Dirty Honey is a Los Angeles quartet currently touring with Slash & the Conspirators on the strength of their five-song debut EP. In a month the band will head out once again with Myles Kennedy doing six weeks with Alter Bridge. Auspiciously pulling from all of the greatest rock n roll bands of the 1970s, Marc LaBelle (vocals), John Notto (guitars), Justin Smolian (bass), and Corey Coverstone (drums) are forging full-steam ahead with their fresh take on the sweet sounds of classic rock. The only downside of their debut self-titled EP is that is, in fact, an EP and it will utterly leave you wanting to hear more!
An hour after their fantastic performance at Heavy Montréal (read our festival review here) on July 28th, all of the members of Dirty Honey were in the press tent high fiving the folks who managed to catch them play. PureGrainAudio pulled Marc LaBelle and Justin Smolian aside for a fifteen-minute interview that took place while Fu Manchu was destroying eardrums on our right and Anthrax were receiving their lifetime achievement award for their years of Heavy Metal contributions to our left.
There aren’t enough kind words to push forward to describe the moxie on Dirty Honey’s debut. Find it online and stream it right now. Then go see them live. The audio is embedded here if you’d like to hear their answers (featuring a background score by Fu Manchu).
We start off talking about touring with Slash as I am setting up.
I should ask, Slash? Marc Labelle: Yeah. Ask Slash. “Hey, what’s up with Dirty Honey?”
I think Slash likes pretty much everybody. Justin Smolian: I just want to hear him say it. He’s pretty much my idol. So if you ask him, just to hear him mention us...
Labelle: It was funny, there was an interview where somebody was talking with Slash, and he was asked, “Do you know of any great new rock bands?” and he was like “Well, Greta Van Fleet is the obvious one.” But you could tell he was thinking; thinking; thinking.
From their self-titled debut EP, here is the official music video for “When I’m Gone:”
You want to be the band that he’s thinking about. Labelle: Well, we went out with him last fall, but he just couldn’t remember. Myles has been awesome, though. He’s talking about us all the time. Nicest fucking guy. He really is.
So tell me. You are a relatively new band. You’ve put an EP out. It seems like it’s doing really well. Are you working on material for a full-length? Labelle: Yeah, we’re working on material. I don’t know if it’s going to be a full-length or an EP or what though.
Smolian: We don’t know what the format is going to be yet.
Labelle: You need to ask the fucking business people.
Do you care about a physical format that much? Or are you just going to put music together and release it digitally? Because that works now. Labelle: Other people care about physical for sure. We get asked about CDs and vinyl all the time.
Smolian: Literally everyday.
Labelle: Vinyl is in production right now.
Right on. That’s for the EP? Labelle: Yup.
A live shot from our interview with Marc and Justin:
Can you talk a little bit about how guys got together, formed, and started playing music? Labelle: Yeah. I met the guitar player John at a cover gig I was doing one night. He came and sat in. And I thought "that guy looks like a brother, a brother for life." He just kind of played well. His playing was more in line with what I liked. Jimmy Page. The Black Crowes. It's rock 'n roll, but it's a little sloppy. It's not perfect shredding. Brian May. He had a lot of Brian May influence in there. I just loved his playing and suggested that we take a journey together. He introduced me to Justin.
Smolian: Yeah. I'd met John through a mutual jam session. And we just kind of locked eyes while we were playing and we started writing music together separately from that session, and we did that for about a year, and then he brought me and the drummer we were working with into the project he was doing with Marc. We had a different drummer, but we lost him over a really stupid crazy thing. A little Spinal Tap-py. And then we kind of had a few drummers come in, and I called Corey to sub for us one night because our other drummer had bailed. I'd done some other gigs with Corey around some other projects. And he came in, and he just crushed it. He stood up from the kit afterward and just said: "I want to be in this band." We had been waiting for somebody just to say that too. So once he was in, it was kind of our 'GO' moment.
