A year ago, an unsigned Los Angeles band sprawled on a downtown fire escape for a photoshoot that accompanied a High Hopes piece in Classic Rock. Having scanned the horizon for rock’s next generation of giants, they decided to take the job on themselves.
Back then, Dirty Honey’s yardsticks by which to judge success – Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC – seemed to doom them to disappointment. But while they’re still operating without a record label, the hooky strut of this year’s self-titled debut album suggests the stadium league might soon have to make a little room.
Vocalist Marc LaBelle and guitarist John Notto give us their view from the fast lane.
Dirty Honey are all about the spit, not the polish.
From the ragged glory of their debut album to the happy accidents of their shows, Dirty Honey prize personality over polish. “Rock’n’roll should be right on the edge,” says Notto. “Great art is a little dangerous. Where that danger is differs from artist to artist. We don’t show up naked wearing socks, but we’ll leave a mistake on if the take has the feel. We live in a time of YouTube nerds – there are probably ten-year-olds who can play the guitar solo from our new single California Dreamin’ better than I do. But rock’n’roll isn’t perfect.”
Their songs chronicle the darker side of the Golden State.
As a lyricist, LaBelle is more interested in California’s shadows than in its perfect teeth. “You drive around here in LA, you can see some of the most beautiful sights anywhere in the world, hundred-million-dollar houses. But you also see the darkest shit imaginable: heroin addiction under a bridge in Skid Row, poverty, homelessness; I slept in my car for nine months when I first moved here. So with California Dreamin’ I wanted to go a little darker.”
They’ve annoyed John Mayer.
While Dirty Honey were tracking balls-out album highlight The Wire, the boy king of the blues was covering his ears. “We were just nailing it on The Wire,” recalls Notto. “John Mayer was in the next room, and he complained that he could hear our bass, it was bleeding through. And he had to send a note over, like: “Are you guys through?” That was pretty funny.”
They don’t give a fuck (and neither should you).
If the world seems to weigh a little lighter when you listen to the louche swagger of their song Tied Up (“That one is just about fucking,” says LaBelle), that’s because Dirty Honey planned it that way. “Apart from great songs, we’re really selling ninety minutes of freedom,” says Notto. “All day long, you walk around in your bubble, do all the things you gotta do to be good at your job. But you come to a Dirty Honey show and we give less of a fuck – so you will too, y’know?”
They have diva potential.
One of LaBelle’s fondest memories is a rare backstage encounter with Axl Rose (“He was in a velvet robe, cowboy hat from the stage, sandals…”), and Dirty Honey aren’t shy of becoming mercurial rock gods in their own right. “Once nobody can tell me what to do, it’s gonna be off the chain,” Notto deadpans. “I’m gonna start wearing polka dot. Remember when Axl had his own shoes that said ‘Axl’ on them? They looked horrible. But he was just like: ‘I’m wearing ’em. And I’m wearing a kilt too.’”
They’re making rock for the ages.
Dirty Honey might be a hot tip for 2021, but their real mission was to make a record that transcends their era. “If you listen to the iconic stuff by Queen, Aerosmith, Zeppelin, it’s timeless,” says LaBelle. Notto: “It’s like, you look at someone in the sixties wearing Wayfarer sunglasses, and someone wearing them now – if the picture is just right, you wouldn’t know what time period it is. Those glasses are cool forever. Chuck Taylors are cool forever. I think certain recordings are too – and you know it when you hit it.”