This is one installment in a series of articles about Warped Tour Atlantic City, one of three official events commemorating the music festival’s 25-year-run. Stay tuned for more features about everyone’s favorite “punk rock summer camp.”
Dirty Heads are a quintessential California band. Like Sublime before them (and Sublime with Rome, with whom they have quite a close relationship), they blend punk, reggae, and hip-hop sounds, crafting a distinctly SoCal brand of alt-rock. In songs like “Vacation” and “Staloney,” you’ll see them sharing a sunny, happy-go-lucky ethos with the world, but that doesn’t mean they’re afraid to get vulnerable: over the years, they’ve opened up about everything from insomnia to lost love to feeling like outcasts. On their newest album, Super Moon, they explore both the darkness and the light.
Dirty Heads played Warped for the first time in 2013. This year, they returned to the Atlantic City date of the festival for its 25th anniversary celebration. We were lucky enough to chat with Jared “Dirty J” Watson, one of the band’s lead vocalists and founders, backstage; we talked about Super Moon, Johnny Cash, aliens, and making wise life decisions.
TYF: Your new album Super Moon is coming up. What can you tell us about it?
Dirty J: It was recorded in Nashville, produced by Dave Cobb, recorded all live. A lot of the songs we did in the same room. All to tape. It’s very soundtrack-y. It’s like we built a world and wrote a soundtrack to it. We’re really excited.
TYF: You’ve got the lyric “I am a stranger from a supermoon”; I love that. What was the inspiration behind that?
TYF: I think that lyric in that song kind of led us to where the rest of the album was going to go. We kept saying that the album sounded like a seventies sci-fi soundtrack. And that lyric actually came from Duddy [B, a.k.a. Dustin Bushnell], the other singer, just joking around, walking around the studio singing (in a goofy singing voice) “I’m a stranger from a supermoon!”, ’cause there was a supermoon that night. He was just being weird and dicking around. And we were making fun of him. And by the end of the night, everybody couldn’t stop singing it. And everybody was like, “Dude, this lyric is great.” And from there we were like, “Hey, what if we made the soundtrack to this ‘supermoon’ character.” And then we actually named the album Super Moon. And it came from that one night that we were recording and there was a supermoon outside and Dustin was fucking around.
TYF: That’s awesome. The cover art is very Old West Cowboy. I believe I read somewhere that you guys said, “We do intend to scare people with this cover.”
Dirty J: 100%.
TYF: Is it going to be more country-influenced, or is that just the ethos of it?
Dirty J: Exactly. That was, one, a product of our environment, of being inspired by the studio in Nashville, and being in Nashville and seeing all that old music and country and blues. We thought the artwork was rad. This guy Matt McCormick did it. He’s fantastic. And we knew that it would scare the shit out of some people, because we’re obviously not a country band. And when some fans heard that we were going to Nashville, when it leaked that we were going to go work with Dave Cobb and work in Nashville… Right now, a lot of people think that Dave Cobb does country, which is false. So everybody was like, “Oh my God, they’re going to do a country album,” ’cause we do wacky shit; we do ridiculous shit every time. So everybody—not everybody, but people were like, “Please don’t do a country album.” We knew we weren’t doing a country album, but we were like, “This artwork’s fucking awesome, because we’re going to put it out and people are gonna be like, Oh shit. They’re doing country.” But we’re not.
TYF: That’s so funny. You guys recorded it in that old RCA building in Nashville where Johnny Cash recorded. What was that like?
Dirty J: It was really fucking cool. Like, you’d go into the bathroom, and that was the bathroom that Johnny Cash was taking shits, smoking cigs, probably doing coke in. You know what I’m saying? Like, there was couches, there was shit that they had that they wouldn’t get rid of because he was there, 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago. Just being in the same room where these legends wrote these legendary songs is extremely inspiring. Like, to be able to sit in the same room and look out the same window that Johnny Cash was sitting at… that’s fucking crazy.
TYF: So great. You guys called the song “Super Moon” a “seventies Kung-Fu Western car chase soundtrack.” If you were in a “seventies Kung-Fu Western car chase” movie, what kind of character would you play?
Dirty J: Oh, that’s a good question. I would like to be a six-armed alien that sold weed. I’d be an alien drug dealer. And we’d come from outer space, and we’d land, but we’d look like humans. We’d wear big long coats so you couldn’t see the rest of our arms, and we’d have space drugs, like better weed and all this other shit.
TYF: Still weed, but space weed?
Dirty J: Yeah, yeah! Space weed. (Laughs) And we’d infiltrate the neighborhoods, and we would build our empire from there. And nobody would know. We’d be aliens. Just making everybody happy.
TYF: You guys would call it space weed, and people would be like, “Oh, wow. Creative branding.” And you’d be like, “No, no, no.”
Dirty J: “No, no. This is weed from Mars. Moon rocks and shit.”
TYF: In your song ”Staloney,” you say, “You don’t know nothing about me.” What’s something that the world does not know about Dirty Heads?