Labelle: And then a couple of months later stuff just sort of started happening once Corey was officially in. It was a pretty exciting time, to say the least.
Live from Capitol Records Studio A, here is Dirty Honey performing “Fire Away:”
I love that you are playing a style of rock 'n roll that not a lot of other young people are focused on. It's got guitars and some thought behind it. Labelle: Yeah. And some soul and some perfect imperfections. It's sexy. That's what I loved, that old Zeppelin stuff. And there's even that in the Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots era.
Smolian: We like seeing people dance too. Rock 'n roll actually started out as dance music, and I feel like it kind of moved away from that.
Labelle: It's in AC/DC. It's in Aerosmith. I don't know what happened in the last two decades to the spirit of rock 'n roll. It's about sex, drugs and rock 'n roll. That's what we're doing here. And it got too perfect in this computer-based world. Very stale.
Smolian: That was something our producer was really good at. Kicking us out of the studio before we did too perfect a take. He'd say a song has got the feel and that was it. Our drummer, who is crazy about that stuff, was upset. He wanted to go back in and re-do all of the drums. But it was just the way it gelled. Like Marc said, those perfect imperfections helped make our sound.
Labelle: We track everything with all of us in a room together. I think that energy comes across better than it would if the drummer did a take and then the guitar player does a take. It's a live take, more or less. Minimal stops. I mean "Rolling 7s" is one take for everybody.
Smolian: The producer was like "Got it. Now get out of there!" And we felt we had only just gotten the arrangement right.
Do you have a record deal at the moment then? Smolian: No, sir.
Labelle: We’re indie.
Dirty Honey’s debut, self-titled EP was released on March 22nd. Here is the lippy album artwork:
Are you going to stay indie, or would you like a label? Marc Labelle: I don't know. What do you think? What does a label even do? Smolian: What's your opinion on this?
I don't really think you need a label right now. I think a label helps with distribution and marketing. And they've got the 15 or 20 years or however long behind them of legacy where they just know how to do things. But I'm watching bands just starting things up on their own, and they are doing quite well with it.
Smolian: That's kind of where we are really lucky. We have an amazing manager who has put together a phenomenal team for us. He worked at record labels for 30 years, and there's nobody that knows how to do it better than him anyway. So we are very fortunate in that regard.
Labelle: You take every meeting and if somebody makes you an offer and if somebody makes you an offer that you can't refuse, then you can't refuse it. But a lot of these people didn't want to sign a rock 'n roll band. So if you aren't passionate about it, then don't waste my time and I won't waste yours, you know?
I feel like the time is prime for a resurgence of rock 'n roll. We've had too much mid-tempo, lo-fi alt-rock if you will. Stuff that's getting played on Alt Nation, it all sounds the same to me. I just want something with some balls behind it. Labelle: Me too. That's exactly what we are trying to do.
Smolian: We're trying to write good songs too. We love hooks. We want people to sing our songs afterward. We want our guitar riffs, so people will be able to sing with them. That is kind of the recipe for Guns 'N Roses and Aerosmith. Even Zeppelin. They weren't a very hooky-vocal-melody band, but all of their riffs are fucking hooks. From "Immigrant Song," to "Heartbreaker," to "Whole Lotta Love." Jimmy Page is a fucking genius.
A shot of the whole band backstage at Heavy Montreal 2019:
What's it like watching Slash and Myles Kennedy on stage every night? Labelle: It's fucking crazy. It's crazy. We all went and saw the Guns tour. And there are 70 to 80,000 people at some of these gigs, and we're playing these smaller theatres of maybe 4,000 cap, and Slash is getting pumped up, doing his exercises and jumping up and down and just a super passionate performer.
Smolian: He genuinely loves playing. I think that's a huge inspiration for us because that's why we got into this; to play live. So to see a guy who's done it, and done it for so many years and who still so pumped to go play live, I want to be that way. Labelle: Me too. For sure.
