How The Dirty Heads Overcame Addiction and Got Deep into Hip-Hop to Make a Killer New Album
Listen to an exclusive version of single “That’s All I Need" recorded live at the Noisey Radio studio in LA.
Photo by Dove Shore
Huntington Beach five-piece The Dirty Heads have honed their unconventional alt-rock stylings over a career that spans 20 years. Think reggae and hip-hop, then picture six white guys jamming out on stage with undertones of those genres filtered through the high-low intensity of SoCal-bred alternative rock. If it feels strange to imagine, it's also what makes it great. The band credits their sound to the influence of 90s rap and reggae acts like the Pharcyde, Beastie Boys, and Israel Vibration, as well as the smooth vibes and texture of a lifetime spent at the heart of Huntingon Beach street-skate culture. Lead vocalists and founders Jared Watson (Dirty J) and Dustin Bushnell (Duddy B) came through the VICE LA office to chat for an episode of Noisey Radio on Beats 1, where they talked musical influences, their ongoing involvement in skate culture, and their upcoming tour with Sublime with Rome.
The two also expanded on their new two-part self-titled album, due out July 15, and how Dirty J's songwriting helped him through a struggle with addiction which ultimately resulted in an overall healthier lifestyle and new material for the group. Not only do they talk music but they give us some information surrounding both of their eco-friendly clothing brands as well as gift us with
Listen to their interview on Noisey Radio on Beats 1, which features an exclusive live rendition of their single “That’s All I Need,” and read on for an extended version of our conversation with the band below.
NOISEY: Who are The Dirty Heads?
Jared Watson: We are an alternative band that’s very heavily influenced by reggae and hip-hop. We’re not a reggae band and we’re not a hip-hop group, we’re a band, but those are probably the two biggest genres that we were most inspired by when we were growing up when we met.
Talk about hip-hop growing up—what kind of bands were influencing you and made you decide to start making music?
JW: I grew up skating, and I feel like when you’re skating you always want to pick what style you are. I leaned towards more the hip-hop side, like A Tribe Called Quest, Wu-Tang, BootCamp clique, but Pharcyde I think was my favorite of all-time. But Beastie Boys was the thing that really got me into hip-hop.
Is there a particular Pharcyde or Beastie song that you remember, where it’s like, "Oh shit, this is the one,"?
JW: "She Keeps on Passing Me By," that was the first song where I knew all the lyrics to.
What about the reggae influence? Talk about where you guys come from.
Dustin Bushnell: I was definitely into hip-hop growing up as well, but I was definitely into the punk rock scene and I grew up listening to NoFx, Bad Religion, Descendants, things like that. And that kind of lead me to Sublime, and Sublime kind of opened my eyes up to some reggae, and I started listening to a lot of old reggae, Gladiators, Black Uhuru, Israel Vibration, and it kind of was just like, "Wow." Before that, reggae to me was Bob Marley. That’s what you knew, then you start listening to all these other old cats and you’re like, "Oh my god this is so amazing."
JM: The rabbit hole is deep.
DB: It is, and it’s cool because I was in a punk band before this, and once I started really listening to reggae, I started smoking weed, and started hanging out with [Jared], who’s a bad influence on me.
JM: You can say there was ska and reggae, and punk kind of came from that if you go back, between The Clash and whatever came after that, so it kind of comes together.
You guys are about to go on tour with the new Sublime lineup. Is there one Sublime song that back in the day really influenced you?
JM: We used to listen to this song non-stop… I’m terrible at song names but it’s slow, it’s got this beat and it’s just kind of grimey and he’s flowing the whole time just talking shit, it’s vibey.
DB: "Cisco Kid"!
JM: What sublime was doing that long ago was so ahead of their time, with blending genres and stuff. Beastie Boys too. I feel like Sublime took a lot from Beastie Boys, but those were the two bands for us where we were like, "Oh yo, we can blend music together, we don’t have to be one thing, we can be this chimera of music, we can do a reggae song with hip-hop beats with acoustic guitar and kind of mash-up all these things."
You guys are born and raised in Huntington Beach, not far from Long Beach, right?
JM: That whole subculture with No Doubt and Sublime and the whole punk scene, we’re right there in the middle of it.
Do you see Bradley Nowell’s influence around there still?
JM: I mean you can pretty much say that the whole reggae rock scene that has blown up and has festivals with tens of thousands of people coming to it and hundreds of thousands of bands in the United States, and around the world, that’s pretty much from Bradley. Sublime was reggae rock ,I guess, then there was Slightly Stoopid, and they kept it going, then from after that all these other little bands started coming, and people started realizing our generation started getting older, and now it’s a whole new genre. I feel like he invented a genre himself that is now a specific genre.
DB: It’s cool to because at first there weren't a lot of bands in this scene, and we’d go places in the Midwest and we’d play to nobody, and now there’s all these different local bands in these spots, there’s a scene for this type of music everywhere we go. Everyone’s finding their own way, now you’re getting this cool new genre with all these rap bands in it.
Let’s talk about the new album, talk about all the hip-hop producers you brought together for the album, who’s idea was that and how’d that come together?