Dirty J: Hmm. We’re pretty open about things. What have we kept hidden from everybody?
TYF: It doesn’t necessarily have to be confidential, but something you haven’t mentioned before that people might not be aware of.
Dirty J: Keep going, keep talking to me about it. Like what?
TYF: Any tour stories? Fun facts about lyrics? Strange inside jokes? Weird things you did in your childhood?
Dirty J: Oh, God, I did a lot of weird shit. I did a lot of weird shit. I definitely LARPed before LARPing was a thing. I used to dress up and go to the Renaissance fair and shit.
TYF: There you go. Amazing. You guys have a song called “West Coast,” and you’re very much a California band; on that note, what are some of your favorite places on the West Coast?
Dirty J: Where I live in Costa Mesa, right behind where I grew up in Huntington Beach, I don’t think I will ever move from. I think Southern California is the greatest place to live because we have everything. I live five minutes from the beach. I’m 30 to 45 minutes from the desert, and I’m an hour and a half away from the mountains. I’m two hours away from Mexico, four hours away from Vegas. And it’s nice year-round. On top of that, if you go up past Humboldt, the redwoods are insane. You keep going up to Oregon and Washington, it’s insanely beautiful. The fishing is crazy good. We have everything. San Francisco is one of my favorite cities. I’m not a big fan of LA. We have wine country right above Santa Barbara, Ojai even further up… There’s just so many amazing places. I mean, we have one of the blue zones in California. If you don’t know what a blue zone is, it’s where people live the longest. There’s one in Japan; there’s one, I think, in the Mediterranean. And I know one of them is in wine country in California, where the majority of the people live past a hundred. So quality of life is pretty fucking good. You know, I know people say California is expensive, but you get what you’re paying for. The quality of life is great.
TYF: You guys just had the Orlando Vacation event. How did that go?
Dirty J: It went great. Like, I’m pretty sure we’re gonna do it every year. I would like to make it an annual thing ’cause it was so much fucking fun, and I know that we can do much bigger things, now that we know people are stoked on it.
TYF: In another interview, I read that when you’re making a decision, you sometimes think, “What would 16-year-old me think about this? What would 60-year-old me think about this?” On that note, what were you like as a 16-year-old, and what do you think you’ll be like at 60?
Dirty J: I hope I’m actually similar to 16-year-old me when I’m 60, and I think right now, my biggest problem was that I was losing a lot of my 16-year-old self. I was losing a lot of, like, not taking things too serious. You start taking things more serious, your career gets more serious, everything’s fucking serious cause you get goals, you get aspirations, you grow older… You see life becoming harder for other people… Life gets harder on you ’cause there’s just more pieces to life in general. And then you get wiser, you learn more, you learn more about the world. You see how fucked up the world can be. How harsh it can be. So those things start weighing on you, and you kind of lose that playful child. Like, the eyes that you see through when you’re 16. And I hope that when I’m 60, I’m a wiser version [of myself], but still wanting to learn, still wanting to see through the 16 year-old-eyes. But to anybody out there that has a hard decision—or not even a hard decision, just something they’re not sure about—ask yourself, what would 16-year-old do you want you to do? And what would sixty-year-old want you to do? And, if sixty-year-old’s going, “Dude, not a good idea. That’s a fucking terrible idea,” then maybe not. But if sixty-year-old’s saying, “Go, go on that trip. Try it,” then do it. It’s a good balance. A lot of people say, “If your life was a movie, if your life was a book, how would you want it to be?” You know, think of it like that. So when sixty-year-old’s telling you, “You shouldn’t take that trip to Europe,” or when 16-year-old is telling you, “Stop being so pessimistic about things.” You know what I’m saying? Like, when you’re down and you’re complaining about stupid shit, it’s usually good to go to 16-year-old, because 16-year-old you wanted everything. Most 16 year olds think they know everything, and they want everything. So when you have things that you want that sixteen-year-old wanted, it’s good to be like, “Okay, perspective check, look at all the things that I’ve accomplished. I need to stop being a pussy.” Sixty-year-old you is a little bit wiser. Will say, “You don’t need as much, stop working so hard” or “Take that trip.”
TYF: You guys have worked with Del The Funky Homosapien, which is amazing. What was it like collaborating with him?
Dirty J: I wish that we were closer and that we got to be there. I’m friends with Danny Way; he’s a buddy of mine. And I went out to Hawaii, and he is really close with Del. And growing up skateboarding, not only was it cool to be friends with Danny; I used to listen to Del all the time while I was skating. He was in skate videos all the time. People picked him for his parts, all that shit. I was a big fan. And we were looking for somebody to, to, to get on that track, “Smoke Rings.” And Danny was like, “I know Del.” I never even thought about him ’cause I never thought I could get to him; I don’t know anybody. And he called him right there in front of me and he said, “Boom, I’ll do it.” And then two days later, we had the song.
TYF: That’s amazing. All right; is there anything else you’d like to say to the fans and readers?
Dirty J: No, just come to a show.