DIRTY HONEY – “Why Would We Ever Sign With A Label?”
April 21, 2021, a year ago
Given Dirty Honey’s impressive trajectory over the last 24 months, it’s quite possible that the Los Angeles band’s dripping lips and teeth logo may soon become as widely recognized as the tongue and lips logo, belonging to The Rolling Stones. You see, in March 2019, Dirty Honey became the first ever unsigned band to hit #1 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart with their super catchy song “When I’m Gone”; and their second single “Rolling 7s”, peaked at #3.
Later that year, vocalist Marc LaBelle, guitarist John Notto, bassist Justin Smolian, and drummer Corey Coverstone opened for The Who, Guns N’ Roses, Slash Featuring Myles Kennedy And The Conspirators, and Alter Bridge. In January and February 2020, every show on Dirty Honey’s inaugural U.S. headline tour was sold out. Now in April 2021, Dirty Honey release their irresistible debut full-length album, and BraveWords had the opportunity to speak with Marc and Corey about the making of this landmark blues-rock.
BraveWords: Seeing as your debut EP in 2019 was self-titled, why did you choose to self-title the 2021 full-length album as well?
Marc LaBelle: “We threw out a bunch of different titles, California Dreamin’ being one of them, No Warning, a couple of different lyrical things in the songs that we were messing with. Ultimately, we just came to a head where we were like, do we want anything to represent the year everybody’s been through? And the answer is no. We said, why don’t we just go with the cream lips on the front of the album? No title really at all. We’ll go that route. I just didn’t want to do anything that reminded people of COVID or the pandemic. Going with the white lips logo gave us more of an opportunity to let the music do the talking.”
Corey Coverstone: “Another idea was Dirty Honey II, but we decided against it.”
Marc: “I had this whole elaborate artwork planned out of chaos in the streets… it didn’t make sense once you got out of this situation.”
BraveWords: COVID completely screwed Dirty Honey’s plans! The idea was to return to Australia where you recorded the EP with producer Nick DiDia (Rage Against The Machine, Pearl Jam), and basically go through the same process for the new batch of songs. Then, the day before you were scheduled to fly out of Los Angeles, the government implemented a lockdown, thereby cancelling all flights. Rather than wait it out, Plan B came into play with the band recording in L.A. with Nick producing over Zoom, while Tom Syrowski served as in-studio engineer.
Corey: “Right. My take on it is that it worked out actually perfectly. Having had some extra time to workshop the tunes and write, we made a way better album than we would have if we went to Australia when we were supposed to, to track what we had at the time.”
Marc: “When we were planning on going to Australia last March (2020), we had maybe ‘Tied Up’, ‘The Wire’ and ‘Take My Hand’ in our pocket, and not much else really finished.”
Corey: “It may have even been another EP at that point.”
Marc: “Yeah, the time definitely gave me more time to finish lyrics and come up with more melodies… to finish a lot of these ideas the guys had been working on. Time is the most essential ingredient in success; I’m a firm believer in that.”
BraveWords: Life during the pandemic has seen pretty much everyone participate in Zoom calls at one point or another, and the majority of us have experienced lags, delays, and dropped signals; they usually don’t go smoothly. You must have utilized cutting edge technology to have Nick, who’s on the other side of the planet, be able to interact and serve as producer over a video monitor.
Marc: “Yeah, they have really good Internet at Henson Studios here in L.A. We had our manager’s assistant set it all up for us. Nick was on every TV screen in the studio, he was going through our headphones, and obviously on Zoom. We had an app going through our ProTools session where he could hear what we were recording in real time. Honestly, everything worked so flawlessly. We were all pretty shocked at how non-invasive it was.”
BraveWords: Dirty Honey self-released their debut EP in 2019 and became the first independent rock band to have a #1 single on Billboard with “When I’m Gone”. How many record companies tried to sign the band for this debut album?
Corey: “None that I’m aware of.”
