During their recent visit to Seattle, WA for a quick stop on tour, The Pier caught up with Matt Ochoa, drummer of the Dirty Heads, for a back-stage interview. The Dirty Heads are currently on tour alongside Sublime with Rome, Tribal Seeds, and Bleeker, making their way through California after a short leg in the Great Pacific Northwest.
Besides preparing for the big show that night, the guys also spent the day touring around Seattle with a visit to Amazon headquarters to perform new track “So Long,” that an exclusive Amazon release. After catching his breath and a bite to eat in the Seahawks locker room, Matt Ochoa took the time to share with The Pier some background into the recording process of the new record, in addition to some tour rituals that have developed through the years.
Interview: Matt Ochoa, Drummer, Dirty Heads
How was the process different making the new album compared to previous albums?
So for this record we decided to stay closer to home. The last record, Sound of Change, we went to El Paso at Sonic Ranch. So we did Sonic Ranch for Sound of Change and Cabin by the Sea but this time we wanted to stay closer to home. It’s nice to be able to write closer to home so Duddy can go see his kids and his family, or Jared wants to have dinner with his wife, and we can all go home after working in LA. So we just wrote in LA for pretty much all of it and that was the main difference, location.
Was it a sped up process for this album?
I feel like we got this done fairly quick. Jared and Dustin basically just kept on writing after Sound of Change, just kept writing demos. And then we just wanted to work with as many different people as possible. The last album we worked with only a few producers but this album we though “let’s just write with whoever we can, as many songs as we can.” So I’m pretty sure they did like 20 different writing sessions for this album with different people. So from there we narrowed it down to like 8 of our favorites. So just about every song on the album was done by a different producer; there’s 11 songs and I think there’s 8 producers.
So do you guys have some leftover new songs that didn’t make the album?
Yeah, we have some leftover songs. There are some completely unfinished songs and then some bonus songs and stuff like that in our back pocket. So yeah, there’s a bunch of songs that we worked on but we cut it down to favorite 11 for the album.
What’s your part in the music-making process? Are there any songs that started with the drums instead of the lyrics?
For previous albums there has. For example Smoke Rings, that started around the drum beat. Since the approach to this record was Jared and Duddy going in and writing and getting there ideas down first, it basically started from there. They would get with the producers first and then bring that to the rest of the band: John, myself, and Dave. And then we take it and see how we can try to make it more Dirty Heads and “you guys put your input.” When we went to Perfect Sound in LA and spent a few weeks there with most of that time spent laying down drums and percussion and bass. Basically working on the ideas that Jared and Dustin already put down with the producers, and then having those producers come in with us and kind of finish what they started.
How do you feel the drums impact the new album?
I feel like for this album the drums are just kind of supportive. They’re not too flashy, you know? I feel like on the album I’m just supporting the songs. I talk to a lot of drummers and a lot of people say that’s hard to play just enough for the song. There’s a lot of players that will overplay or like to show what they can do but it’s funny because I’ll tell other people that I know a good drummer by how less they play, just supporting the songs and playing what’s most impactful. So for this record I definitely try to take a minimalistic approach and just try to support the song.
Are there any songs that had a major change in the style or overall feel of the song after you came in to lay down the drums?
There was one song in particular called Feeling Good. That was with David Kahn who worked on the original Sublime stuff; he came in to work on that song with us and it was the first time that a producer really didn’t give me any direction. His direction was actually don’t do what you would normally do and go way outside the box. I was playing just random things, things that I wasn’t even comfortable playing. But he said “Just trust me, go with it.” And I think it turned out great, he made step outside of the box from the things that I would normally do. Because I already had in my head what I was going to do from the first time I heard it and thought it was going to be cake, just go in and lay down these few parts and we’ll be down in like 10 minutes. But he kept me in there and worked with me, and was like “No, don’t do that, go way outside the box, different fills and different stuff.” Ultimately, I think it’s pretty cool what we came up with because that’s a totally different song now. That was a unique experience for me as a drummer.
Have you played that song live yet?
No, we have not played that song live yet. We kind of took a few of our favorites and started playing those first and then just added to it. We didn’t want to be that band where you come to a live show and all they play is the new record and they don’t play any old stuff. But for this tour we only have an hour so we’re trying to find the balance between the new songs and SoC and Cabin and everything else. We want to cram it all in there for both new fans and old fans. But I think we’re playing 5 songs off this record which I think is a lot for the short hour set. I’m sure we’ll get to Feeling Good, we just keep adding songs and it’ll get there.
