DIRTY HONEY – “Creatively Spreading Our Wings”
October 31, 2023, a month ago
Los Angeles-based blues rockers Dirty Honey will independently release their second full-length album, Can’t Find The Brakes, on November 3, 2023 – which also happens to be vocalist Marc LaBelle’s 32nd birthday. Prior to the band’s current headlining tour of North America, Dirty Honey completed leg one of the “California Dreamin’ Tour”, their first UK / European headline trek - 30 shows in 13 countries. All dates were sold out.
After heading to Brooklet Recording Studio in Australia this past April / May to lay down 11 astounding new songs, Dirty Honey returned to Europe for leg two of the “California Dreamin’ Tour”, consisting of all sold out headline dates, plus support shows with Guns N’ Roses and KISS, as well as major festival appearances – 21 shows in 12 countries. To date, and on Spotify alone, Dirty Honey has racked up more than 55 million total streams. It’s easy to see why the new album is titled Can’t Find The Brakes, cause the momentum this band has is unstoppable! BraveWords caught up with LaBelle and guitarist John Notto to discuss all that’s been happening recently.
BraveWords: There’s been a lineup change within Dirty Honey. Jaydon Bean is the new drummer, replacing Corey Coverstone. Why did Corey leave the band?
Marc LaBelle: “It was just mostly… he wasn’t… he sent us an email and he was not really into the touring lifestyle too much. It wasn’t a big blow-out or anything. We all kind of knew. Everybody we had toured with up until then – bands and crew – gave us fair warning that guy probably wasn’t going to last very long on the road. He just didn’t like it that much. It finally came to a head. We were getting ready to gear up to go on a European tour for six weeks and he was like, ‘I’m just not ready to do this. Would you guys mind finding a replacement?’ It was very sweet the way he went about it. Obviously, it’s chaotic to find somebody in a pinch. Fortunately, Jaydon has been a good friend to all of us and is a great drummer. He proved to be an asset once we got out there. It took a couple of shows to get used to, but once we were five or six shows in, it was pretty smooth sailing.”
BraveWords: Had Jaydon played in any bands previously that people would be aware of?
John Notto: “No. I don’t think he’s ever been presented as a member of a band. He’s a great working drummer in L.A. He’s been around the world. He’s played with a lot of guitar hero guys, like Joe Bonamassa, Josh Smith. I think Jaydon, Justin (Smolian – bassist) and I kind of had similarity in that we’ve played for a lot of people, but nobody really got famous. No one got the Rihanna gig – which is a blessing because those kind of gigs take up your life.”
Marc: “And your soul.”
John: “Those are the Crossroads gigs. The whole switch (in drummers), we sound kind of casual about it. But the short version is we weren’t surprised that Corey was ready to go. I’m actually surprised he made it as long as he did. It was one of those situations where we always knew it was tough on him.”
BraveWords: For Can’t Find The Brakes, you actually got to do what you had hoped to do with the self-titled album, which was return to Australia, where you recorded the debut EP in Byron Bay with producer Nick DiDia (Rage Against The Machine, Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam). Obviously, the Covid lockdowns prevented travel, so the self-titled album was done over Zoom with Nick. This time, you got to work together in person down-under for the sophomore album.
Marc: “It was great. It was a little chaotic at first because John had to come a few days later.”
John: “Yeah, I had a passport issue. So, I was like four days late for the session.”
Marc: “We didn’t know when John was getting there. The rest of us went down. We were going into the studio every day, not knowing if John was going to be able to make it at all. So, that was an interesting wrench in the plans. But it turned out great. He finally got there. We did a lot of work in the meantime when he wasn’t there; stuff we could do and work on. Much to his surprise when he showed up, which was nice cause we were actually productive in his absence. We kind of got to the point where we couldn’t go any further without him – and then he showed up. So, it worked out great, honestly. We got to chill in the studio for 22 days or something, which is by far the longest we’ve ever had to experiment in the studio. And I think the body of work shows the benefits of that. It was great; I learned how to surf while I was there. That was f’n awesome! We were in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, which is great. But at the same time, it’s nice to go home too.”
BraveWords: Let’s get into some of the songs that comprise Can’t Find The Brakes. “Get A Little High” has a Black Crowes flair to it. In fact, the influence of the Robinson brothers can be heard throughout the new Dirty Honey album. Would you agree with that?
Marc: “I mean, it’s groovy. It kind of harkens to like when The Black Crowes toured with Jimmy Page – if they ever did an original tune together. That’s kind of where it comes from, to me. Kind of a Zep riff, with some Black Crowes melodies stuck in there. Soulful melodies, you know. They’re definitely one of our influences; John and I both love The Black Crowes. And anytime you throw some chicks on some choruses, you’re going to get sort of that Joe Cocker, gospel background. So yeah, that’s definitely an influence for sure. There’s a ton of influences that I can hear and pick out, but hopefully at the end of the day, it all just sounds like Dirty Honey. And like us creatively spreading our wings a little more.”
