Track By Track: Captain Kirk Douglas Explores The ‘New Unknown’ on Latest Album from Hundred Watt Heart

Track By Track: Captain Kirk Douglas Explores The ‘New Unknown’ on Latest Album from Hundred Watt Heart

“No matter where you lived on the planet, it seemed like we were all going through something together during the spring of 2020,” Captain Kirk Douglas says of the experiences that informed New Unknown, the second album he’s recorded under the moniker Hundred Watt Heart. “Though we all might have been experiencing it through a different lens, it was just such an unprecedented moment in time. So while processing it for myself, it felt like many sentiments could be universal.”

The longtime Roots guitarist cites the pandemic, the killing of George Floyd and the 2020 election as some of “the emotional fodder that I documented on the record.” Beyond all of this, New Unknown also draws on some additional personal upheaval.

“My wife is Danish,” he explains. “And when she heard that school in the fall of 2020 was going to be remote learning, she looked at Denmark, which was doing in-person classes. She said that she wanted to take the kids there for them to do their schooling. So I found myself without my family.”

With his wife and children in Europe through the spring of 2021, Douglas often found himself dividing his time between his home in Brooklyn, N.Y., and his mother’s place on Long Island, where he began working on the follow-up to 2019’s Turbulent Times.

“During that time, we were trying to make these decisions. The Tonight Show was doing remote taping, so I had to sharpen my home recording skills,” he recalls. “For many years, I had been a bit of a Luddite. But I had to really up my game. I found myself getting tech savvy, and I found myself really enjoying it. I enjoyed the process of recording drums and getting them to sound good. I discovered plugins and preamps and a world that I wasn’t really familiar with. At a time when many people took up artisanal bread-baking or developing their craft-beer skills, I developed my recording skills.”

He recorded the basic tracks with a longtime friend, drummer Ricc Sheridan (Earl Greyhound), then enlisted some of his Roots bandmates: keyboardist James Poyser, saxophonist Ian Hendrickson-Smith and trumpeter Dave Guy, as well as Peter Readman, who added strings to the opening track, “Breathe In.”

Turbulent Times was a very rock-forward album, but I wanted to ease into the rock aspect of things this time around,” he observes. “I wanted it to read like a musical, and I didn’t want to veer into overtly rock territory for too long. It’s me processing the world around me both internally and externally. So I arrived at a sequence where I enjoyed the world being revealed to me. Even though I was intimately involved in the birthing of this world, it’s how I felt good listening to the songs. It told a story to me. And I felt that if it did that for me, then it would probably do that for others.”

Breathe In

“Breathe In” was a conversation between me and someone very close to me. They were having a really hard time with the mandates, feeling like they were being forced to do things that they weren’t prepared to do in the wake of the pandemic. There was an overall sense of helplessness on their part and a feeling that they are living in a world that’s not sympathetic to them.

When we find ourselves in situations like that it’s helpful to get into a different mindset and say, “This too shall pass.” The lyric in the chorus is “Breathe in breathe out/ It all comes to an end/ Within without/ It all begins again.” All things must pass, and nothing is permanent.

But at that moment in time, even with the understanding that we would eventually see the other side of things, some people felt, “That’s all good and well but where I am right now is a horrible place.” That’s where the idea of meditation comes in. That’s where the idea of breathing through the discomfort comes in.

There’s also the idea of music itself being a healer and an escape from that which is so difficult to handle. There’s another lyric in the song that says, “Believe in how/When broken we can mend/Believe in sound/Vibration is your friend.” Music is vibration and playing an instrument is vibration. My wife plays gong. She does sound baths and that’s one way music can heal.

Land of Look Beyond

“Land of Look Beyond” is an ode to getting into other worldly states. I took a long break from cannabis, and I believe in the taking of a break from cannabis, but there’s something you get out of returning to it, too.

