Dirty Heads Back Up Their Lyrics By Helping Oxfam

By Aaron Brophy 7/27/15 | www.samaritanmag.com

Jared “Dirty J” Watson, Matt Ochoa and an Oxfam volunteer named Elizabeth in Boston at Blue Hills Bank Pavilion — photo credit: Bob Ferguson.
When the members of Huntington Beach, California reggae rock band Dirty Heads were recording their fourth album, 2014's Sound of Change, last year, they had an epiphany.

In the album's same-named lead-off song, "Sound of Change," the lyrics suggest listeners pursue "making a change, making it better." Dirty Heads vocalist Jared "Dirty J" Watson says the act of writing those words came with a responsibility. Now that they said it, the Dirty Heads had to back up what they were saying.

"I know exactly the moment and the room that we were in," Watson tells Samaritanmag about the moment of clarity. "We were in El Paso; we were recording the album; the first song that we finished was the song 'Sound of Change.' And we were talking about, 'Okay, we're gonna name the album Sound of Change. We're gonna have a song called 'Sound of Change.' And then we're just gonna put it out? Who are we to be so pompous going this is the sound of change and please be inspired by these lyrics?' Without us actually doing something about it.

"We're sitting around saying we should actually walk the walk and talk the talk. We were in the big room at Sonic Ranch, the recording studio. And the whole band was like, 'Yeah, if we're gonna come out this heavy, with this type of name, with these lyrics, with this type of inspirational message, we have to really get behind it and be real about what we're doing.' Because we just wanted it to be real."

The Dirty Heads' latest gesture on their campaign to pursue the real is a new partnership with the humanitarian organization Oxfam.  The organization had Oxfam awareness tables at their shows in July and will be in Salt Lake City, UT (8/2); Costa Mesa, CA (8/9); Albuguerque, NM (8/18); New Braunfels, TX (8/22); and Des Moines, IA (8/27).

The band, which includes Dustin Bushnell (vocals/guitar), Jon Olazabal (percussion), Matt Ochoa (drums) and David Foral (bass), along with Watson, first lent their name to an Oxfam-related food drive in late May.

According to the band’s record label, Five Seven Music, “On World Hunger Day (May 28), the band brought awareness to hunger problems both locally (in Vegas) and nationally via Oxfam. The band asked fans to bring one non-perishable food item to the show in exchange for Dirty Heads/Oxfam items. Almost three 55-gallon barrels full of food items were raised.”

Dirty Heads also filmed a yet-to-be-released interview and acoustic performance the same day at the Oxfam offices in Boston for something called the Oxfam Sessions.

Dirty Heads perform a live acoustic session at Oxfam's Boston headquarters — photo courtesy of Five Seven Music.
The band then followed that up with a series of VIP tour meet-and-greets where they donated the proceeds to Oxfam. The 200 bids raised $6,215.39 (U.S.), according to Five Seven Music, and each meet and greet/VIP Package had an opening bid of $125.

Founded in 1942, Oxfam has 17 international branches that operate in over 90 countries around the world. Their wide-ranging reach and diverse programs have a very simple end goal. "Oxfam saves lives, develops long-term solutions to poverty, and campaigns for social change," according to the Oxfam America website.

For Watson, part of his motivation has come from the realization the Dirty Heads' music can help people. He says there was one particular message that opened his eyes.

"From the beginning of our career we feel we were what you call a 'feel good band,'" says Watson. "We've always wanted to inspire people with our music. We've always wanted to help people with our music. And then years and years go by and 10 years go by and you get X amount of emails and X amount of Facebook messages and you get kids going, 'Yo, I was going through a really hard time and this song helped me out.'

"There was one specific time, I got a Facebook message from a fan and they're like, 'I'm thinking about committing suicide.' It fucked me up. And it was, 'I'm not happy... yada, yada... and I listened to your music and it changed the way I thought about life, it changed me.' That is so heavy because I'm just writing personal notes, a diary, and I'm just trying to make music with my friends and all of a sudden helping with that personal problem, it made me really think that I can affect the world that I live in. So why not try to do it on a bigger scale?

"And Oxfam has so many different avenues. It's not about one thing, which is what I love about Oxfam. You can find something that you're passionate about and go and actually move on it. I can't do it personally without a company like Oxfam. So something like that got me thinking about the fact we can really make a difference."


Bob Ferguson, the creative alliances & music outreach project manager for Oxfam America and point-person between the organization and musical acts, told Samaritanmag about what they do and how they help.