JM: It’s always cool to have new producers and a different creative mind. One of my favorite parts about writing music is to see what other people would do with our music, like "Oh I would’ve never thought of that," or let’s leave the Auto-Tune on, or I’m going to put trap in the middle of this almost-Police-sounding reggae song. We had a lot of producers, actually. We didn't just say, "Hey let’s get with one or two producers and we’ll just write and record with them," we were like "Let’s go with as many as we can." I think we did 30 or 40 sessions back to back for two months. We were trying to find people, and we clicked with a certain amount of them, and then we’d get back in and right the songs. I think there’s about 11 songs on the album, and there’s about eight producers that produced them, but the cool thing is it’s cohesive.
Were they helping you with arrangement as well or mostly production?
JM: We’re always kind of backseat producing our stuff, so it’s always sort of a collaborative thing.
What do you think is a good track that exemplifies the bigger or modern hip-hop influenced sound?
JM: "Smoking Dreams." It was one of those tracks that when we met with [producers] Kosine and Tuo from Da Internz, the first time was like, I walked out of the room. My mind was blown. Dustin laid his verse down, and I re-sang it, and it is Dirty Heads, but he took it somewhere else, which is what we love doing. If you’re a Dirty Heads fan you’re going to get it, but also if you’re really into current hip-hop and sonically what’s going on now and you might’ve not heard of us, this one will be like, "Oh ok, I fuck with them now, forreal."
Talk about your idea about splitting this, conceptually, between day and night, and how that influenced the flow of the album.
JM: We had talked about it about four or five albums ago. It was a cool idea, but it just didn’t work and at the time. Now the format that people listen to music are playlists and vinyl, and when we got done with the songs, we realized some of them were very vibey and a lot more dark and a lot more reggae influenced, and some of them were very happy and colorful and daytime, so we were like, we should split these up and build in a playlist—let’s just do the work for the fans. Plus if you’re a fan of vinyl, now you have a side A and a side B. I just thought that was something very cool and creative to show the fans what we think this playlist would be, what we envision the weekday songs compared to the Friday night songs.
What do the daytime songs sound like?
JM: I think they have a lot more acoustic influence. Lyrically they’re more uplifting, they’re brighter.
DB: More instrumental. I’d say the beats aren’t as produced and heavy, it’s more organic.
JM: I always get colors. I kind of think of it like if you’re going to do lights for the production of a live show I want purples, dark blues, dark reds and things like that so that’s kind of how I envisioned it and that’s how we put it together, really.
Both of you seem like healthy living-type people. I heard you’re into Muy Thai, is it?
JM: I was not the healthiest guy about a year or two ago. When your job is to party, to be the party, sometimes you forget to stop partying and it creeps on you. You come to us to party, so you just get stuck in that mindset. And 15 years later it’s like, damn I haven’t taken a break from partying in awhile. So it got to a point where if I wasn’t on something, then I didn’t feel good. I wasn’t even trying to get fucked up, I was just trying to live and be normal, but I had to have something in my body, some chemical in my body. It was not only affecting my brothers in the band, it was affecting me personally, like my health. I had to go to the hospital in the middle of the tour. I always envisioned myself as this happy, healthy person, and all these good things were happening, but I was really depressed. I was like wow that’s weird, that’s not me. I realized my mind wasn’t healthy, my body wasn’t healthy, because I was fucking abusing it, throwing it in the trash. I just needed to make a change for the better and I have, I’ve been working out and eating healthy. I mean I still party, but it’s all natural now, nothing processed.
Are you completely sober?
JM: I’m a recovering alcoholic and addict, but I still smoke weed and eat mushrooms. There’s certain things I can balance, and those are the two things.
Does a lyric come to mind that exemplifies that transition and it being on the album?
JM: I wrote a song called "Under the Water," and it is about really going through withdrawals and how somebody very special in my life really helped me through it. "Under the Water" was my dark withdrawal demon fighting place, so that was a cool therapeutic song to write about. I think if you listen to the song and listen to the lyrics you’ll get it, I don’t really need to explain it.
Talk about this tour—are you guys stoked? Is it a national tour? Do you see the crowds growing?
JM: Let’s be honest, you don’t want to be that band that doesn’t play the most popular songs, so we make sure that we don’t do that, but there is a part of you that’s like, "I just want to play the whole new album." But we can’t do that. If my favorite band did that, I’d be bummed, so we have to look at it from a fan perspective. Sometimes we go to rehearse just to stay tight, but now it’s like "Fuck yeah rehearsals!" New music, new songs, we can re-arrange things, we can make it long, we have new shit. It’s just a new fire. It gets you more excited.
What song off the album are you most excited to play? Will it be the first time you guys are playing these songs?
DB: We’ve played one of the songs, "Oxygen," twice, but next week will be the first time really having rehearsals for the new songs. It will definitely be nice when people have the album and they’ve heard the songs, so when we’re playing them, they’re singing them. It’s nice to see people’s reactions.
JM: It’s crazy because we’ll write songs that we think will crush live, and then we’ll get in the rehearsal studio and be like, "Man that didn't go over as well." But "Oxygen" does go off, and we’ll obviously play the single, but I think "Smoking Dreams" will be cool. There’s also a song called Red Lights that I think is going to be real nasty. It’s kind of like we took a little bit from Major Lazer and twisted it into Dirty Heads land, and kept that reggae hip-hop and added a little bit of some drum and bass sounds, with some EDM sounds into it. It’s a little bigger but it’s still leaning on the reggae hip-hop side.