After two decades spent chiseling their unique, multi-genre infused sound, Dirty Heads have finally come into their own. Since the release of their 2008 debut Any Port in a Storm, the five-piece band -- Jared Watson (vocals), Dustin "Duddy B" Bushnell (vocals/guitar), Jon Olazabal (percussion), Matt Ochoa (drums) and David Foral (bass) -- has consistently experimented with their sunny style, leaning heavily on reggae fused with hip-hop cornerstones and scaling back for more acoustic fare, darting between extremes. But it's with their fifth and self-titled album that the group has felt fully confident in a body of work, ready to bring their unique style to the masses.
"It's the most core Dirty Heads album we've done," explains Watson, who formed the collective with Bushnell in 1996. "One of the most important things about this album is the reason we self-titled it. This album has all of the elements that we've tried to play around with. We had to go through those other albums to really find out exactly who we are, where it was natural. Now, I just think our sound is better and more confident."
Recorded in Los Angeles over a period of four months, Dirty Heads marks a stylistic heel-turn for the Huntington Beach, Calif. natives, who enlisted a diverse team of hit-makers including: Da Internz (Rihanna, Nicki Minaj), Drew Pearson (Katy Perry, Zac Brown Band), David Kahne (Lana Del Rey, The Strokes), Jimmy Harry (Madonna, Diplo), Jonas Jeberg (Demi Lovato, Fifth Harmony), and a handful of others. The record spans lively tracks like reggae-bounced "Oxygen" to the instantly catchy sing-along "Too Cruel" and horn-blasted lead single "That's All I Need," the latter of which captures the nostalgia of carefree adolescence.
Produced by Justin Gray (Mariah Carey, Joss Stone), 'That's All I Need' "just has a good feel to it, kind of hanging out with your friends in the neighborhood on a Sunday in the summer back when you were growing up," says Duddy. "Everyone's got that good memory, so that's where we started aiming for. Let's make this feel-good summer song that people can put on in the backyard with their friends and family."
Dirty Heads comes in the wake of their most successful release to date, 2014's Sound of Change, which debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's Top Alternative Albums chart. This album is marked differently than its predecessors -- 2008's Any Port in a Storm, 2012's Cabin by the Sea and 2013's acoustic offering Home -- Phantoms of Summer, the former of which spawned the smash single "Lay Me Down" featuring Rome of Sublime with Rome that topped the Alternative Songs chart for 11 weeks.
The band's prior releases set the groundwork for their latest, proving a clear indication of their artistic growth, and an ambitious one at that. For the LP, they decided to toy with sequencing, splitting the album into two parts -- Day and Night -- guiding listeners through their day from start to finish. Duddy explains that it was done in response to the listening public's reliance on playlists, and artistically executed by color-coding each 'Day' song (red, orange, yellow) and 'Night' song (purple, green, black) to reflect the vibes of feeling positive, exuberant versus chilled out and low key.
"Nowadays, it's so easy to just listen to one song," he says. "Have a song on your iTunes playlist, you probably don't even know who the artist is because it doesn't matter, you just like that track. So we were trying to provide the order we think you should listen to these in and get people in front of what we think." Watson adds, "When you do that and you're doing it in our original way, I feel like it makes it timeless."
With a solid fan-base already in place, Dirty Heads are focusing their sights on something they've been edging towards for years: breaking the mainstream. "We want our fans to love it, because we love what we do and we want to keep doing it," says Watson. "But this album for me, I cannot poke a hole in any of it. From front to back, it's really so phenomenal. I'm so confident in it that I want it to take Dirty Heads from the band that we are in America, worldwide."
"I want to speak for people who don't have microphones," Jacob Hemphill says. "Our goal as a band is to stick up for the human race. We see the world and we try to make it better in the limited time we have here."
This is the philosophy behind SOJA's music, a simple statement that has driven the D.C. area band, who blend reggae, go-go, D.C. hardcore, Latin, rock and hip-hop. Originally formed by a group of friends while still in middle school and has built a massive, dedicated fanbase around the world since. In the years following, SOJA has sold more than 200,000 albums, headlined shows in over 20 countries around the world, generated over three million Facebook fans, and 65 million YouTube views. The band has toured with Dave Matthews Band, Incubus, 311 and appeared at major festivals including Bonnaroo where they attract an almost Grateful Dead-like international fan base along the way, with caravans of diehards following them from city to city. After the release of their 2012 album "Strength To Survive," the musicians started writing material for what would become their fifth full-length album, "Amid the Noise and Haste."
For Hemphill, who pens the lyrics, chords and melody, each song starts with an experience: meeting someone, reading something, experiencing something that seems pertinent to the human condition. On this album, the songwriter is suggesting that "all of life's problems, and all of life's answers are within us. We've been conditioned to accumulate, compete and break others down around ourselves -- not inherent to the human condition, but rather taught. Those things can be untaught. The real us is in there, somewhere." All of this is translated into short, sweet packages of music.
The writing and recording process for "Amid the Noise and Haste" stretched out over a year and a half, mostly because the musicians kept finding new collaborators and new ideas along the way. The aim was to engage as many guest artists as possible, with each working on a song that had a legitimate connection to them. The album was produced by Supa Dups (Bruno Mars, Eminem, Rihanna, John Legend) and recorded at Circle House Studios in Miami and Lion & Fox Studios in Washington D.C. throughout 2013. Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley appears on "Your Song," a buoyant, hopeful number that asks fans to remind the band why they got into music by singing along, while "I Believe" brings Michael Franti and Nahko together to offer thoughts on how to control your own destiny. Collie Buddz, J Boog and Anuhea are also featured on various tracks. "We wanted to bring together people who would help demonstrate each song," Jacob says. "We wanted people who could either relate to or convey the message. The whole album is about the human race relating to itself and connecting with itself."
For SOJA, whose live show is an explosion of energy and positivity, music is a means of helping people relate in a more affirmative way. It also asks people to look inside themselves and really ask what it is they want to do with their life and how they can be happy. SOJA's music is about finding that happiness and peace we all deserve and helping others do the same, something "Amid the Noise and Haste" aptly conveys in its songs.
"I put words in my songs that I believe to be true," Jacob says. "The point of the album is reconnecting people to the power inside themselves, getting them to fall back in love with life again. Look around, take a deep breath. All the answers are there."