Back in the old-timey days, new bands needed huge record labels to get them on the radio and get them known. Those days are over and Dirty Honey is evidence of that.
The four musicians that make up Dirty Honey – Marc LaBelle (vocals), John Notto (guitars), Justin Smolian (bass), and Corey Coverstone (drums) – landed themselves on top of the rock charts and onto The Black Crowes tour without a record label. Of course, you can’t just make that happen without talent and believe me, these guys have it.
Ok, maybe don’t believe me, but believe Slash, Guns N’ Roses, and The Who because all have had Dirty Honey open their shows. They played multiple festivals and rock events, plus sold out their own headlining tour before the pandemic, so yea, they have something.
Personally, I hate trying to label a band’s sound, but I’ll say Dirty Honey sounds like a good time: festival season, summer rock show, guitar, sexy, bluesy, soulful, ‘70s rock. Call it what you want, it’s working.
Dirty Honey was formed by the aforementioned quartet in Los Angeles in 2017. They did the L.A. club scene and made a self-titled EP which shot their track, “When I’m Gone,” up the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart… the first unsigned band to ever top the chart. Their second single, “Rolling 7s,” also landed in the top five, showing they were not a fluke.
True, they did have friends in the biz, including industry vet Mark DiDia (who also manages The Black Crowes), but friends can only get you so far if your music sucks. Thankfully, Dirty Honey’s music does not suck.
After the success of the EP, the band intended to record a full-length album in Australia with legendary producer Nick DiDia (who also did their EP). That was expected to begin in March of 2020, so yea, you know what happened. They made it work through the modern miracles of technology, released the album in April of 2021, and it debuted at number two.
Boosted by the first single, “California Dreaming,” Dirty Honey continues to have hit after hit, and now, they will kick off their tour supporting The Black Crowes next week.
ALL HAIL ROCK AND ROLL!
“All of us at KLOS love Dirty Honey. From the first time we played them on The Heidi & Frank Show’s New Music Friday segment a year and a half ago, I knew they’d be a band our audience would love. They are all ripping musicians, Marc’s vocal range is probably illegal in some states, and together they write HUGE songs. While they have their own unique sound and vibe, if you’re unfamiliar with the band, think about it Aerosmith, Black Crowes, GNR and AC/DC were all wrapped up together in a burrito. It would taste like Dirty Honey.”
Keith Cunningham | Program Director
95.5FM | KLOS
In anticipation of the tour and their homecoming Los Angeles appearance at The Forum, we chatted with John Notto and Justin Smolian about tour life, free shirts, and recording an album during a pandemic.
Traci: John and Justin, thanks for chatting with me. Are you in practice mode right now?
John: Yeah, we’re about to start. We’re going to do a little bit rehearsing before we get down to Nashville. (The tour’s opening city.)
Traci: Ok, the beginning of Dirty Honey. You guys get together, you do the club scene, and then you do an EP on your own, and things blow up! How did you react to that?
John: It was definitely exciting and it just felt like a real “pinch me” moment. As bigger things started to happen, like opening for the bigger bands, when we first played the very first show opening for Slash, and we felt the reaction, and I think we sold 50 t-shirts… We just knew something felt right, right away. That was all the fuel we needed to put the pedal to the metal and not let this slip by.
Traci: But unfortunately, COVID hit and kind of changed how you were going to do things. How did you make it work to get your debut album completed?
John: Fortunately, we all live here in L.A. I have a rehearsal space, so it was pretty smooth to just under the radar, get together and continue to write and demo, and get as much preproduction done as we could in between, you know, taking off and going on camping trips and trying to get out of Dodge. So it really was just more time to work on the record.
Traci: You wanted to go back and record it in Australia with your producer (Nick DiDia), but you had to rely on technology instead?
Justin: Yeah. We used Listen to from a company called Audiomovers. It’s basically like Zoom for Pro Tools. It’s really cool! We had him set up so that we had him in our ears in the studio, and we all had iPads with computers so we could see him. So it was almost like he was in the room, even though he was in Byron Bay, Australia, the whole time.
Traci: A little bit of the time difference going on!
Justin: Yeah, he was waking up at four a.m. or something to do it right, John?
John: Yeah, he was. We woke up at beauty sleep hour. We were fine. (laughing)
Traci: Your EP exploded and gets on the charts, your debut album explodes as well, and you are still doing it on your own, right? No huge record label?
John: That’s correct.
Justin: It’s pretty amazing. No record label, it’s just all Dirt Records.
John: Yea, Dirt Records, baby! (laughing)
Traci: I wonder if bands really need a huge record label anymore.
Justin: You need somebody that really knows the business.
John: You need somebody who is powerful to really care about you.
Justin: Luckily, our manager (Mark DiDia), he’s got a great history. He used to run record labels back in the day, he was like, the number two at Geffen. He ran American Records with Rick Rubin. He really knows what it takes to push a record out there. It’s been really cool ‘cause we’re not signed to a label and we get insight, so we’re actually learning the business as we’re doing this. We understand a lot more than some of the bands that are on labels that we’ve gone out and toured with.
Traci: You have already opened for Slash, The Who, and Guns N’ Roses, and now you’re hitting the road with The Black Crowes. How did you guys get hooked up with them?
John: Our manager manages them. It wasn’t an easy, automatic sell, but we were going to do a portion of their tour in 2020, and then I think after having done this second EP and gotten more traction, and more press, and built up our presence a little, I think it helped us secure the full American tour.
