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Dirty Heads Discuss ‘Cabin by the Sea,’ Working With Matisyahu and Mario C. – Exclusive Interview

The Dirty Heads
Ethan Miller, Getty Images

Summer is rapidly approaching, and the Dirty Heads have the perfect album to soundtrack all the good times. The laid back SoCal rockers have managed to not only further hone the sound of their ‘Any Port in the Storm’ breakout disc, but also expand upon that with further musical experimentation. Their new release boasts solid guest appearances Rome Ramirez, Matisyahu, Ky-Mani Marley and Del the Funky Homosapien to deliver a more cohesive album.

The ‘Cabin by the Sea’ album arrived on June 19, and singer Jared Watson took the time to speak with Diffuser.fm about the family vibe within their latest release, recording at a remote ranch in Texas, hanging and touring with a badass Matisyahu and a summer of grilling with their fans.

Right off the bat, you hear the seagulls in the background of the intro and the album in ‘Cabin by the Sea.’ Can you talk a little bit about the influence your surroundings have on your sound and what you do?

I used to really think that we were a product of our environment, like growing up in Southern California and reggae’s really popular and certain types of music and lifestyle are very open. There’s lots of hippies, weed, it’s beachy and it comes with the territory. I used to think that was the main reason, but then I started thinking about all the other bands that we meet that have a lot of similar lifestyle choices and things like that and are into the same kind of music, and it’s from everywhere. And we’re also friends with Avenged Sevenfold, and they’re from Huntington, and I couldn’t get those guys to the beach if I paid ‘em. So I kind of changed my mind. I don’t think we’re so much a product of our environment, ’cause I feel like no matter where we grew up we would have gravitated toward these things and the lifestyle and the lifestyle that we live. I think the fact that we grew up in Southern California that just magnified it.

You worked with Mario C., the Beastie Boys producer, down at his ranch in Texas. What was it like going to work down there? It looks like you had some farm animals around to keep you company.

[Laughs] Yeah, there’s not a lot out there. Literally, like that little farm animal petting zoo was the only restaurant within like a half hour to an hour’s drive. You drive just a couple of hours outside the airport and it’s just on a farm. We heard about it and we thought it was just so genius that you could go and it was almost like going to camp. It was like going on vacation or something, and you just get away. There’s no distractions — no family, no friends, no girlfriends, no traffic, no nothing. You wake up in the morning, you walk over to the studio, you start working, and that was just so cool.

A lot of the songs were already done, so being in Texas and this pecan farm didn’t really have an effect the way the album came out songwriting [wise], ’cause we had pretty much written all the lyrics and the majority of the songs. We kind of just did a lot of music, a lot of drums, a lot of guitar and kind of finishing up the songs out there. But it was just cool to get away. That was the best thing, just to not worry about it because say you work in L.A. or Newport, the traffic isn’t very inspiring.

‘Spread Too Thin’ is the lead single and it’s doing well. It kind of picks up where the last album left off, and we see that Rome [Ramirez] was around, which also adds a nice little bridge between records. Can you talk about the relationship with Rome and how that’s grown since the success of ‘Lay Me Down’?

With the success of ‘Lay Me Down,’ we were already close, and that just brought us closer ’cause that was such a good surprise. It was such a cool thing to happen to both of us. And we just really enjoy writing with the guy. We had him come in and work on one or two songs, and he’s just always around. He’s great to just come around and hang out whether we’re working on something for him or working for something for somebody totally different or working on Dirty Heads stuff. It’s just good to get another brain, another songwriter in the sessions. That’s always refreshing and that’s always cool. So if it’s broke, why try and fix it?

‘Lay Me Down’ was such a big song it was like, “Hey, let’s write a couple more songs.” But the cool thing, I think, with us is no matter who we sit down and write with — ’cause Rome wasn’t the only one we wrote with — but no matter who we sit down and write with, it’s always going to come out sounding like the Dirty Heads, you know? And we didn’t want to write another ‘Lay Me Down.’ It wasn’t like, “Hey, let’s go try to write another radio song. Let’s write 12 more ‘Lay Me Downs.’ F— that. ‘Mongo Push’ came out. It’s a song he’s featured on where it’s more of a hip-hop song.

But I do think that ‘Spread Too Thin’ kind of leads things off, and that’s why it’s good single, but I think we have a lot more songs on this album that are going to do just as well or maybe even better.

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You’ve got Matisyahu on a track, and he’s doing the summer tour with the band. Can you talk about the collaboration he did on the record and how your relationship with Matis developed over time?

We met Matisyahu on one of the first big tours we got invited on with 311. This was like six years ago, and we met him and were just blown away by his vocals and how cool a guy he was, and over the years we kept crossing paths and would play a few shows here and there. Eventually we became friends and acquaintances, and when the new album came up, I was writing ‘Dance All Night’ and we were kind of producing it and getting stuff going and figuring out where this song was going to go. We all kind of kept hearing Matis on this. “God, Matisyahu would be just nasty on this.” I don’t know why, but I can just hear him on this and Duddy agreed, Lewis agreed, so we called him up and we’re like, “Yo, come down.” And he was like, “I’m in L.A. now. I’m not in New York, I moved to L.A.,” so he cruised down on his bike, his motorcycle, which is even more badass. And he came in the studio, heard the song, loved it, absolutely crushed it. And we were sitting around talking about “What are you doing this summer?” and it was like we got an album, he had an album, and he hadn’t figured out what he was doing yet, so we were both going through bands and seeing what we were going to do, and the tour came out of it. I don’t think it could have been a cooler opportunity for both of us. I think everything happens for a reason, and I think that song happened for a reason. And I think this tour’s going to happen for a reason, and it’s going to do really well for both of us.