BraveWords: Dirty Honey’s sound has certainly widened, compared to the EP from 2019 and the debut album from 2021. For example, “Roam” is a time-stopper! What an incredible song.
Marc: “I have to give both of us credit on that one, cause I kind of wrote this acoustic song called ‘Roam’. John really took the reins on turning it into a band arrangement, in Berlin I think it was. He had an idea to try at soundcheck, and we were fortunate enough that the sound guy that night was able to record it. We listened back and it was pretty f*cking good!”
John: “It’s funny how that song just started with an idea of having the bass, drums, and guitar be reverbed, and have like a flatbed. Then I just started thinking of all these… the guitar line that happens in the beginning. I somehow knew how to adorn the song. It just kind of happened, which is cool. It’s a fun thing to do to someone else’s composition.”
Marc: “That song’s been kicking around for a while. When we went to Detroit to record a version of ‘Heartbreaker’, the producer out there really took a liking to the acoustic – that’s the only thing that existed at that time was the acoustic version of the song. He said, ‘That song “Roam” is really good!’ He kept going on about it. And we hadn’t really explored it.”
John: “We hadn’t paid no mind to it. It was sort of like Cinderella – oh, her.”
Marc: “He’d be like, ‘Oh, I like that acoustic one you got.’ We had a couple of others and John was like, ‘What the hell are you talking about?’ But it’s a good one. There’s a couple that start like that. ‘Get A Little High’, for instance, was just an acoustic thing. Then it turned into a band arrangement.”
John: “The other one that I got to adorn was ‘Coming Home’. Justin came by my house one day and he had all these riff ideas. I could tell he wasn’t that inspired by them. He was just kind of throwing them out there. In the midst was this acoustic demo. I was thinking Little Martha, Allman Brothers. I put a slide track on it and I think it re-jazzed him about it.”
BraveWords: “Coming Home” works as a nice mid-album piece; it just has a different vibe to it. Interlude isn’t the right word as that takes away from the integrity of the song, but it’s very well placed at track six.
John: “Yeah, we can thank our manager for that one.”
Marc: “We let our manager do the song listing. I do have to say, I think John has a really good sense of quality, no matter what the genre is. I remember, this is going back seven or eight years ago already. I came over to his house, and I had a bunch of stuff I wanted to work on. I was a little bit bashful about working on this one, sort of more singer/songwriter acoustic ballad thing. He was the one who just pointed at me and said, ‘I want to work on that one. F*ck all these other ones, we’re working on that!’ He didn’t care that it wasn’t a rock and roll song.”
John: “Right. I actually love it when you guys bring stuff to me. I’m the most intimidated to have to start by myself. I’m actually proud of myself that I’ve successfully done it a few times, cause it’s the most uncomfortable thing. When I’m alone, I feel this mountain of…”
Marc: “Our best stuff though is usually when John does that.”
BraveWords: Let’s switch gears and talk about the video for “Won’t Take Me Alive”. It’s a very powerful clip. Initially, I saw a little influence from the Twisted Sister classic, “We’re Not Going To Take It”. But then it really ramps up. It’s way more than just rebellion against authority. It showcases how the ‘old school guard’ aren’t in touch with the youth of today. It also touches on female empowerment and individuality. How did that video come to be?
Marc: “First off, I just love that – we’re just starting to make the rounds on all this. One thing we always enjoy is different people’s associations they make. I’m going to remember that one – Twisted Sister. We were not thinking that, but everybody’s opinion is honest, so that’s interesting.”
John: “This is the first video where we’ve relinquished a lot of creative control. Previous to that, we worked with a longtime friend of Marc’s, whom I remember as always just this shy guy coming to see our little cover gig from the very beginning. So, we always used to work with him. This guy (George Gallardo Kattah) lives in Bogota, Colombia. He shot it there, cast it there; did the location scouting there. It was nerve-racking at first.”
Marc: “It was, for sure. It was definitely a collaborative effort to get the video treatment to a place that we liked it. Then it was, ok, go do your thing. We don’t know what the f*ck you’re doing. You’re in Bogota. We don’t have any idea what’s going on here.”
John: “Even when we got the final treatment, there was an unsurety as to whether or not he knew what we meant. But it was a fun experiment.”
Marc: “Your explanation of the video is perfect.”
John: “It is. We obviously appreciate that, so it did what it needed to do. We both saw it and thought it was f*ckin’ cool. I thought the girl was cast really well; he did a good job with it.”
