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DIRTY HEADS // “I Really Do Feel Like This Is The First Album”

They say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But for California cruisy groove-machines Dirty Heads, the chance to showcase their 2022 album Midnight Control in a new light meant not only the insertion of additional songs, collaborations and a mix of acoustic and lo-fi versions; it also meant they could expand the Midnight Control universe in full while also presenting their proudest creative moment of their near-two decade career as they had always intended, as vocalist Jared ‘Dirty J’ Watson recently revealed to HysteriaMag.com from the road.

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“Fortunately, we kind of knew that we were gonna release it in chunks from the beginning,” says Watson of the Midnight Control deluxe extension. “We had recorded a lot of music over COVID, but that also kind of put the brakes on a lot of stuff. We had a lot of songs finished and unfinished, and we didn’t know what we were gonna do with ’em. We loved everything, but then we kind of put those to the side. 

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“Once we got in with Ryan Ogren, the producer, we kind of wanted to write all new ones. And once we started with that, we knew we had a good vibe with Ryan, which we already knew we were gonna have, and then we just kind of continued to work. 

“It’s hard as an artist because you wanna put out everything as soon as you make it because you think that, for some reason, everybody else in the world knows that you’ve made this awesome thing – but nobody even knows it exists yet!

“With experience you can kind of talk yourself out of that. Like: I know we have something like 20 songs, but nobody even knows right now that we even have one new song. So, we can split it up and it’s not the end of the world if we release these other five songs six months later or 10 months later or whatever. When you look at it that way and when you kind of look at how people consume music now, especially in the hip hop world or whatever where they’re just constantly dropping singles – people’s attention spans are a little shorter. 

“It just seemed like a cooler way for the listener to get more, and like you said, have this whole kind of universe that we built, and give the listeners longevity rather than just putting out 15 songs once every two years or so.”

Kicking off with the original Midnight Control album tracklist, the deluxe edition then delves into new material alongside increasingly chill reimagined versions, with a start-to-finish listen vividly reminiscent of a gradual transition on a laidback hot summer’s night; more upbeat and active initially before slinking into serene and silken calm. A perfect jolt of summery sonic warmth for those of us currently in the throes of winter in the Southern Hemisphere, Midnight Control’s effortless and increasingly mellow journey also seamlessly belies the painstaking curation continually undertaken by the Huntington Beach-hailing collective.

“I love that you get it and I think most people are gonna get it,” says Watson. “I think a lot of people … although maybe not, maybe fans do, maybe fans don’t, but people in the industry, whether it’s label or radio or just other people that work in the music industry, they might not think it’s really important anymore to kind of curate or to play certain songs in certain parts.. Now that we’re releasing more singles rather than putting out 15 songs at once, even then we would look at track listing and we’d say: what songs go together? How can we build a story with this album? And when you’re extending it, how can we build a story or change the mood throughout multiple drops?

“Even with the show we’re playing tonight and looking at the set list – it’s our job to curate the energy of the night through the show. It’s like going out and eating and a chef is gonna give you certain things at the beginning, they’re gonna give you certain things in the middle, and they’re gonna give you certain things at the end to set, you know, a vibe and a tone. We thought about that a lot and it seemed like the best thing to do for the vibe of the songs is to kind of hold onto those new ones and release them later on. And it worked. And I’m glad that at least it worked for you!”

In an age of fast food-esque streaming and playlists withering, or at least watering down, the potency of a carefully curated album, it’s easy for consumers to sometimes miss the measured efforts that go into shaping an album or a setlist. But for Dirty Heads, a band who have survived and thrived for decades alongside a viral TikTok craze, multiple releases and countless shows in their wake, there is no danger of sacrificing their creative integrity – even if it’s a choice that means more work. 

“I think even if it didn’t matter,” says Watson of the Dirty Heads measured approach to their craft, “as an artist, it would feel gross to us. It would feel not genuine if it was like: hey, okay, let’s sit down and what do we think the most popular song is then the next most popular song, then the next most popular. It wouldn’t make me feel good as a human being.

“I wouldn’t wanna put my art out with the mindset that we know the first song’s gonna be the best single and the second hit will probably be the follow up single but they don’t go well together. That would bother me so much. It’s just one of those things that even if people aren’t paying attention to it, I still am and it still matters to me at the end of the day. Because it would be gross to release my music in that other way.”

With the original Midnight Control LP featuring Common Kings on the track Heavy Water, more recent Dirty Heads musical output in the lead up to the deluxe version unveiling also saw the group team up with Monsieur Periné, Ivy Miller (Ivuss) and Alex Vince. But there are even more surprises lying in wait, with each feature evolving ever-so-organically into the Dirty Heads cosmos.

“Jackson [Wetherbee] from The Elovaters, I’m a huge fan of his and his vocal work,” says Watson. “He’s such a good singer, and I get jealous when I meet guys like that. They’re just these effortless singers and I have to put in the work and do all this vocal coaching and warmups. But this guy just has pipes and he is just this naturally amazing singer. I’ve become friends with him and always wanted to do a song with him. 