Traci: You guys already played a few shows this year, right? How did that go?
Justin: Oh man, it was a huge success! We had great turnouts at all the venues. It was weird because California’s been one of the last states to open, so we were all wearing our masks, then we get to our first gig in Arizona and nobody’s wearing masks and everybody’s packed into the club. It was a real culture shock. But it was so fun, it was so good to get out and meet the fans again, and hang out and just play live music for people. We’ve been playing in our bedrooms for a year and a half!
Traci: So many music fans are anxious to see you guys and have concerts again. All of us are thinking, “Oh, my God, I’m just so happy to see you!”
John: Yeah, it was pretty exciting. I think the ticket sales and merch sales, and just the fever at the shows really showed how much people wanted to just get out and do this again.
Justin: A lot of people coming to our shows said, “You guys are the last band that I saw before the pandemic, and you’re the first band I’ve seen after,” which is really cool.
Traci: Is there something you like to do in each city when you have a day off of touring?
John: Sleep! Well, we haven’t moved up to the tour bus level yet, so it’s pretty rare that we have a real, chill day off. We’re still on the very hard work side of things. We don’t have a lot of cushy “touring accoutrement.” (laughing) Everybody’s got their thing. Try to eat a good meal if you can, that’s kind of the big one. It really ends up being the little things. You try to find a good meal and if you’ve got to Uber to it, you do…
Justin: Yeah, good coffee…
John: I try to find a vinyl store…
Traci: Are you surprised at how hard vinyl came back?
John: Well, yes and no. I’ve been into it since I was literally a little kid, and I’ve always thought it was cool. But if you think about it, it’s the only medium that can get destroyed easily, but it’s also easy to prevent that if you keep it in its state. It’s kind of stationary, it lives in your house. CDs and tapes, you thought you could take them anywhere, and then you just break the case no matter what. (laughing)
Justin: How did those vinyls end up, John? The ones you got on the last tour?
John: They’re good! I haven’t actually plugged them in yet, but they made it. You know what the surprise case was. I put them and my pillow in my jacket bag. It ended up being a perfect spot for them! (laughing) I carried it on the plane. I was like, “Where am I going to put these?” I was a little nervous to put them in my suitcase even though it’s hard shell. We’ve become ninjas at just sort of being like, “Oh, yeah, cool. No problem. Yeah, I’ll just check my guitar,” and then we just walk on the plane with it anyway. You just hang on to it like it’s your child.
Traci: I have found that if you act like you know what you’re doing and where you’re going, nobody will question you.
Justin: For real!
John: It’s amazing! I just did it! I had way too many things in my hand to be getting on the plane. I had that jacket bag filled with a pillow, three jackets, and records. It was basically a bag at that point. (laughing) And then I had a guitar, then I had a backpack that was literally smashed full. It was like stretching, it’s kind of ripped now. And I had to put down something in order to bring the ticket, and they just didn’t say anything. I was like, “Yeah, yeah, that was great.”
Traci: All the shows on this tour are outside except the Los Angeles one. Is there a reason? Was that on purpose?
John: I think the Forum may have been a little bit symbolic or something. We could have done the Bowl or the Greek, but I don’t think anyone was too excited to do the Hollywood Bowl with this kind of rock show. Like loud, loud, interactive rock. And maybe they (The Black Crowes) just felt that they, being an L.A. band and us being an L.A. band, we could do the Forum.
Traci: Does that make a huge difference when you play outside versus inside venue?
Justin: Well, when it’s hot out, it is! (laughing) When we did our last tour in Texas, that was just hell. It was July…
John: Which show was that?
Justin: Corpus Christi was really bad and there was that other outdoor, maybe that was Alabama…
Justin: Yeah! That was brutal hot.
Traci: I am truly sorry, but Nashville is going to be the same way next week.
Justin: I think this is going to be the “no jacket tour.” (laughing)
John: Yeah, I know. I don’t have any cool shirts, so I’m going to look like a loser.
Traci: Every show, a fan needs to bring you a shirt!
John: Yea, expensive and rare please!
Justin: Yeah, and for some reason we often get XL, and most of us are small or medium.
Traci: Well, that makes me want to give you a 3XL shirt.
John: Yeah, for you and your cuddle buddy together!
Traci: (adds 3XL shirt to shopping list) Ok, after the Crowes tour, what are you guys going to do? Touring? Recording?
Justin: I think we’re staying out for a couple more weeks after the Crowes. We’ve got a couple of radio festival shows that we’ve got to make up from last year, and we’ll probably do a couple of headlining shows also. That’ll take us into about mid-October, and then I don’t know what we’re doing after that.
John: Yeah, we’ve got to make another record.
Justin: Yeah, I guess we got to make another record.
John: I doubt we’ll make it this fall, but maybe work on it.
Traci: You just made one, so let me pressure you to make another! Anything else people should know?
Justin: Just how awesome we are! (laughing)
Indeed, Justin and John ARE awesome and Dirty Honey is going to put on a phenomenal show. Grab your tickets for The Black Crowes Shake Your Money Maker Forum show happening on August 19th. They’ll be playing my home town of Nashville on July 20th, so you know where I will see them.
Pick up or stream “Dirty Honey.” Oh, and get some rare and expensive shirts for the guys, will ya?