Travis Shinn

Dirty Heads Are Switching Mindsets & Staying True

While far from the first to blend urban, alternative stylings with classic rock sounds, Dirty Heads have had quite a bit of modern success doing such a thing. They love what they’re doing, but are quick to pay homage and show appreciation for those who came before them (ie: High & Mighty Tour co-headliners, Sublime).

Dirty Heads — Jared Watson, Dustin Bushnell, Jon Olazabal, Matt Ochoa, David Foral and Shawn Hagood — have been in a league of their own since 2008’s Any Port In A Storm. That’s the same year a friend of mine from Los Angeles burnt me a CD (remember those?) and under the watchful eyes of the Music Gods, threw some of their tracks on it. (This was before the East Coast caught wind of them, and I was extremely proud to be ‘in’ on the Cali-rock band before anyone else). They’ve been a mainstay on my playlists ever since.  

I was lucky enough to sit down with Jared in 2018, when he graciously shot the shit with me about topics including Beyoncé, ego, and the beauty of reinvention for much more time than he had to allot me. But that’s Jared: Cool as f**k. Duh. 

Just three years later, so much has changed. The country went through a whole-ass pandemic. There’s a new president. The boys put out Super Moon. Jared is a father. Thankfully, one thing has stayed the same: The Dirty Heads’ music continues to be an escape. 

I chatted with Jared while the band was in the area for their “High & Mighty Tour” with Sublime with Rome.  

First thing’s first: What can fans expect from the High and Mighty Tour with Sublime?   

Well, if you haven’t seen a Dirty Heads show, I mean….

Sublime, though – we started our band pretty much because of Sublime with Rome, so from Sublime, you’re gonna get the greatest hits, which is absolutely amazing. Even for us, we still love to go out and watch them. And then our show, I’m not giving that information away — you have to come and see it. 

I never knew that you guys credited Sublime as an inspiration.  

Oh yeah, for sure. We were fans of hip-hop and reggae and a lot of other music, but that’s really what we kind of bonded over. I think once we found Sublime and other bands, like The Beastie Boys, they were the first bands to really kind of do whatever they wanted to and blend a lot of different genres rather than doing one thing. That was really inspirational for us.  

After more than a year of being indoors, how does it feel to be back on the road now? 

It feels really good. We’ve been touring for almost 16 or 17 years straight and you can kind of get lost in that. At that point, that was just our life, you know? There was nothing other than that. We didn’t really know any other way. Not to make light of the situation with the pandemic, but to force us to stay home and be able to enjoy all of the hard work from the last 15/16 years was really nice. It kind of made us really appreciate our hard work we put in and it also made us look at our live show set differently. During the pandemic, we couldn’t even take the whole year off. We did live streams, where we would do every album that we ever did, but we did it acoustically so that made us rework songs, look at the songs, and bring old songs back that we hadn’t played in a while. [It helped us] have a new appreciation for going out on the road and for home… and just kind of have a new outlook on how to balance that, rather than just being like complete pirates and just touring all the time.  

Yeah, I would imagine that someone like you must have been going crazy being confined to one space, just because you have been on the road for so long.  

Yeah, I don’t think it hit me, because it was almost two years, actually. It was almost like a full two years that we were kind of home, kind of stuck. So, I don’t think it really hit me. I didn’t really get the itch. I think we really did need it. We really did need to take a break as a band. 

When I last interviewed you in 2018, you were about to become a father. It’s been 3 years since — I’m wondering how fatherhood has impacted you as a musician.  

It definitely lit a fire under me, for sure. 100%. I love being a dad. Not taking away from our fans – they mean everything to us and our music is everything to us – but once you have a kid, wow. Having the kid, watching her grow during the pandemic? She’s three now and her saying that she loves me or giving me some sort of affection — it trumps any show, any goal, any accomplishment that we’ve done. It really does. It’s the greatest thing that I’ve ever been given and I’m super stoked to be a dad. My problem is, I’m in my own head a lot, constantly thinking about the band or about work. I’m constantly thinking about lyrics, songs, whatever, and when you have a kid, it makes things less about you. It makes you have to streamline life and the things that you care about, and that energy. It kind of eliminated a lot of unnecessary BS that I would worry about because now there’s one goal: To keep her alive and keep her happy. It’s just nice for things to not be about me anymore and it really inspired me to just do better but be a better person, be a better human, and make her proud.  

How do you feel the pandemic and COVID, in general, affected the music industry? You’ve been in the game for long enough that I’m sure that you’ve seen things adapt and adjust.  

Definitely. “Lay Me Down” hit when streaming started; when downloads started and then it went to streaming. Then “Vacation,” you know, to bookend that, it’s arguably X amount of times bigger than “Lay Me Down” streaming-wise. We’ve seen it all.

I don’t think the pandemic affected the streaming side of music. I don’t really think it affected the label side of music. I know people shelved things. I don’t think that we would have shelved things because I think people needed new music. I think that was a business move for a lot of people and I understand it, but I don’t agree with it. I think a lot of people were hurting mentally and a lot of people use music as therapy and I think at that point in time, we all just needed to release as much music as we can. When it comes to the touring side, you have got to look at the big promotion companies and everybody that worked in it and the live venues — that’s the thing that’s such a shame to me. It’s nice to be back out now and see that people are coming out. They’re just as excited as we are. Maybe just the way that people look at live touring and not taking it for granted or just the way that it’s going to operate now.

