It may have taken 20 years of making music, but Dirty Heads frontman Jared Watson, known as Dirty J, has made an album he’s satisfied with from beginning to end in “Super Moon,” released Aug. 9.
“In my mind we — finally after all these years — I think wrote an album that is 100 percent true to who we are,” Watson said in an interview with The Phoenix.
The Dirty Heads signature ska, alternative, reggae-fusion sound lends itself to songs that shouldn’t quite work on paper, but meld together magically in the finished product.
“Super Moon” is no different.
The album’s title track, opener and lead single proves the Dirty Heads’ dedication to sonic exploration. The “‘70s sci-fi soundtrack vibe,” as Watson described it, simultaneously sounds nothing like what the five-piece band from Huntington Beach, California have written before and exactly what one would expect from the band.
The layering of bellowing trumpets, light vocals and driving bass line make the track feel cinematic as if the cowboy on the album cover is about to ride off into a full-on Western film.
The album may have the same creative energy the Dirty Heads established but according to Watson, the approach shifted. On the most recent albums — “SWIM TEAM” and “Dirty Heads” — the band worked with multiple producers and focused on electronic production rather than the instruments.
That desire to get back to creative roots led them to six-time Grammy-award-winning producer Dave Cobb. Most known for his work in the country scene and the 2018 film “A Star Is Born,” the pairing may not seem obvious, but in terms of artistic freedom, Watson said they were on the same page.
“When people start winning Grammys and they have these big songs and stuff, you kind of … think that everybody’s going to have this magic formula that they follow and Dave is the exact opposite,” Watson, 37, said. “He’s all about feel. He doesn’t care about structure and trend or what’s cool, what’s not cool. He just writes music.”
Conversations questioning conventional song structure ended with neither party feeling like these unwritten rules needed to be followed. In pop music there’s a “don’t bore us, get to the chorus” attitude, according to Watson, which can be a limiting mindset. The Dirty Heads and Cobb debunked this notion.
“If you make every part of the song great then what’s the chorus?” Watson said. In the words of Cobb, “It doesn’t matter. If you want to listen to every single part of the song, then nothing is more important than the other part.”
Tracks “Cloudlifter” and “Lighthouse” proved their point.
Instead of a chorus, “Cloudlifter” focuses on a slow, psychedelic, ethereal guitar riff. The twang and reverb make it reminiscent of a scene in an old Western where the cowboy roams the desert at night.
The cinematic theme continues with a voiceover by Tommy Chong of comedy duo Cheech and Chong thoughtfully discussing how acid is a unicorn.
Gritty, up-tempo guitar and drum riffs backing vocalist and guitarist Dustin “Duddy B” Bushnell and Watson’s rap verses contrast the initial more delicate guitar, creating a roller coaster-like experience — mimicking the rush of a downhill fall and taking a breath as it builds back up.
The wholesome, acoustic “Lighthouse” functions more as a poem consisting of four stanzas of Watson assuring his little girl, “When you’re lost in the waves, I’m your lighthouse.”
Authenticity is palpable in the laid-back “Crow Bar Hotel,” which sounds like it was recorded in the bar of a beachfront hotel. The acoustic guitars, whistling and group vocals feel relaxed and inviting, like it was improvised and anyone could join Jon Olazabal and Matt Ochoa on percussion or take over for David Foral on bass.
The encouraging love-your-life anthem “Horsefly” boasts positivity and invites listeners to go to their happy place, which for Watson seems to be a French village.
“If … the bridge shows up and you don’t smile and you don’t picture yourself riding a bike in a little village in France and going and throwing baguettes at little villagers then something is wrong with you,” Watson said.
Watson said the summery, instrumental bridge of the song may be his favorite musical bit the Dirty Heads have written. A bold statement having six previous full-length albums of instrumentals to choose from, but this is the first that Watson likes in its entirety.
“I can honestly say — and this might bum some fans out but its just the truth — every album that we’ve done at the time that we get done with it I’m happy with let’s say 75, 85 percent of it,” Watson said. “As the years go by, I’m happy with 50 percent of it. This album from when we finished it to now there’s not a song on there that I don’t like.”
“Super Moon” is available to stream on Spotify and Apple Music.