I think Myles Kennedy is one of the best frontmen in the world right now. He's just a phenomenal musician. Labelle: He's such a great guy too. He's a nice guy, super gracious with his time. Lots of advice too. We are going out with him next too for a couple of weeks with Alter Bridge. We'll get to spend a lot of time with him.
Smolian: We couldn't be happier about it.
You are hooking up with the right people. Labelle: Yeah. For sure.
How are you currently writing your music? Are you going into a room and jamming together? Or do you write individually? Labelle: It's kind of both. Justin and I spend a lot of time trying to make something out of nothing. But then John will have ideas that he brings in. It's kind of a case-by-case sort of thing you know? Smolian: The three of us (drums, guitar, and bass) get together and write. It's a different formula for almost every song.
Labelle: Literally every song was different.
“Rolling 7’s” is one of the standout tracks on Dirty Honey’s debut EP. Check out the audio for the song:
What do you think the easiest song you have written so far is? Smolian: I don't think any of them have been easy. "Scars" came together pretty fast.
Labelle: So did "Rolling 7's." "Break You" did too. They are all on the same difficulty level. A solid day's work.
Smolian: But then there are songs like "When I'm Gone."
Labelle: That took years. Same with "Find The Magic."
Smolian: And "Heartbreaker." We brought that to the band a couple of times in different varied forms and had to go back to the drawing board and work on it.
Labelle: He had a riff that I just knew was something. It was just such a fucking great riff that I really worked for a long time to try and make something out of it. There are a couple of different versions of it. Before we left for Australia to make our record, I met with Justin and said, let's give this one last college try and...
Smolian: It really just came out in ten minutes, and we got it.
Labelle: I've got a lot of voice memos from that session. (Justin hums a harmony) That's what he contributed to that song.
Another shot of Justin and Marc from our chat:
So talk a little bit about opening for The Who. That was a one-time deal? Labelle: Yup.
Smolian: Well, hopefully not a one-time deal.
Labelle: That was a very emotional night for us. Opening for a legendary band like that, you can't help but feel some sort of sense of accomplishment and validation for all of this time and effort that you've put into being a musician. He's got a good Pete (Townsend) story.
Smolian: Oh yeah. It was around four o'clock. I didn't even know The Who were in the building because we had to get there earlier. But I was backstage, and I was on the phone with my girlfriend, and Pete Townsend just walks off the stage, and he points at me and walks over to me, and I'm like "Baby, Pete Townsend is looking at me, I've gotta go." I just hung up on her, and he walks over to me and says, "you look like a musician," and shakes my hand. I say, "Yeah, I am a musician. I'm opening for you tonight." He says, "Oh cool. I hope I like you. Live Nation booked all of the bands. I haven't heard anybody." I freaked out. I came back to the dressing room, and it was very emotional.
Labelle: He lost his mind. And then, we have a buddy who knows The Who's camp. He's not on our team, he's just a friend. He knows their manager Bill Curbishley and their whole light design team. He works on their stage from time to time. And he was like "Their manager is kind of curmudgeon" and to just beware because he's probably not going to be very nice to you. We got off stage, and this legend in the music business says, "You've got a bloody good rock n' roll band on your hands here mate. You guys are going places."
Smolian: He was hanging out with us.
Labelle: Hanging out, and introduced us to Roger (Daltrey) and said, "Roger, this is Dirty Honey, the band that opened for you, and come take a picture with these guys." He was very nice too.
Smolian: It was insane.
Labelle: Totally unexpected. We were very grateful to have opened for them. It was cool.
Not to be confused with the Zeppelin song of the same name, here is the audio for "Heartbreaker:"
That's better than the band showing up fifteen minutes before their set, playing, and then leaving right away and you're left shrugging. Labelle: We got lucky. It was the first night of that run.
Smolian: We got watch them sound-check too. It was just such a surreal experience.
So is there a scene for the type of music that you are playing in L.A. right now? Labelle: We did a gig a couple of weeks ago called 'School Night' at Bardot in Hollywood. It was all young chicks. It was awesome. They really enjoyed it. I don't think there was any room for anybody else to do anything special that night after we were done.