I don’t know, there’s been changes in the live world a lot, there’s been a lot of impacts, and most of it has probably been pretty negative. We were so used to not working for long periods of time. You go on a three-month tour, you take months off, and then you go on another tour, and then you take three to four months off. There’s been a year where we’ve taken six months off, so we were used to taking long periods of time off, so we were alright and it was ok for us to do that, but it affected a lot of people. If we were four or five years younger as a band and this happened four or five years ago, that would have hurt. That was how we paid our bills. We didn’t have safety money yet and we didn’t have money to be smart with — luckily, everyone [in the band] is smart. But financially, it fucked a lot of people over, you know? Not just musicians, but everybody.  

When you finally got back in the road, was there an adjustment period? 

No, no, we slipped right back in there. It was easy. We’ve been doing it for so long that it was almost refreshing to get back on the bus and get back on schedule. Being a dad, I get to be dad 24 hours a day when I’m home and I love that. That’s a really cool part of this job. I go out and work and it’s hard… I think it’s harder on me being away from my kid than it is on her. But when we got back on tour, you don’t have to deal with the kid all day or be dad or mom or worry about things other than the show. It’s important to kind of be able to switch that mindset.  

That’s where Jared gets to be Jared.  

Yeah. But it’s cool, I had them come and stay with me for a couple weeks and it was awesome. It was perfect. 

Speaking of your live shows, I noticed you guys added a horn section. Did that change that dynamic of the band and the set in general?  

Dude, we’ve been waiting for that move for years. We knew it was coming, we just didn’t have the means to do it. We didn’t have the space. There’s so many different factors of having a band that large. We always wrote the parts, we’ve always had horns in our songs, and also, [the horn section] is just so pro. They’re such awesome guys and they fit the band. Ruben and Mark were just automatic friends, automatic friendship. It just clicked and we knew it was going to work. On top of that, they’re absolutely killer singers, so we can hit all the harmonies. Between Sean, Mark, and Ruben, we are able to do the harmonies that we write in the studio and now it just it gives us the opportunity to play the songs the way they are recorded with the horns and then also we can add ‘em in where we want where we feel that something needs to be added and we can kind of jam or we just have more freedom. Having more players — because everybody in the band is so good, like so tight, obviously I don’t play any instruments, but I’ve been doing this for a long time — still everybody is so good at what they do. To add in two more guys who are just as professional as the rest of the guys, that just opens up two extra doors to do so many more things. It’s endless at this point, that was like the final piece of the puzzle. I wouldn’t see us needing to do anything else at this point. 

It adds a new type of energy to the set.  

Yeah, and we can switch up songs. We can change up the actual endings. We can do outros, we do intros, we can add horn parts into more acoustic songs that kind of need a little beef for the live show. Certain songs you write in the studio, and they work, and they don’t translate on the road. Now it’s easier to make those songs translate with horns, it really is.  

I think I listened to “Rage” 12 times in a row after it first came out — how did that collaboration with Travis Barker and The Interrupters’ Aimee Allen come to be? 

We had gone in to write a couple new songs for the album. Now the new album is down to like six songs because we released “Earthquake Weather,” “Bum Bum,” “Rage,” and “Headspace,” so that took four off. We only have nine, so we’re going to go back and re-record more. But at the time, we needed three more and “Rage” was one of them in the studio and we were writing it and the chorus lyrics. The whole song was just such a smash, but that chorus lyric was like something that me or Duddy didn’t really necessarily know…. Yes, it’s a story and we write stories all the time that didn’t happen to us in songs, but this one seems so personal that it just didn’t work for me and Duddy to sing it. We were going to walk away from it, but then as soon as I heard it I was like, “Dude, Aimee Allen.” Aimee’s been friends with us for decades … I think we had the chorus and within like an hour, they had called me back and I sent the track over and by that night they were on board. By the next night, Barker was on board. Because we had used the Barker drum pack until Matty was going to get on and it was mentioned, ‘Oh, this is Travis Barker’s drum pack’ and I was like, ‘You know, it would be cool if we got Barker to come in and produce it.’ And he crushed it. Between him and Kevin [Bivona, from The Interrupters] and Aimee, the song came out to what you hear now and it’s just an amazing song. We love it. It felt like all of our songs, right? Like, Aimee could’ve came to us with that song and we would have done it. Barker could have came to any of us, and we would have done it. It wasn’t like this overly over-the-top Dirty Heads song that we just wanted to Aimee on. It was very much in collaboration with Kevin and Aimee, and Kevin writing parts to it and Kevin getting in the studio and producing also. Everybody played their part and made that song what it was, so we feel like any one of us could have released it at any time. It was just that we wanted it out so bad, so we just put it out through our channels. 

That brings me to my next question: Who would be your dream collaborator? 

EIP from Run The Jewels. Actually, both EIP and Killer Mike. I want to do a track with Run The Jewels so bad, whether it’s just like some straight hip-hop stuff, Dirty Heads stuff, whatever.  

You touched on it a bit, but do you have any word on your next album?  

Yeah. I don’t know if the direction will change or maybe the title will change. I don’t know where we’re gonna be at when it’s done, but we have six songs done and we keep re-listening. We’ll go back and listen to them. They’re like a year or two old, but they don’t feel a year or two old, like, they’re completely timeless. We love every song, there’s some songs on there that are so good. We kind of put out the other four, so we will probably go back in and write another six. We know the direction of the music and probably how it’s going to be. It was actually really good to go on tour, because we know what we need now for the set.”Do we need another up-tempo here? Can we run another up-tempo? Do we need more of a reggae-leaning song? Do we need something more similar to ‘Oxygen,’ because it feels like we don’t have that flavor at the beginning of the set?” So, it’s really cool to be able to write an album, go out on tour, and come back and finish it because now we kind of know, “We need this, we need this, we need this for the live show.’ “

Interesting, so it kind of helps you get out the ingredients together.  

Definitely for everything, not only the album, but the live show, too.