I’d say nine out of 10 times if you hear a feature on a Dirty Heads song, it came organically.
[ Dirty Heads ]

“Another benefit of us having this time to extend the release of these 20 songs was that song Constellation – that song wasn’t done yet. But when I did get in with Jackson, like right in the middle of this: it fit too well. I was still kind of in this mindset of creating and still in the Midnight Control kind of sonics and what I wanted it to sound like. And I realised it would fit perfectly, and it also gave us the opportunity to add another track. 

“I’d say nine out of 10 times if you hear a feature on a Dirty Heads song, it came organically. We don’t really like to force ’em a lot, and of course we have to be fans. We’ve definitely reached out before to people that we love, but sometimes they don’t work out. And it’s usually when you become friends with somebody or you meet ’em at a show or you play a festival with them and it just kind of snowballs from there. I think that’s the best way to do it and a lot of time tours come outta that, so it just works better!”

Currently with over 3 million monthly listeners on Spotify alone, as well as the viral renaissance for their track Vacation generating over 320 million streams and 2.4 million TikTok videos and counting, it’s safe to say that Dirty Heads know their craft and their audience inside and out. But rather than merely resting on their laurels, albeit laurels coated in hip hop, reggae fusion, rock and beyond, Dirty Heads are a band who continue to feel fresh and engaged alongside some well-placed familiarity; and it’s this fact that recently spurred Watson to publicly reveal that he believes 2022’s Midnight Control to be the best album the band had ever written. And, as Watson shares, it’s a fact that has been bolstered by hardfought experience, both good and bad, and learning the power of “no”. 

“I honestly do,” says Watson when asked if the best of Dirty Heads is only going to continue to come. “And I’m not saying it just to pump sales or whatever. Like – I get it, you can be an entertainer and you can be a salesman and you can say every album that you’ve ever put out is the best one, and that’s what you’re supposed to do, right? But I’m not great at that. I’m pretty self-deprecating. 

“I just think we’re at a point in our career and our lives as human beings where we’re comfortable in our own skin. We have the confidence of the experience of the last 20 years. And we’re saying no a lot more, which is cool. You’d think it kind of would be the opposite. But before, we were so scared and we didn’t know what to do, and we wanted it so bad that we would maybe get pushed a little this way and that way, and maybe it wasn’t so great. Now, I don’t wanna say we know better…but it is that feeling.

“I’ve been doing it for so long and I’ve been searching for the sound and I’ve been searching and trying to find people, and even within myself and the tones and songwriting and lyrics and things like that…I finally feel like I’m at the point where I’m better at it and I can get the sounds that I want. And I can get the engineers and producers and players, I can talk to the guys and we can sit down and we can get what we want rather than really leaving it to other people. And I think that just comes with experience. 

“In my personal opinion, I feel like we just fucking started. Excuse the language, but I really do feel like this is the first album. I was like: this is what I’ve been trying to get for 20 years, finally I know how to do it. We’re just getting our stride now, and I know personally that I’m ready. I feel like this next album is gonna be just as good because now I know when to say no. I know when to say yes. I know when to push. I know when to pull back, I know when to compromise, and I know when to not compromise. I have the confidence to put my foot down and back what I have behind it. 

“Before, if I was gonna put my foot down, I’d second guess myself. And that was a big problem that I had, just literally second guessing. I think a lot of artists do it, you just second guess everything. Is this good? Is this bad? Is this good? Is this bad? I have more confidence now to know: yes, this is really good and so I’m going to put my foot down and I’m gonna back whatever I just said. If it’s shit and it does really bad then that’s cool because it’s on me, and I have no problem with that. In the past there’s been things that we’ve done and we didn’t like them and they didn’t turn out well, and there’s no worse feeling that you kind of being talked into something that didn’t work out. You’re like: I knew it, I shouldn’t have done that. 

“We just know when to kind of follow our gut and when also to not. It’s like: you are feeding your ego in one way, but you’re also taking the ego out of the equation when it needs to be taken outta the equation. And it’s a very fine line. But long story short: I feel like we know how to walk that line now.”

And with all this new material, will that very balanced and established line lead Dirty Heads to Australia any time soon?

“We’re planning,” says Watson. “We are, that’s the next move. We’ve wanted to forever, sometimes it doesn’t work out, sometimes it does, but I feel like, once again, we’re in a different spot right now. And we can definitely get out there, every Aussie I know that comes and stays with me or that we’re friends with are like: oh, I don’t understand why you guys haven’t been over there. Everybody says the same thing, we finally have to do it!

“For me, I hate the winter so much, I’m terrible in the winter time. I just get sad, I hate it. So, if I could just skip winter and just do summers in America and then summers in Australia – that’s the dream, you know?

Dirty Heads Eternal Summer tour anyone? “I love it,” says Watson. “Let’s do it!”

Midnight Control (Deluxe) is out now via Better Noise Music.

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