don’t sit down and have this formula of what we’re going to do to make it sound like a Dirty Heads record. It just always sounds like one at the end of the day.

Of course! I always tell people, when I’m recommending your music, “They’re groovy. That’s kind of all you need to know.” It’s kind of a feeling it’s more than anything else.

I love that. That’s like the best thing and I’m going to start using that.

You’re welcome! So as of right now, it seems like Dirty Heads have a few upcoming show dates. Now, of course, it’s hard to say that anything is set in stone, but if they were, what are you looking forward to most about being on stage and performing in the real world yet again?

I mean, that’s it, you answered the question. Right there, there’s nothing else that I can say other than just like being onstage and performing actual live music. We did a bunch of live streams and that was super fun. We did like every album, we did acoustic sets, and it was cool. I think it kept our chops up and we actually learned a lot, because it’s real stripped down, but you know, there’s just nothing that can replace live music. I’m just excited to get back on stage and be in front of people. I know, like, eventually VR is going to take over and it’s going to be like, Ready Player One. It is for sure going to happen, 100%, like a lot of people say no, to me, I’m like, “You’re out of your mind. It will happen.” I don’t know how long it’s gonna take, but it will happen to where the whole family can put on a VR headset and we’re gonna have these insanely crazy, you know, in space or underwater or in a volcano, shows. You’re going to be able to have these really insane virtual reality concerts – and they’re going to be cool and I’m super down for it, but I don’t know if there’s ever going to be anything that replaces live music.

Stay up to date with all things Dirty Heads by visiting their website, dirtyheads.com! Keep your eyes open for livestream shows and tour dates, including a stop in Asbury Park this September for Sea.Hear.Now. Fest!