An Interview with a Drummer Who Cut His Dreads Off After 17 Years

What are the challenges of having six-foot-long dreads as a touring musician? We had to find out. (Spoiler: It's gross.)

Mar 17 2017, 2:47pm

Most people familiar with Kevin Higuchi know him by two things: his immense drumming skills and his ridiculously long dreadlocks. For almost two decades, his massive dreads have become his identifying trait, extending so far down his back that they dragged against the floor while he walked. While drumming, he often wrapped and tied them above his head, giving the appearance of a beehive made of human hair. Inevitably, though, they'd unravel and he'd have thick, sweaty ropes of hair whipping about as he pounded away.

Having several pounds of hair seemed impractical, unsanitary, and downright hazardous for a touring musician. Anyone who's slept beside Higuchi on tour can tell you: After he fell asleep, there was a fear that his dreads would become sentient and choke you to death like the alien tentacles in Independence Day.

Higuchi, who has most recently been drumming for Jeff Rosenstock's band, finally caved and chopped off his six-foot-long locks right before heading out on tour with The Menzingers. Naturally, we had a lot of questions about this huge follicular life change, which he was kind enough to answer below.

Noisey: When did you start growing your hair out?
Kevin Higuchi: I started growing my hair out about 17 years ago, around 2000, 2001. Right around that time was when I dropped out of college to pursue doing music full-time. I joined a rap-rock band called Insolence and three of the other dudes had massive, fat dreadlocks, and I was like, "Well, that's dope." So I did it. And I was right on the verge of stopping playing with bands because my parents wanted me to buckle down in college. So I was in the process of packing my drums away in my parents' house when I got called to audition for them. At the time, they were signed to Maverick, which was a major label, so I really thought I was going to turn the corner and be a rock star, and I dropped out of college.

Did your hair somehow feel symbolic of your rock star dreams then?
Yeah, kind of. In a way, it was me saying, "I don't want to look normal and work a job and do normal things." I was like, "Yeah, I want to be a rock star!" [Laughs]

You finally cut your hair recently. What made you decide to do that?
While I had it, I always had nightmares of me cutting my dreads off or having to cut them off. I was really attached to them. In the last year or so, my life has changed so much that, I don't know, my attachment to them was starting to become more distant. I started having more impulsive thoughts of chopping them off. Right before this tour, on the day of my 38th birthday, I was just like, "Let's do this." And just chopped 'em off.

What were the daily burdens of having hair that long?
You're in constant fear that you're gonna shit on them. Every time you go to shit, it's terrifying that you're gonna shit on them. Near the end, they were all different lengths, so I was never sure I grabbed all of 'em to get them out of the way, and sometimes I didn't have the time or the energy to tie 'em up. Also, too, they got to the point where, if I didn't tie them up or hold them and went into a bathroom, they would just drag on the floor. I got in the habit of balling them up and sticking them in my pocket.

Your back pocket?
Yeah, my back pocket, that was my move. Or in my sweatshirt pocket.

How did all that length and weight affect you as a drummer?
Well, I've actually noticed that playing on this tour that my movements don't feel as big and extreme. I feel myself overcompensating. I don't feel like I'm making as much movement. And also, since I'm used to having so much weight there, the first few shows, it felt like I was overdoing it.

How much did they weigh?
Probably three or four pounds.

That's quite a substantial amount for your neck muscles. When you cut them off, did your neck go wobbly?
I adjusted pretty quickly, but I was holding them while cutting them off and then the last one, when I cut it off and it released from my head, I got kinda dizzy because all of a sudden the whole weight distribution was crazy.

Does it feel like a phantom limb now?
Yeah, I think it's more of a habit. I keep going to move them out of the way because I'm used to them being all over the place. So I keep looking for them and they're not there. I'm so used to feeling this massive collection of hair on my back, in my shirt, or on my neck, and it's just not there anymore, and it's sometimes super weird. I feel like I got the back half of my body cut off.

Most people knew you as having those long dreads. Is it weird for other people to get used to?
Maybe a little bit. I really thought that was gonna be a big deal. Another reason I grew them so long was that I figured working in an industry where you want people to remember you, they would remember the guy with long dreads. It was such a part of me for so long. As soon as I cut them, I was immediately over it. But people would be like, "Oh my god, your hair!" And I'd be like "Oh shit, I forgot about that."

What did you do with them?
They're in a bag in my room, which is kind of funny too because they break over time because they wear down. So they all used to be the same length but would break in different parts. As they broke throughout my life, I had these random dreads all over the place. When we were on tour with AJJ, there was one piece that [singer] Sean Bonnette stepped on as we were going downstairs and it broke in half. Sean picked it up and put it in their van. So that's still there. There's random dreads all over my apartment. There's a long one hanging on my wall. There's one by the router. [Laughs]

How many tours had those dreads seen?
Like, 13 to 14 years of touring in multiple bands. There's, like, five ex girlfriends in there. Plenty of tears. I feel like what held them together was just all that grit.

Dan Ozzi gets a haircut every four weeks. Follow him on Twitter.