I first played it for my buddy Ricc Sheridan years ago. Then, when we sat together in August 2020, I played him that song on an acoustic and he imagined how the drums would go. A few weeks later, we went out to my mom’s, we barbecued and then we went down into the basement to record. That was the first time he ever played drums to that song and what you hear on that track from both of us is exactly how it went down. We recorded the beginning part and then I started playing the riff that comes in at the end and we picked up in tempo. I remember holding my breath when we were done, praying that I was actually recording because I didn’t want to mess something up. Otherwise, that moment would be lost forever.

I later played bass on it, along with some additional guitar. Then I sent it to James Poyser, who added some keyboards, before I finally added the vocals.

It’s about two longtime friends who haven’t been together and then go through the forest of creativity together. The lyrics themselves are kind of a poetic take on how it came together.

I like that the album is a journey and that some of the songs are journeys, too. I also like the idea of a song winding up in a different place from where it started, not unlike “Stairway to Heaven.”

Ain’t No High

During the making of the record, my family came to visit me while they were living in Denmark. That’s when my son made the relationship that he’s in official. At that time, he was 15 and it was young love, but it was young love over the Atlantic Ocean. It was a long-distance relationship, and it was really inspiring.

I was commenting on watching your kids grow up and seeing them discover the high of falling deeply in love with someone who really gets you.

This was during the fall, so it also talks about time going by. It comments on missing someone and the knowledge that the time you get to be together is limited because you live in such a faraway place.

Now that I think about it, I guess it’s also about how I was missing my family and the euphoria of getting together with someone that you don’t see very often. So it was inspired by my son but it also made me think about my relationship with my wife as well.


“Illuminate” was probably the first song recorded for the record. It started with the drum take. I was recording drums to see how they sounded, so I set up three microphones and told Ricc to just play so that I could get the levels right. He did that and I thought he was playing something that sounded really cool. It reminded me of a bassline. So he sort of planted a bassline in my mind and then I put chords to it.

Lyrically, this was at the very top of the pandemic, so it’s a direct commentary on where we were in April of 2020. This was shortly after we were told that we would need to be at home for two weeks and then we discovered, “Oh, I think this is going to be more than two weeks.” So the lyrics are speaking to that discovery.

We Can Be One

“We Can Be One” is one of the first songs I worked on with Ricc. It began with me singing the groove into a recorder and then—once we got the drum beat together—I recorded the bassline.

From there, I had a ball creating this rhythmic stew of guitar lines that made this web of funk. It made me think of Africa and it was hypnotic for me.

The song became a village. I liked the idea of every instrument doing something different and everybody doing their own thing yet fitting together like an African watch— not a Swiss watch, an African watch with precision and also with an organicness. I was thinking of it as a reflection of the world, where people with different beliefs who are coming from different backgrounds and ethnicities function in the world together and coexist with each other. It’s sort of a sonic utopian village.

I was able to get my hands on a lot of percussion instruments and it was so much fun to create a world like that. Then I was also able to enlist the talents of some of my bandmates who play horns. It’s one thing to imagine, “Oh, it would be cool if there were horns here,” and it’s another thing to hear those horns coming back to you out of speakers all loud and glorious. The whole process was really life-affirming.

It’s a state of the world type of song, but at the end it arrives at the notion that “Kindness lessens the blindness/ It can remind us how to combine us/ So we can be one.” That’s sort of my hope for this world. Depending on the lens you’re looking through, you can be really pessimistic and say, “Oh, that’ll never happen,” or you can say, “Well, in some ways it happens all the time.”

I live in Brooklyn and one of the things that I love about Brooklyn is its diversity. I recorded some of the tracks in Brooklyn and I recorded some of the tracks in Long Island. My reality during that time was that I was either staying at my Brooklyn home by myself while my family was in Denmark or I was going out to my mom’s in Long Island. In Brooklyn, there were a lot of Black Lives Matter signs, then I’d go out to Long Island, and I’d see a lot of Blue Lives Matter signs. So it was in my face—the difference between the two places—and this was my way of commenting on that.

