June 15th, 2012, 7:37 am · · posted by KELLI SKYE FADROSKI, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
June 19 can’t come soon enough for Huntington Beach reggae/hip-hop fusionists the Dirty Heads. That date marks the long-awaited release of the quintet’s sophomore album, Cabin by the Sea.
It’s been four years since the group issued its debut, Any Port in a Storm, and that disc experienced numerous setbacks as well, including a parting with Warner Bros. Records, which was initially expected to put it out. The album was eventually issued through EMG, a division of Universal Music Group, in 2008.
Yet vocalist and guitarist Dustin Bushnell (aka Dubby B) says the struggle was all worth it, especially since the guys got to work with industry heavy hitters like longtime Beastie Boys collaborator Mario Caldato Jr. and the late Billy Preston. The latter, known for his work with the Beatles and Eric Clapton as well as his own ’70s hits, gave his final studio performance on a few tracks from the Dirty Heads’ debut.
Since that collection took off – launched onto the charts via the smash single “Lay You Down,” featuring Rome Ramirez – the band has had an extensive touring schedule, landing opening slots on tours with larger acts like 311, Matisyahu, Slightly Stoopid and Sublime with Rome, in addition to its own headlining jaunts.
Last year, finally managing a four-month break after a 200 gigs in just over a year, the Dirty Heads were eager to flesh out new material it had steadily developed, decamping to 17th Street Recording in Newport Beach with longtime friend and producer Lewis Richards.
The result is Cabin by the Sea, which has already spawned a radio hit (lead-off single “Spread Too Thin”) and features another guest turn from Rome plus collaborations with KyMani Marley, Del the Funky Homosapien and Matisyahu. Next month the Dirty Heads will embark on a co-headlining North American tour with that last performer, with a quick break July 27 to open for Steel Pulse at Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa.
Vocalist Jared Watson (aka Dirty J) jokes that when the album finally drops, he’s going to lock himself in his room and close the blinds.
“I’m sure we’ll get together and have a little release party with our friends and family before we head out on tour,” he said during a recent phone interview. “I’m excited for it. A lot of people were like, ‘You’ve taken so long – when’s it coming out?’ Trust me, if anyone wants this thing out, it’s us. It’s been a long time coming and I’m so proud of it and confident in it. I can’t wait for people to hear it.”
Watson says so much turmoil over getting music out to the masses – including management issues and turnover – has forced the band to grow substantially. Those problems pushed them to be better musicians, strongly reflected in the new release.
“We had a lot of this dumb, terrible, very cliché music-industry kind of swindling going on that we were very caught up in,” he explains. “But then we got Any Port in the Storm to where we could release it, then everything happened with ‘Lay Me Down’ (which reached No. 1 on Billboard’s alternative chart) … and it was so weird how everything just sort of happened.
“But I think it all had to happen for a reason, and it gave us time to grow and time to write, record and continue to play live. It also gave us time to hone our skills, and that’s why I think this second album, in my opinion, we’re just crushing, because we’ve really grown so much.”
“Spread Too Thin” is a fitting first single considering not only all that the band has been through but its hectic schedule. Watson insists, though, that the track is less about prior drama and more about people being too uptight in general.
“I was feeling a lot of negativity from people we had to deal with that we usually don’t … so that’s more where that came from,” he says.
The Dirty Heads are no overnight success. The band formed nearly a decade ago when high school friends Watson and Bushnell, along with percussionist Jon Olazabal, began performing acoustic shows in local bars without a band name. It wasn’t long before the trio established a small yet loyal following that began to refer to the group as “dirty heads.” The guys decided to stick with that as they expanded, bringing in drummer Matt Ochoa and bassist David Foral.
That lineup toured relentlessly, opening for anyone who would have them. Once their debut dropped, they also landed a spot on the summer-long Vans Warped Tour in 2009, a trek Bushnell recalls being “long, grueling – and stinky.”
Looking back, Watson says he can remember a time just a few years ago when the band wasn’t making enough money to even spring for hotels at tour stops.
“For a good six years into our career,” he says, “we’d get, like, $100 a week for us to share and live off of. It’s good to see all of that hard work really paying off. One of the best feelings in the world is to walk out on stage in front of a sold-out crowd and people know all the words to our songs. You can’t beat that, there’s no way you can. It’s something that we’ve been doing for such a long time, and we are so stoked that people still come to our shows and that we have such a dedicated fan base. We couldn’t do this without them.”
Before stepping into 17th Street Recording to start work on the new album, Watson says they had a ton of material ready to go – at least 30 ideas for songs, with guitar parts and lyrics nearly finished, ultimately pared down to 16 completed tracks. Teaming again with Richards, the band also brought in producers Stan Frazier and Steve Fox (both of whom contributed to the debut) and Caldato, with whom the band smoothed out some finishing touches at Sonic Ranch in El Paso.
“We got a bunch of the guys that we really all respected and ended up with just an awesome team overall,” Watson says. “One man didn’t just produce this album. It was very much everyone working together.”
He reverted into his 12-year-old skater-punk self, however, when he collaborated with Del the Funky Homosapien on “Smoke Rings.” Watson had trouble containing his excitement.
“You might not hear it in my voice, but you have no idea how big of a fanboy I am,” he says with a laugh. “I was losing my mind. It’s an honor for us, because in our minds, sometimes we still feel like those kids in the garage. So for someone that you respect and someone that’s been so successful in the music industry to be like, ‘Yo, your (stuff) is dope, I want to get on it’ – you’re like, ‘Wait, what?’ You’re taken back a little, but we were just excited to get everyone who we asked to be on it actually on it.”
With another super-busy tour schedule dead ahead, Watson says the band is happy to have that brief local break with Steel Pulse, but he admits bigger hometown shows always make him nervous.
“I could play for 100,000 people in Ohio and I would probably not get nervous, I’d just be excited,” he says. “But if I played in front of 30 people in Huntington Beach, I’d be so nervous because I’d probably know them all.
“Those hometown shows are a little more nerve-wracking, but they’re a lot of fun. You always find out that you have all of these cousins suddenly that your mom never told you about who are looking for tickets, and you have buddies from third grade hitting you up – that’s funny.”
The Dirty Heads open for English reggae greats Steel Pulse on July 27 at Pacific Amphitheatre, 100 Fair Drive, in Costa Mesa. Tickets are $19.50-$38.25.
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