What are your favorite songs from the new album to listen to? And is there a different favorite to play live?
Definitely but that’s kind of tough. I love the whole sound and feel of That’s All I Need but I love to listen to Under the Water. I love playing Oxygen, it’s just fun because the pocket is so sick with the bass and the drums. I like Red Lights too, it’s very drums and percussion driven. Truth we’ve played a few times on this tour, at least once or twice, I like playing that one too. But it’s hard, I’m biased.
How long have you guys been playing the new songs live? Did you start playing any tracks early to get a feel from the fans?
We started playing Oxygen before this tour. We were just so excited to play the new songs but the new album hadn’t come out yet. We liked Oxygen so much, it was a band favorite, so we started playing that one live. Since then we’ve had actual rehearsal for this tour and that’s when we really started grinding down into the new songs…trying to get the set figured out for the summer.
Do you have to figure out anything different to play the new songs live?
Yeah, definitely for Shawn Hagood our keyboard player; we have to figure out what he’s going to play. You know, we recorded the parts but we haven’t played them since so we had to get together as a band and figure them all out to get them tight.
Are there any surprise new tracks getting more or less love than you expected?
I’m still curious; I’m still looking around to see what people are feeling. Actually, Feeling Good is one that I’m surprised, and Under the Water. I didn’t expect them to be as much as a fan favorite as they are. I’m still looking around but it’s only been a few weeks since we released the new album. We’re going to keep doing what we do playing the songs that we like and hopefully the fans continue to like our stuff.
Being on the road, how do you prepare for such a physically demanding performance every night after being stuck on the bus all day?
Well, it definitely helps to eat healthy and not party as much. I definitely feel that us as a band are over the parties…we used to be kind of wild back in the day but it’s hard as you get older and you want to be good at your job; you don’t want to suck, you don’t want to sound shit. You want your vocals to be on point and I don’t want to be dying after the set. So just try to eat healthier, and it is tough but try to drink or party as much. But I think that also keeping a positive attitude helps a lot. You don’t want to have a negative attitude all the time or it’ll make you feel like shit. Just staying positive and trying to keep everyone around you positive.
Do you have any pre-show trick or rituals that you normally do?
This show I’ve actually been warming up; I never used to do that before. Just on a practice pad to get the blood flowing. I started doing that ½ hour before we play and it feels way better. And I know I said “Oh, we don’t drink as much” but we still do this pre-shot ritual, which Jared doesn’t partake in because he’s sober. So we take a shot and Shawn, our keyboard player, does like a speech, or a lore if you will, in a cool voice. He does this lore every single day and we kind of have to do it now because if he doesn’t do it then we feel off and the show usually doesn’t go right.
Do you guys get to help with or hear the pre-show lore ahead of time?
Oh no! He writes it during sound check or something and then a few minutes before we go on he says the cheers or toast or whatever you want to call it. That’s it, we’re ready to start the show! It gets everyone pumped and excited. And the fans that have been coming out are really pumped and awesome; they’re stoked for the new record and we’ve been doing in-store acoustic things where they keep coming out to those.
Yeah, I saw you guys made it over to Amazon for an acoustic song…
Yeah, we did a little acoustic track, So Long, the bonus track from Amazon. Everyone has been super supportive and I know everyone always says it but we definitely have the best fans in the world. We see all the online stuff and what they do and it’s just crazy. We see them at shows and all the tattoos and the art that they bring us and the meet and greets…we are all just very lucky to have the fans that we do.
For sure, must be crazy to have all those fans getting you pumped up before each show.
It’s great, that’s why we do this. You know, if you’re having a bad day then you just peek around that curtain and see everybody, it’s a crazy feeling.
I’m stoked! After seeing us play at El Corazon where a few people show up, 100 people maybe. And now we’re playing these huge shows and all the bands we’ve played with…it’s just crazy and all the guys are super excited.
Watch: Dirty Heads – “That’s All I Need” (LIVE at WaMu Theater in Seattle)
Watch: Dirty Heads – “Moontower” (LIVE at WaMu Theater in Seattle)
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Interview, Videos, and Main Photo By: Eric Schoep
Live Photos By: David Norris