In Brooklyn, you’re surrounded by so many different cultures. So it seems pretty natural that people are questioning the behavior of the authorities. Then I go out to Long Island and I’m in a place where a lot of police officers and their relatives live. So it’s a different climate and we’re products of our environments and the people we grow with. That informs a lot of our understanding of the world and a lot of the flags that we like to fly.

Over the Ocean

“Over the Ocean” is one of the commentaries on the record about social media. It’s a double-edged sword. It’s the blessing and it’s the curse— “We love to hate/ When we’re behind closed doors/ If that’s innate/ Maybe that’s what love’s for.” When you’re behind a computer and nobody knows who you are, you can speak all kinds of recklessness and you can hurt people. That’s why love needs to be a part of the conversation.

In the chorus, what I’m saying with “I try to keep my head over the ocean” is that, at times, I really need to ignore the fact that the internet even exists. It’s a hard thing to do, but getting out in nature— getting yourself in a head space where you’re not absorbed in your phone all the time—is a very healthy thing.

I’m from a generation where there’s a significant part of my life when that didn’t exist. Now we’re in a generation where we have kids who don’t know what it’s like to exist without the entire history of entertainment and information in the palm of their hands in a very literal way. So it’s a reminder that it’s OK to duck out of it.

A lot of discord can happen online, but there’s also the idea that if we check the source of the emotion, truth comes to light. So it’s thinking about why people act the way that they do—understanding that everybody has an origin story. The idea also is that when you have an immediate reaction you should stop and think about why you’re reacting a certain way. You should take a pause to understand yourself and take a pause to understand why someone else is acting the way they are acting. That’s an important step toward empathy.

Breath Of Fire

I thought it was nice to have an instrumental on there, which also gives the listener a break from the lyrical content. This one is a Santana/Khruangbin-type of thing. First, I came up with a bassline, and the guitar line was my melodic reaction to the bassline. Then because of the time signature of it, I wanted something that was celebratory and felt kind of tropical. It also gives me an opportunity to stretch out live when playing that as well.


That’s a bit of a nod to Funkadelic as far as the groove is concerned. When I was thinking of Funkadelic, it made me think of “Maggot Brain” and the lines that say, “Mother Earth is pregnant for the third time/ For ya’ll have knocked her up.” I was thinking about Mother Earth’s commentary on humanity. Mother Earth is watching how humans treat each other and pleading for humanity to be more kind to each other. Or if not, then we will feel the repercussions—“I will keep you caught in a storm that’s neverending.” So it’s kind of a heavy track, with Mother Earth scolding humanity.


“Alone” is a message to my wife upon hearing the news that they were going to go away to Denmark. Even though they were going to be away, there’s the notion that we would stay connected through whatever means necessary, which we were able to do.

This is a marriage, this is a partnership. We’re in it for the long haul. But, of course, anything can happen at any moment. There’s a line there, “We’re taking a chance as we make our uncertain plans.”

This a reminder that despite our distance, we will still find solace in our relationship, in our union together—which, thank God, we were able to do. Even though they planned to be in Denmark for a year, it only turned out to be seven months. The whole aspect of absence making the heart grow fonder was definitely at play during that time.


“Retaliate” is another social media rant, but more specifically, it has to do with bullying and the negative things that people can say about other people. The idea is to combat whatever negativity you see by doing whatever you do in your life to its fullest. In my case it’s music, but whatever you do that’s most life-affirming—if you do that to its fullest—then that is your way to retaliate.

There’s a second movement of the song that’s more reflective and meditative. It goes through everything that I talked about on the album and asks a bunch of questions. It’s a recapitulation of everything.

Then it ends with a slide solo, which I don’t normally do. That’s not my wheelhouse necessarily, but I’d like to get into more slide, and it just seemed like a very fitting way to close the album.

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