Smolian: I think we're trying to help develop a scene in L.A. too. We want to play shows in our home town. We want to get other rock bands. A lot of great bands came out of L.A. It's a very heavy metal scene in L.A., but I think there are more bands coming out that are kind of like us. So hopefully we can link up with them and do shows and create that scene again in L.A. that isn't just super heavy metal.
I interviewed a band last year that reminded me of what you guys are doing from L.A. called Vista Kicks. Are you familiar with them at all? They are playing '60s and '70s style music, and they are doing a really good job of writing original stuff. I don't know, L.A. is vast. I wasn't expecting you to say, "Yeah man. We know those guys." Labelle: We're not there that much anymore, which is tough. But I'll definitely check them out.
You're obviously motivated to tour. So what's your threshold? If someone says six weeks? Eight weeks? Would you say no to something like that? Smolian: We're doing six weeks with Alter Bridge.
Labelle: Yeah, we're interested. We go out weeks at a time. The first tour we did there were a couple of five-night-in-a-row bits, which is tough. But once we all get back home, we need about 48 hours...
Smolian: To be bored.
Labelle: To be bored. Yeah. Then we all start texting our managers with, "Alright. We're ready. Let's go."
Smolian: We haven't been broken yet. So management and our agents are probably trying to figure out how much we can take at this point.
Labelle: Three on, one-off is a good tempo for me vocally.
You can easily listen to this song all the way "Down The Road:"
Anybody have families at home? Is it going to be harder to tour as you hook-up, have kids and whatnot? Labelle: We're good. We're all clear of those obligations.
We talked a little bit about putting an album together. Whether you need a label or not. Did you follow PledgeMusic and that debacle that's happened online? Smolian: What is that?
(I parlay what PledgeMusic was, and how they have gone into receivership here.)
Labelle: Right. I'm glad we didn't work with them.
Smolian: We're trying to do as much in-house as we can. Marc actually loves doing our merch. He loves doing it.
Labelle: Right. Other than the logo, I design all of the t-shirts and control what we are putting it on. I found all of the quality pieces that we use. I want people to love our merch. When we opened for The Who, the merch people there were saying that our shit was so much better than The Who's.
Smolian: The quality of the t-shirts and whatnot.
Labelle: They aren't up on their quality control. I love that. My whole apartment is literally full of boxes of shirts. I ship it all out myself. It gets tough on the road to keep that organized. But I love it, and until I can't do it anymore, that's what I'm going to try and do. I don't want some big company to come in and sell our fans a piece of shit shirt that they are not going to want to wear two days after the show.
Smolian: I'm glad he's done it too. We get a lot of compliments on our stuff. People saying, "this is actually a high-quality shirt, and it's worth the money." People wear it all the time. We get pictures of people wearing it to other peoples shows. Wearing our stuff, it's so cool.
Labelle: Honestly, I spend a lot of time finding the right blanks to make sure that people like them. I test them out with his girlfriend and make sure that she likes the fit and the cut. And it seems to be working out really well with us. We did record numbers at our last show in Seattle. We did very well, we are pretty happy.
I'm glad you mentioned your logo, because it's a good logo, and a lot of bands do not have a good logo. Kudos for that. Who did it? Labelle: There's a guy named Aaron von Freter out of upstate New York who is a great graphic designer. We just gave him the music and the name, and he just ran with it. He came up with a couple of different designs and, but the lips was the one.
Smolian: Yeah. Everyone in the band, when we saw the lips went, "That's our logo." All the other ones we all had comments, but that one was just perfect. "That's done."
Labelle: I think that will be around for a while. That's part of the thing I fell in love with. Not only music but sports. I'm a very easy marketing target. I love The Stones logo. I love Aerosmith's logo. Van Halen has a great logo. And The Who.
Smolian: Zeppelin had a great logo.
Labelle: It's a huge part of your brand and when you find something that just fits so perfectly with the music and the name it's exciting.