MUSIC 2021

The Sweetest Sounds: Dirty Honey are Putting the Roll Back in Rock

“I grew up listening to bands like the Black Crowes, Aerosmith, and the Rolling Stones”

by

Dirty Honey feels like a vital rock & roll band right now. We don’t mean that in a hackneyed, journalistic “you gotta hear this” sort of way, but rather in the sense that rock music genuinely needs the fresh, sweet sounds of Dirty Honey.

They’re far from the only group of youngish musicians creating this sort of a racket. But unlike, say, Greta Van Fleet, they’re managing to pay homage to the past without being accused of pilfering from it. They’ve toured with the likes of Guns N’ Roses man Slash, and they’re currently on the road with the reformed Black Crowes — all of which makes sense. These guys have a dirty blues sound in their rock, a swing that has been missing in new music for a while. Put simply, they’re putting the roll back in rock.

The band formed in 2017, when Marc LaBelle (vocals), John Notto (guitar), and Justin Smolian (bass) were joined by drummer Corey Coverstone.

“He joined us for this gig that we were actually playing on the street of Sunset Boulevard, in front of a weed shop,” Smolian. “At the end of the gig he stood up and said that he wanted to be in the band. After we got him in, it was all engines go. We recorded our first demo a couple of months after that, and by the end of the year we had management. It’s been an amazing ride since the four of us got together. It’s been really fast. Our mission has really been to be the best rock band in the world if we can, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

In the four years since, the band has evolved at a frightening pace. They found their feet, and their sound, fast. Got management, all of the business shit straight. Now, they’re flying. Smolian is the L.A. native in the band, the other three transplanting in. But they feel proud to be based there.

“We cut our teeth in L.A.,” says LaBelle. “But we’re definitely not like a Sunset Strip band, to me. We avoided the Sunset Strip like the plague. There wasn’t a scene happening, and it wasn’t like the ‘80s or even the early ‘90s for us. We cut our teeth in bars and clubs all over L.A., Santa Monica, and Ventura County. I think our style is a little bluesier than the typical L.A. bands.”

The band understandably counts the Slash tour among its career highlights, especially Smolian and Notto who consider Gn’R a favorite band. But this current Crowes tour is right up there.

“I grew up listening to bands like the Black Crowes, Aerosmith, and the Rolling Stones,” says LaBelle. “Chris and Rich Robinson have been heroes of mine for a long time. I got somewhat emotional before our first show on this tour. That’s the first time that’s really ever happened to me. This is pretty high for me. There’s a couple of other bands that might not be around much longer, but so far this is the big one for me.”

Dirty Honey and the Black Crowes share management, so a touring arrangement was a no-brainer. When LaBelle traveled to NYC to catch the Crowes’ first reunion gig on the Bowery, he was determined to make something happen.

“I went out there, and we had been talking to our manager who is also their manager about doing some shows together, and Chris was literally saying, ‘Hey man, I hope you’re ready to do some shows’,” LaBelle says. “The early conversations were like, maybe it’ll be 10 shows with them on this tour. As time went on, with COVID restrictions and trying our best to be safe, we were getting bigger too. It became a marketable show. It’s a good bill and people are really enjoying it.”

These two bands on the same bill just makes so much sense. Both share that rock & roll swagger, the Keith Richard thing. Sexy and fun, and absolutely danceable. It’s also great to hear the Dirty Honey guys say that the Robinsons are cool — not only with their support band but also with each other after years of falling out.

“I see the two brothers walking around together, chatting and having a laugh,” says Smolian. “It’s not contrived, they actually have mended the bridge. It’s good to see.”

Dirty Honey’s self-titled debut album came out in April, and they say that they’ve been overwhelmed by the positive response it’s received.

“I think a big moment for me and probably for all of us was when KLOS in L.A. played the whole record,” says Smiloan. “I grew up in L.A. and I’ve been listening to that station my whole life, and I’ve never heard them play an entire record front to back. I was freaking out when that happened. That was the coolest thing.”

While it’s far from a concept album, there are themes that permeate the record. The usual stuff — relationships, sex, living life, and making mistakes.

“It’s meant to be a sort of bluesy, soulful rock & roll record that at times can pull on your heartstrings a little bit,” says LaBelle. “Other times, make you want to have fun and dance. Other times, make you get introspective and think about past relationships, mistakes, stuff like that.”

Dirty Honey’s gig with the Black Crowes at L.A.’s Forum on August 19 means a lot to the hometown boys.

“The Forum is the biggest show for me of this tour, especially growing up in L.A.,” says Smolian. “We found out that we were going to be doing the Forum last year, so we’ve been waiting for 18 months. I really can’t wait to get on that stage. I’ve seen so many shows there and it means so much to me to grace that stage.”

After that? Well, the tour ends in mid-October and they’ll take a well-earned break.

“I’m going on vacation, so that’ll be cool,” says LaBelle. “As soon as I get back, I have a lot of stuff I want to work on with the guys in terms of songwriting, and getting some new tunes ready to go.”

No rest for the wicked!    ❖

The self-titled debut album is out now.

Highlights