"We work to find lasting solutions to poverty, hunger and injustice," says Ferguson. "That means we work and campaign on behalf of some of the world’s poorest people and try to find ways to help them live better lives.

"We’re very well known for our relief and recovery work after crises. For example, the recent earthquake in Nepal was a situation where Oxfam was able to go into action very quickly. We’ve been in Nepal since the '70s. Nepal is traditionally one of the world’s most impoverished countries so we’ve been there a long time. And when the earthquake happened we already had our own infrastructure in place. We had offices; we had employees; so we were able to go in and do some of the things that we were best known for like helping with water and sanitation conditions and temporary housing. And we’re still there."

That connection to Nepal was a key reason why Watson was interested in working with Oxfam.

"One thing that really struck a chord with me was the Nepal thing," Watson says. "For some reason, I had been watching a lot of news documentaries about Mount Everest. And people climbing Mount Everest and going, 'Oh, I want to go hiking and I want to start climbing mountains...' and all this stuff. And then there was all this stuff in Nepal and that was something that I'm passionate about where I want people to be able to go donate."

While Watson appreciates it when Dirty Heads supporters give money to charitable causes, he thinks there's another high value attribute to working with someone like Oxfam.

"Awareness," says Watson, explaining how just the simple act of learning and knowing more about the problems so many people face can be yield its own rewards. "I think realizing how small the world is, that planet Earth is so tiny that you realize that bubble of your town and your high school and your job and... like fuck, really, stop freaking about the things you're freaking out about and realize how small the Earth is and you can really affect it because you can go somewhere tomorrow and be on the other side of the planet in 24 hours to actually do something.

"Maybe it'll just make them look at their neighbour or somebody they work with. Maybe they'll get upset in such a way that they'll look at their small world and try helping the people around you. Maybe you're just going to help somebody in your own town or in your neighbourhood or in your school. Or your friend. Or whatever. Maybe it's one certain thing that happens that you helped somebody out that one time in the whole history of time. That you helped one person. That's it. If that's is, that's fucking amazing. You helped somebody. You brightened their day. You could have saved their lives. That shit is really heavy."

Ferguson further explained some of the ways people like the Dirty Heads' music-centric supporters can help Oxfam.

"There are all kinds of ways folks can join up with us and be helpful," says Ferguson. "Anything from a simple donation — we’re really great at how we spend our money —that’s another reason why music fans appreciate us. We’re, I don’t want to say we’re 'frugal,' but we’re strategic about how we spend our money and our donations.

"In terms of volunteering, there are all kinds of ways a supporter can get involved with us ranging from volunteering with local outreach groups in their city, volunteering with the concert outreach team at tour stops around the country. If they’re a music artist we have something called the Oxfam Jam, which is set up to allow musicians to throw a concert for us to raise some money and awareness for us at the same time.

"It can be done in a school in a basement in a bar. In the U.K. they’ve done them in places as big as Wembley for Oxfam Great Britain so it’s sort of a one size fit all program for musicians to be able to support our work and get out and play at the same time, which is a lot of fun for everybody."

Another music-related fun thing for everybody? Oxfam's 2015 Summer Jams mixtape. This year's edition of the annual free downloadable compilation prominently features the Dirty Heads "Sound Of Change," along with contributions from Neko Case, Father John Misty, Operators, Xavier Rudd and 19 others.

It's yet another example of how, like when Spider Man has that "with great power comes great responsibility" talk with his Uncle Ben, the Dirty Heads have chosen to use their powers to affect positive change.

"You start realize that your music and what I'm personally saying has a lot of effect on people," says Watson. "That has a lot of weight to it. That heaviness, like wow, I really helped this person. So maybe we should be talking about it, maybe we shouldn't just write about it. Maybe we should reach out and actually do something. With Oxfam now I think we're on a platform where people can listen to us. So if we say, 'Hey, go check out Oxfam or go donate,' people are going to listen to it now.

"I don't care if we get zero press as long as the Dirty Heads fans see our posts and go to Oxfam and can do something about it. We're not trying to get ahead in life and become a bigger band from this. But people are listening to what we're saying, so maybe we should do something about it.

"And why not go to bed at night knowing that what you're doing, what you're passionate about and what you're creative about is a good thing and not some money-making scheme? It's little things like that and I feel sometimes it's not about making money, it's about helping out and being happy. That's all it is really about."


* Samaritanmag.com is an online magazine covering the good deeds of individuals, charities and businesses.