Surf City’s Dirty Heads Went to Nashville to Record Super Moon

Feelin’ groovy. Photo by Travis Shinn.

For more than a decade, Huntington Beach’s Dirty Heads have been international ambassadors of Southern California reggae. Their 2008 debut album, Any Port In a Storm, featured guest appearances from Rome Ramirez and Slash, and the band shot to success when the single “Lay Me Down” peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart. 

With five more full-length releases, collaborations with everyone from Blues Traveler to Del the Funky Homosapien, and more than their fair share of national tours under their belt, Dirty Heads remain one of the most industrious bands to come out of Orange County. 

Though they’ve honed their sound—a distinctive fusion of hip-hop, reggae and rock—over the years, their newest album, Super Moon, which will be released Aug. 9, might be their most groundbreaking, with much of its character coming from the way it was recorded. 

The band traveled to Nashville to record with producer Dave Cobb in the legendary RCA Studio A, where such icons as Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison and Dolly Parton once sang. Cobb, a genius in his own right, has worked with country artists such as Brandi Carlile, Sturgill Simpson and Shooter Jennings. “We knew Dave would push us and take us out of our comfort zone,” says co-vocalist Jared “Dirty J” Watson. “That’s where the best music happens, where Dirty Heads love to be. But we had to tell people, ‘We’re not making a fuckin’ country album!’”

The unlikely pairing resulted in sessions that allowed the band to expand their creativity. Lo-fi piano samples, 808 kick drums, acoustic guitars and layered vocal harmonies are woven throughout the album to create an atmosphere that is both new and familiar. Guitarist/co-vocalist Dustin “Duddy” Bushnell explains that this genre-bending sound came naturally during the sessions. “We really enjoyed this writing process,” he says. “It was a lot different, a lot more organic than writing and recording processes we’ve had in the past. We did a lot of [it] all recording in the same room, playing at the same time, with no click track, recording to tape—so it was very organic.”

Starting it off is the title track, an explosive funk jam that sounds as if it’s right out of a ’70s cop movie, complete with a blaring horn section and wah-wah guitars. This epic introduction may be far from what some original Dirty Heads fans might expect, but it has an irresistible groove and a catchy hook. 

As if the band read the minds of those listeners, the next track, “Lift Me Up,” sounds closer to their classic material. Chances are you’ll hear this laid-back stoner anthem at parties and bars throughout the rest of the summer. 

Other standout tracks from the album include “Horsefly,” which showcases the group’s ability to pair hip-hop and pop-rock influences, and the acoustic feel-good reggae tune “Crow Bar Hotel,” which includes a whistled melody, percussive textures and multipart vocal harmonies, as though it were an homage to their musical roots. 

Much of their inspiration came from listening to some of the band’s favorite artists during the recording sessions. “We definitely tried to go a little more old-school with it, a little ’70s,” Bushnell says. “We were actually listening to some Bill Withers in the studio, trying to grab some inspiration from his drum sound—[and] stuff like that.”

The album reaches a climax with its sixth track, “Cloudlifter.” Bluesy guitar riffs and rapped verses are juxtaposed to create a vibe that complements Super Moon’s overall tone. The song could easily find a place in the hearts of both Black Keys and Lyrics Born fans. 

While Super Moon showcases the Dirty Heads’ versatility, it must be noted that Cobb did an incredible job achieving a sense of uniformity. The entire album has a warm, almost cinematic tone to it. 

Also unlike previous releases, this album doesn’t include any featured artists. “This one just didn’t feel like it called for it,” Bushnell says.

Dirty Heads are currently on a national co-headlining tour with 311 to promote their new album. But they’ll return home to perform at the On the Water Festival in October. “That one’s gonna be a great one; it’s right there on the beach,” Bushnell says. “It’s gonna be beautiful, so we’re definitely looking forward to that show.”

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