Marc: “It’s probably the last time we’ll do it that way though.”
BraveWords: It’s rare that a video without any of the band members in it can hold the viewer’s interest from start to finish. “Won’t Take Me Alive” absolutely does that.
Marc: “Obviously, that was a risk we took too. We had a little bit of a conundrum to be honest. I said to my manager, ‘Hey, if we don’t shoot this video soon’ – I’m going back to us hanging in Australia, knowing that ‘Won’t Take Me Alive’ is going to be the first single. ‘If we don’t shoot this video soon, we’re going to have a real big problem.’ Cause we were going on tour in Europe, then we had a week off, and we started doing shows with Guns N’ Roses, flying all over the place. We didn’t have much time, so it became a question of – are we going to be in it? Are we not going to be in it? Where would we find the time to be in it? Creatively, should we just do something foreign on it? So, there were other variables working to take the video to a place that we wanted to actually do it.”
BraveWords: Lyrically, you took inspiration from the war in Ukraine, also somebody you met at the Berlin Wall in Germany.
Marc: “Yeah, ‘Won’t Take Me Alive’ was a tune that we were kind of… one of our friends grew up in Germany during the rise of the Berlin Wall. We were in Berlin… imagine if one day a wall starts getting built, and these people are like, ‘You’re ours now.’ It’s so f*cked up! And it’s kind of what’s happening in the Ukraine as well. Obviously, it resonated with me. When John gave me the demo for ‘Won’t Take Me Alive’, he titled it ‘You’ll Have To Kill Me First’. It’s a cool idea, maybe there’s another way to say that. Then all this stuff started happening around us. I thought it would be cool to have a song in the spirit of somebody that’s not going to take any sh*t from anybody, and is going to stand up for what they believe in, and say f*ck you to the people that are trying to tell them what to do. That’s what it’s about. It’s not about anything specific, but hopefully it embodies the attitude of somebody that’s being taken advantage of.”
BraveWords: “You Make It Alright” is such a beautiful song. But the opening line, “No I can’t take it, I’ve been faking my way through life.” That came as a real surprise. What exactly do you mean there? Dirty Honey is not Milli Vanilli.
Marc: “Ha ha. Yeah, I’m not Milli Vanilli.”
John: “That is really him in the studio, I promise. We have video.”
Marc: “It’s interesting. It’s something that our producer Nick pointed to. He was like, ‘Man, your lyrics are very Don Henley in that sort of way where they are self-reflective. I think we all feel that way at certain times. I certainly felt that way before the band took off. If you ask somebody in your life, where you’re living the life that’s not authentic – whatever that may be. In today’s world, that’s a million different things. But for me, it was trying to make it as a musician, and not. I was literally faking it until I made it. If you have somebody in your life that you can lean on for that, it can certainly make things a little easier. But I’m happy I don’t have to feel that way anymore.”
BraveWords: The album cover for Can’t Find The Brakes is really cool. The band logo is front and centre, continuing the theme from the first EP and album. Making it stand apart is the contribution from highly respected graffiti artist Kelly “Risk” Graval. How did you come to work with him?
John: “That was actually a happenstance opportunity. We’ve kind of developed a little bit of a track record of going with the flow with things as they come into our lives. This is another chapter in that tale. We were playing a private party for a guy who’s been a long-time supporter of the band. He’s very wealthy, and he’s cool. We played his wedding celebration. We hadn’t seen him for a while because of the pandemic. He was like, ‘I got you these gifts from this artist, Risk. We each got our own custom painted version of the band logo. And he made a big neon light, kind of like ‘80s bar style version of our logo, like ten feet tall. It just hit us! Why don’t we have this guy take a stab at the artwork? I think that night. He was there, he met us, and we performed. Then Marc went over to his studio, and they started going back and forth. One of the cool things about the artwork is, it’s sort of akin to a photographer still using film and printing in the old way where he actually painted that painting. Then we had to have it photographed professionally.”
Marc: “Yeah, he painted like a 10’ by 10’ mural at his studio in Thousand Oaks, and we basically took a picture of this gigantic mural, and that’s the album cover.”
John: “So it’s pretty cool. He painted it in stages and took pictures of each stage. I had guitar picks made and they were like, ‘Can you separate this digitally?’ It’s actually a picture of a painting, so no. I thought that was cool to have these organic, old school… if you want to, you can make it metaphorical to like… my guitar rig. There’s no… this is the way they did it back then. It’s really cool. And Jaydon is actually an avid fan of tagging and that whole street art culture. So he had heard of Risk before; he’s been around since the ‘80s.”
(Photo credit: Katarina Benzova)