Dirty Heads’ Jared Watson Chats About ‘Sound of Change’ Writing Process
Jared Watson and Dustin Bushnell, a.k.a. Dirty J and Duddy B, respectively, formed the Orange County reggae-hip-hop-ska-rock band Dirty Heads in the mid-'90s. It wasn't until 2008, though, that they released their debut full-length, 'Any Port in a Storm,' which featured the No. 1 single, 'Lay Me Down.' Now six years since that success, Dirty Heads are celebrating the release of their fourth LP, 'Sound of Change.'
While chilling out in Las Vegas, Watson took some time to chat with Diffuser about all things Dirty Heads, including how the band approached the new album with a completely different mindset. From that new writing process to what their next release might look like, the singer fills us in on, well, everything.
Stay tuned for the second part of our interview with Watson as we dive into all things vinyl.
How did you approach the writing of 'Sound of Change' differently than past albums?
We didn't necessarily do the opposite of what we had normally done, but we usually were very conscious about being open to everybody’s ideas. That’s a good idea, sure, but at the end of the day when you’re open to everybody’s ideas, you end up with 30 “starts,” just ideas, you know? Guitar parts, melodies, a chorus idea, whatever. That’s how we did it. We’d trim it, we’d pick our favorites, some would trickle out, the strong ones would stand out.
But with this album, we did the opposite. The four of us were in a room and nothing would get past us unless all four of us agreed on it, unless we all had a gigantic boner over the idea. The quality control was so high so it wasn’t like we had 30 starts or whatever. We started from scratch and we would keep going until something struck a chord with everybody in the room. There was no, “Hey, I have this idea, let’s try it and maybe see if it works.” No, it had to be so solid that everybody in the room was jumping for joy over the idea. That was really the biggest change I think. We just keep it a lot tighter and a lot closer. I think we wrote 15 songs and it’s a 13-song album. Usually we write 25 rough songs and then trim it down. That was a big difference.
So, with this record, there really weren't any songs that didn't make the cut?
We didn’t have anything on the cutting room floor. It didn’t get past the light of the day if everyone wasn’t on board. I came in one day, it was like the first or second day. I had like 12 ideas and I was so jazzed on four or five of them. I was sitting with Duddy and I gave him all 12 ideas and all 12 ideas got shot down. Literally. I was a sad little boy in the corner.
Luckily, later on that day I came up with something cool. It was that type of process. It was really cool, it was almost more liberating doing that. When you’re so open to everyone’s ideas, there are a lot of chances and you’re worried about a lot of different things. When the quality control is so high, you leave it up to only what is the best of the best of the best. It almost makes it easier. It’s a weird dynamic but it worked out great.
Did this process affect relationships within the band?
We talked about that. We walked into it knowing we had to have thick skin like crocodile skin. It’s nothing personal, we wanted to make the best album we’ve ever written. Don’t be a p--sy. If we don’t like it, it’s not a big deal. I thought there’d be a lot more drama and turmoil and strain on our relationships. There was actually less than any album we’ve done.
It seems like vinyl has always been an important aspect to the listening experience of Dirty Heads. Why is pressing your music on wax still important to you as a band?
Personally, first off -- I think the main thing for us -- before we got into the whole vinyl resurgence, me and Duddy’s relationship when we started, vinyl had a lot to do with it. I had a lot of old reggae vinyl, so did he. It was like, holy s--t, you collect vinyl? It sounds best. There’s magic to vinyl. On a Sunday afternoon, sitting in your backyard or on your patio and you put on Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holiday or Edith Piaf, if you put that on a CD, I’m gonna dig it, I’m gonna love it. Cool, thanks.
If you put that on vinyl, there’s something that f--king happens. It’s in your soul, it’s in your heart. There’s just something about vinyl. That’s it. Me and Duddy talked about it since day one. So once we heard vinyl is coming back, we were just like, “Yeah. Everybody gets it now.” I don’t think I’ve talked to anybody who is like, “Oh, vinyl doesn’t sound as warm as an MP3.” Everybody knows there’s something about vinyl. It’s just the best. It’s real, you know?
I think it's safe to say you're experiencing tremendous success with this record. You guys went through an interesting process to create it -- now that it's out to the masses, have you already thought about the next project?
No we’re not there yet. I’m so proud of this album that that question sort of scares me. It’s like, “F--k, what are we going to do after this? Where are we going to go?" We talked about going to Jamaica and doing an EP. I like taking breaks in between full-lengths. I think we want to do this album and then go to Jamaica and do a little EP, like five or six strictly reggae songs. We’ve never done that, we’ve never written a pure reggae album. That would be fun. Something that would tide everybody over. And then we can get back to something new.
Well, yeah, we're in such a fast-paced society that as soon as someone gets something new, they just want something newer.
It’s funny, since we talked about vinyl, I think everything is going to come full-circle. I was just talking with my manager. Why the f--k are we doing albums? Why not just put out a single every month or every two months? Rather than locking ourselves in a studio for two months and recording 12 songs, why don’t we just go on tour, come home, write three or four songs, see which one is the best and put it out? Go on another tour, come back, do it again. It’s like Elvis s--t. They used to come back with just one or two songs. I think it’s really smart. S--t, just keep on putting out music. But, yeah, it’s cool to have a piece of art with 12 songs front to back. I don’t know, I just like writing music. [Laughs]
Dirty Heads have been a constant in Diffuser's weekly Top 10 Video Countdown, always claiming the No. 1 spot, and that's obviously not the only piece of success you've experienced with your music. What goes through your head when you hear news like that?
I actually got a tweet about it from a fan. I saw it and I thought, “Cool. Arctic Monkeys are going to kill us.” There’s still a part of me that’s 16-years-old sitting in the garage writing songs with Duddy. How are we even on this countdown? How are we with these bands? But then there’s another part of me that’s like, f--k yeah, we crushed this album. Our fans are rad, our fans are loyal. When I found out we got No. 1, it’s all our fans, it really is. I think that’s what a lot of bands don’t think about. I feel like since we’re in a band, we’ve built this awesome foundation and family of a community of fans, so when something like this comes up, we have a lot of backing. Then when you put out music that you’re proud of and that you think is really good, it all lines up. But like I said, there’s still that part of me that’s like, what? What the f--k, there’s no way we’re going to beat the Black Keys? It’s really cool. We’re stoked.
Dirty Heads' fourth studio album, 'Sound of Change,' is available now via Five Seven. Get details on the release here.
Watch Dirty Heads' Official Music Video for 'My Sweet Summer'