When referencing recent alt-rock and reggae artists who made notable national imprints in their subgenres, bands such as Slightly Stoopid, No Doubt and Sublime all come to the top of the list. Although these Southern California groups are still active in one way or another, they are being outshone by Huntington Beach's Dirty Heads.
The five-piece's strategic plan to expand beyond the venues of the Golden Coast and win over the hearts of many U.S. inlanders with songs such as "Lay Me Down," "Check the Level," "My Sweet Summer" and "Dance All Night" led them to headline such infamous large venues as Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Mission, Colorado. But the 13-year-old outfit return to their home county Friday for a show at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre.
"We're so appreciative and honored to be playing it and headlining," says vocalist Jared "Dirty J" Watson. "Dustin ["Duddy B"] Bushnell and Jon [Olazabal] used to see bands there all the time and sneak in. I love how passionate Duddy gets when he talks about it, too: 'I can't believe we are playing Irvine Meadows. I've wanted to headline there since I was 15 years old.' It's so rad to hear them talk about it."
Dirty Heads are touring in support of their fifth, self-titled studio album, released July 15 via Five Seven Music. Its thematic day-to-night flow starts with the upbeat single "That's All I Need" and closes with the mellow "Realize It." Watson says the concept came together when he, vocalist/guitarist Bushnell, percussionist Olazabal, drummer Matt Ochoa and bassist David Floral were watching the sunset from outside Perfect Sound Studios in LA.
"With vinyl coming back and with the trend of building Spotify playlists, we knew we could build a playlist on our album," Watson says. "Sitting outside [of Perfect Sound] together is when we came up with the artwork, the gradient, the colors and the sunset/sunrise theme. It's very vintage-like and almost like a mixtape."
The band have touched on heavier topics in their earlier discography, but the sobering layer isn't immediately prevalent in the new track "Under the Water." Orange County is seeing all-time highs in overdose rates and substance abuse is still prevalent in many local high schools, and Watson reveals the lyrics focus on his battle with addictions to alcohol and prescription drugs. "Two years ago, I realized I was an alcoholic and an addict, and I worked on it," the vocalist says. "I was ashamed at first, which is the hardest part to get over. This song is about me going through withdrawals and thinking I was mentally ill. I was so depressed, and the chemistry in my brain was so fucked-up. If this song helps someone else in a similar situation, it's even better. I know I am on a platform and may be able to help people with it."
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Overcoming his addictions has reignited his drive and hunger for creating and touring, and he has found a new level of appreciation for Dirty Heads' fans. "It rejuvenated my love for the band, for working, for being out on the road and for being onstage," says Watson. "It's a lot different, and there's more color in my life. Everything used to be gray."
Primarily sober now, Watson says he makes exceptions for the occasional use of marijuana and mushrooms for both medicinal and recreational purposes. Since weed is typically engulfed in the reggae culture and is a muse on several Dirty Heads' songs including "Smoke and Dream," the band aren't "too political," according to Watson, but they are pro national legalization and support the need to rally a call-to-action come voting time.
"It's a medicine first and foremost, and it needs to be legal. It's insane that alcohol is legal and is constantly killing people by causing DUIs, heart disease, liver disease and sheer alcoholism," he says. "If something natural can help heal people [physically and mentally], rather than taking a pill with side effects, then awesome. When the topic comes up around voting time, we will definitely be flying our flag."
Dirty Heads perform with special guests Pepper, the Expendables and Tribal Seeds at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, 8808 Irvine Center Dr., Irvine, (949) 855-8095; www.livenation.com. Fri., 6 p.m. $15-$200. All ages.