Speaking of the tour, we saw a mention of doing some tailgating before and some parties after. How important is it to be not only that close as a group, but also bring your fans, other acts, your peers, your crew, everyone into it and make it a big old family vibe?

I think that’s very important, especially when you’re gone for three months. This is going to be one of the longer tours that we do and three months, no matter what you say or how cool this job is or how many perks there are, three months is a long time to be away from home. I’m not in any way complaining, but what I am saying is that it does help when the bands that you’re with, you get along with, and it does help by bringing fans in because you feed off of them and if you do get homesick or burnt out, one good show, one good meet-and-greet or even one fan that kind of lets you know how much your music means to them can put you right back up to where you need to be to finish the tour.

Is there anyone that’s the grill master in the band?

We’re actually all … uh, me and Duddy cook a lot. I think that me and Duddy are the dudes that cook the majority of the time at home, and on the road it’s just whoever feels like it. We definitely do barbecues and we definitely have a drill, especially when it’s summer. The summer’s going to be cool, so we’ll definitely have some things like that. But I just love the whole pre-party and things like that. The thing that we have to watch out for is that we can’t get too wrapped up in the pre-party,’cause you don’t want to get too wasted before the show. It is everybody else’s day off, but it’s our day of work and we’ve got a job to do. They’re paying money to come see us, and we want to put on the best live show that we can, so we usually save the partying for afterwards.

You mentioned ‘Mongo Push’ earlier, and we’re not sure what we’re hearing at the beginning, but it’s definitely funky. Can you talk about how ‘Mongo Push’ came to be?

It’s actually the clavinet and a sample. That was a Lewis Richards beat that one of the guys who produced the album with us, one of the guys that we worked with from the beginning, that was a little idea that he had from the beginning was this clav part with the sample behind it. He’s like, “I’ve got something to show you guys,” and we heard two seconds of it and were like, “Oh, OK, here you go, that’s it, that’s it.”

It was just a really fun song because it wasn’t really about anything. At the time we started writing the verses, and it really isn’t about that much. It really is just kind of a fun song where we just get to write raps and talk s— and have fun, and the chorus does have a throw to skateboarding, which I absolutely grew up with. That pretty much was my whole life and it still is, so that was cool. It was like a clever little way to throw out a nod to skateboarding. And then it was just a very grimy, very funky, very new [sound] and I feel like we’ve done enough to set ourselves aside from other bands, and you can hear our influence in the Dirty Heads — and we kind of took a little page from Beastie Boys on that one.

There’s the Bob Marley mention in the song ‘Your Love,’ and you’ve got Ky-Mani Marley on the track. Once again, it’s that whole family vibe. Can you talk about bringing in the generational Marleys for the track?

With Ky-Mani and with this album and what we wanted to do, it’s music. It’s a creative process and it’s a creative job, so for us it’s really fun to get people that we respect and that we’ve been listening to to come and work with us. We leave the egos at the door and let’s make some music and that’s always super fun and really cool. And you love to hear what people will do to your music. Hopefully it’s something you enjoy and we got lucky on this album, ’cause every part that we had, every ‘featuring’ is a favorite song. Everything they’ve done just took the song to a whole other level. And it is all family. It’s really cool. Why wouldn’t you try to reach out and get people that you really respect and want to work with on your albums?

What’s it like as a band to all of a sudden have horns and other new instruments on the record?

The first album when we got into the studio, it was a little hard for us to just get away from being an acoustic act. We started as just an acoustic act, so having these producers add in all this music and stuff that we weren’t playing at the time was really hard for us to swallow. But after years and years of touring and writing songs and producing songs, you start hearing different things. And now we’re trying to make the best songs that we can, the best songs that we want to hear, that we think are good before putting it out and thinking about anything else. So if you hear a horn part, if you hear a key part, if you hear some harmony, do it. That’s the fun of music, is that we can do it.

We just actually got a new keyboard player for tour and we do come from a hip-hop background, so we will run samples and stuff like that. The first album had a lot of samples. This album doesn’t actually have any samples on it other than one little talking thing, but just kind of broadening the range of our music [is great]. The bottom line is we just heard horns. That’s it. There’s not any deep answer. We heard horns, so let’s put ‘em on there, cause every time it would come and the horns weren’t on there it’d be like, ‘Oh, I’m hearing horns, I’m hearing horns.’

We actually were in El Paso, which is right on the border, and we got one of the professors from the music college right in Mexico to come across the border to play horns for us … And Mario C. brought a lot of ideas to the table, and he brought his players and we had a lot of instruments that we wouldn’t think of. That was the cool thing about working with Mario C. — so we’re stoked and we hope everybody enjoys the album.

Watch the Dirty Heads’ ‘Spread Too Thin’ Video

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