“I’ve always worked on my own music outside of the Roots,” “Captain” Kirk Douglas tells Rolling Stone. The guitarist has been a member of the influential hip-hop group since 2003. But on May 24th, he’ll release his first solo album, Turbulent Times, under the moniker Hundred Watt Heart. “Releasing it now comes from just wanting to finish what I started and frankly overcoming my fears of what people are going to think about it. Occasionally people have asked if I would ever do my own record,” the 46-year old says. “So, I guess this is for them if they are curious. Also, life is short and I’m not getting any younger. I don’t want to be 60 years old wondering what it would have been like if I had gotten over myself and released my own material.”
Douglas recorded Turbulent Times at the famed Electric Lady Studios, backed by fellow instrumentalists Mark Kelley (bassist for the Roots) and Ricc Sheridan (drummer for Earl Greyhound); the three of them have previously performed together as the Dust Rays. “The space is infinitely inspiring as so many classic recordings that I grew up on have been made there,” he says. “Plus, the walls, the decor, the lighting, even the smell of the place gives it a certain magic.”
He culled the eight-track set over the last few years, pulling inspiration from personal experiences, looking back as well as reflecting on current times, and emotively expressing them through melodies that range from contemplative, blues-tipped and soulful to raw and raucous. There’s the affecting title track, which builds to mirror the emotion behind the song’s themes that discuss this tumultuous era, and the meditative-turned-soaring “Come Alive” about the 2016 presidential election. Family life is explored on “Uma,” its driving guitar contrasted by a tender, fairytale-like storytelling approach about the birth of his daughter.
His present is addressed on the churning “I Used to Be in the Circus,” premiering at Rolling Stone. The song captures the urgent, fast-paced life – both the highs and the lows – of being an entertainer. “I’m playing my role/An immature soul trapped inside this aging of a body,” he sings over roaring, Zeppelinesque riffs. “I push the limits and I’mma give it/Everything I got before I’m outta time.”
“‘I Used to Be in the Circus’ is from the chapter of my life that is right now. It’s really my whole experience being in the Roots and being involved with the Tonight Show. But from the perspective of me in the future looking back at the present moment,” he says. “I know one day I will probably be talking about these days the way my older people talk about their ‘back in the day.’ Even though I’ve grown used to the things the Roots do as a band, it’s still a pretty exciting experience to live through. I wanted to attach that sentiment to music that I felt reflected that same excitement.”
Part of being in the kind of circus that involves performing on television led to a fateful night in 2013, which informs his song “Little Friend.” Prince was a guest on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon and borrowed Douglas’ beloved 1961 Epiphone Crestwood. As a fan, Douglas was happy to loan it to Prince, but at the end of his performance of “Bambi,” Prince tossed it in the air and then it landed and broke apart. Afterward, Prince apologized to a crestfallen Douglas and promised to get it repaired. He made good on his word.
“‘Little Friend’ was actually composed on the guitar I purchased with the money left over from the repair of the guitar he actually broke. I recorded the song with the Crestwood,” Douglas says. “The lyric comes from the emotion of the moment of that time where I was upset, but in retrospect it’s one of the coolest things that has ever happened to me. He’s probably looking down, saying, ‘I made your old ass guitar way more interesting, paid you for your troubles and gave you something cool to write about … you’re welcome.”
Prince also factored into another song on the album. “‘Flesh and Bone’ was from both Prince and [David] Bowie’s passing which happened around the same time,” Douglas adds. “Their mortality made me think about the immortality of what they left behind. And that made me reflect upon the mortality and immortality of regular people like you and me.”
While the album’s themes range from birth to death, it ends on a hopeful note with “Our Year,” which serves as a seeming commentary on the journey to his first solo LP and bringing it full circle. “‘Our Year’ comes from wanting to do something/anything year after year and never making it happen,” he says. “Finally, you get it together. For better or for worse!”