In covering Monterey’s Cali Roots for so many years, Grateful Web has had the opportunity to meet many artists whose names have shined brightly on the lineup, but in this time, the SoCal powerhouse Dirty Heads have found a way to weave themselves into the very fabric of the modern reggae movement itself. Grateful Web had a chance to sit down with one of the original headliners of the first ever Cali Roots back in 2010, Jared Watson of Dirty Heads, at this year’s festival to discuss how he’s seen California Roots and the genre itself have evolved through the years, his feelings on the current scene, and the fortified sense of community he has felt from his peers throughout the decades.
Grateful Web: In so many the Cali Roots Reggae festival has adopted Hip Hop as its second genre, and your project embodies bridging the gap between those two styles. Why do you think Hip Hop plays so well to Reggae fans?
Jared Watson: I mean, really, at the root of it, it all kind of comes from the same culture, you know? I think a lot of Hip Hop was probably influenced by Reggae and a lot of Hip Hop artists as well, so I think it’s kind of all about it coming full circle. Even Punk was influenced a lot by Reggae, so I think a lot more genres that have become these really massive – Hip Hop is Pop now, and a lot of it stems from Blues and Reggae and that culture, so it just makes sense. I think a lot of it also comes from just being a kid in the 2000s. Skating, smoking weed, the Cali Roots kind of culture. If you listen to Reggae, you most likely listen to Hip Hop and I just feel like most people here grew up listening to Wu-Tang Clan so it just makes sense. And also, I like that Cali Roots is doing that because the Reggae Rock scene is pretty new, maybe 20 years, but for a genre that’s not very old and you can only play and you can only put the same festival on so many times without new bands coming up, and if there aren’t new bands coming up in the scene, which there are, but there’s not like a thousand of them, it’s nice to have other acts coming in from other genres. Jam bands make sense, Hip Hop makes sense, you can’t just keep playing the same bands because it’s a small scene and a small world.
GW: Over the pandemic, you found a lot of success performing full-length albums over livestream. Any plans to recreate that in a live show?
JW: Fuck no, man! That was a lot of work. It was super cool, we were stoked that we could bring enjoyment and entertainment to people stuck at home, but learning pretty much every song on every album acoustically was a lot of work, which was cool and I’m not complaining, but for us to overhaul and do that again, we’d rather do it live. What would make more sense would be us doing an acoustic tour. We could some of the new songs, we could do some of the old ones, I can see us doing an acoustic tour, and we’ve also been talking about running a brand new acoustic album. Not doing acoustic versions of our old songs, but actually going in and writing original acoustic music. Something like that should be on the horizon for sure.
GW: You put out a cover of The Eagles’ “Life’s Been Good” last year. Would you mind telling me a little bit about where that inspiration came from and why that song spoke to you?
JW: It was Duddy’s idea, actually. We’ve always done covers. We used to do covers because we weren’t a very big band, and if you’re getting in front of a new crowd and they don’t know your music, if you do a cover, they’ll at least have something familiar, but we never really covered songs, we always just tweaked them. Going back to our Hip Hop influence, we would look at the songs more like “How can we sample the parts that we like and then build our song around it?” And we hadn’t really done that in a long time and we were looking into wanting to do that, then Duddy came up with that Joel Walsh idea and we wrote it in like a day. It just kind of took off and was a pretty big song for us.
GW: I’ve always thought “Come Back Around” was a little underrated, would you mind telling me a little bit about the inspiration for that song?
JW: I fucking agree, man! I don’t know, that wasn’t something we talked about. The hook was one of those scratch melodies that stuck, but the production, structure, and sonics of that song were so unique and original to me and I wasn’t surprised that it went under the radar, but because sometimes things are just too left, but I agree it was a really, really good song and it was something that I’d just never heard before. That whole album, I feel, is our Paul’s Boutique. It’s a musician’s album. All my musician friends, Super Moon is their favorite album, the rest of the world, it’s probably our lowest-streamed album, but I feel that in 10 years, 20 years, that’s going to be one where people go “Holy shit.”
GW: It’s been a few years since you’ve played “Sound of Change” live. Is it officially retired?
JW: No, it’s definitely not officially retired, it’s just such a scene change that when you’re building a set, recently with the direction of music that we’ve been going for, it doesn’t fit in the set and flows off. We can’t build a set cohesively and then throw it off in the middle just because there is one song we haven’t played in a while that’s kind of popular. It will come back when we have a set that fits it, which will probably be next year or maybe the year after that because we have been playing it in rehearsal and we do bring it out. We actually might bring it out this year because we have a couple of shows in Colorado that are back-to-back and we can’t play the same stuff. We’re just taking a break, but it will come back.
GW: You’ve been a part of this festival for so long. How have you seen it change and how has it changed you?
JW: I mean, I say it every year when I’m up there, but we played the first Cali Roots on that tiny little stage. So, it’s just been really cool to grow along with the scene. I think we didn’t know what we were a part of when we played the first Cali Roots and now we can look out and be like “Holy shit, look what everybody’s built” and that’s a great feeling to be a part of it without being conscious of it. We weren’t thinking it was going to happen, we just wanted to play music.
GW: At Cali Roots, there’s almost no attachment to status from the artists. We see bands like yours, Stick Figure, Iration, and so on headline one year, then play a mid-day show the next. What do you think goes into this culture staying so humble?
JW: I think the majority of it is, it’s a small scene. I know Scott (Woodruff), Scott knows us, a lot of the headliners, we all know each other and it’s not really a competition to us anymore at this point, so whatever makes sense. We’re all fans of music and I think that even the culture of this scene isn’t that egotistical. It is about being humble, putting on a good time, and letting people have fun without really worrying about much, so I don’t think anybody would want to do the same thing every year because we know that’s not good for the scene. Like if someone said “Cali Roots from 2023 until 2033 was going to be Dirty Heads, Reb(elution), and Stick Figure” We’d all be like “You can’t do that!” You know, you want to change it up because fans are eventually going to get bored with that lineup. So if we’re playing before somebody, we just think of it as “Yeah, we headlined last year, why would we headline this year?” We’d rather be there and play, and there are some years where we don’t think we should play because we played last year or the two previous years in a row. You want to be mindful of that stuff and not just play the same shit.
GW: Your Island Glow tour kicks off next month. What are you doing to prepare and what are you most excited about?
JW: We’re done preparing, we’re ready. Today’s it, we’re good to go. We have everything. All the production, all the staging, all our rehearsals, all the vocal lessons, building the set. I’m just excited for people to see the production, the stage, and the world that we built with this Island Glow idea and I’m excited to play the new stuff. I just think that this is going to be the best set and the best show that we’ve put on.
GW: What new Dirty Heads music should we be on the lookout for?
JW: The Deluxe Midnight Control is coming out in July and that has Night One, Night Two, and then it also has three low-fi remixes and three acoustic remixes, so it’s like 20-something songs. It’s everything mashed together and it’s a really rad deluxe.
GW: What’s a question you’ve never gotten in an interview?
JW: That question.