Marc: “We’re so insulated from those business conversations, and I think the mentality was, why would we ever sign with a label at this point? It doesn’t make any sense. Anybody that’s coming on now is coming on strictly to take advantage of the band. If they were really passionate about what we were doing, they would have been sniffing around the first time. That’s something our manager probably knows a little bit more about. He’s been pretty adamant too about, let’s do it ourselves. We don’t want any more red tape to get us from where we are to where we want to go.”
BraveWords: Let’s talk about the first single from the album, “California Dreamin’”. Obviously, it shares its title with a song made famous in the ‘60s by The Mamas And The Papas, after which America and The Beach Boys both covered it. However, Dirty Honey’s “California Dreamin’” goes in a completely different direction, down a darker path. Marc, you had your own California dream when you moved from New York State to California in 2012 without a job lined up; you were basically homeless for nine months.
Marc: “Yeah, that’s the more typical story. I was working out at a gym, showering at the gym, and I remember bumping into a pastor of a church somewhere out here. He was a very friendly guy – I’m not overly religious or anything. We became friendly at the gym and he said, ‘I tell people all the time, if you want to come out here, just jump in your car and live out of your car until you get your feet on the ground. Shower at the gym, stay safe and do your thing.’ He didn’t know that’s exactly what I was doing at the time. It was a weird thing for this guy to be saying to me. But that’s the more common story out here. People are grinding; it’s not all glitz and glam. More people wind up not succeeding than those that do. It can turn into a very dark place very fast if you go down the wrong rabbit holes here.”
BraveWords: Corey, you were born in Oregon, which is directly north of California. Was your transition as traumatic?
Corey: “I was pretty familiar with L.A. in a broad sense because my Dad was a long-haul truckdriver. Every once in a while, I would go down on road trips with him, from Portland to L.A. It wasn’t like a completely foreign landscape to me. My great grandparents lived out here, and my grandma was born down here (in L.A.). So, there was some ties to So Cal… but once I made the decision to move down and actually live here and try to do music for real, the first five or six years were miserable. It was horrible. Everybody else my age at the time trying to be a musician, went to school so they made friends. I was just a loner. It was so hard for me; even still, I consider myself an outsider in some of those circles. It was really hard. But after a few years I started to find my way and figure things out.”
BraveWords: The video for “California Dreamin’” centers on a large wooden door positioned in numerous different locations throughout the state. Whose concept was that, and how much of a pain in the ass was it to film?
Corey: “Oh my god, it was such a pain in the ass!”
Marc: “It was such a pain in the ass, that when we came up with the concept, I tried to make sure the boys didn’t have to do too much around it, cause it was annoying as all hell to carry this 400 lb. door all over the state. Somebody showed me a picture of an art installation on a beach, which was just a door on a beach. I was like, what if you walk through the door, and you wind up somewhere else. I said that to our director (Scott Fleishman), who’s a friend of ours. He’s the one who’s responsible for making it a real idea, a filmable idea. It was just a lot of fucking driving.”
BraveWords: Musically, “Another Last Time” is The Rolling Stones meets The Black Crowes. Lyrically, the phrase, “Then she used me up like a motel room, drank it dry and checked out of there at noon,” sounds like something Steven Tyler from Aerosmith would write.
Marc: “I was particularly fond of that line when I wrote it, thank you. I’m glad you like it. That’s one of those songs where I had the title, and the scat melody that I just sang out one night for whatever reason, I don’t know why, it just came out. But when you have a title like that, the whole thing just sort of writes itself. That line in particular, I was struggling with the right words, and it sort of came together… just saying a bunch of bullshit honestly, into the microphone. I would imagine it’s a lot like writing comedy; you’ve got to get the pace and the cadence just right. Maybe sometimes a comedian will have a great idea – the idea is funny, but how you turn it into a joke is a lot tougher. Trimming the fat off the words and making it all make sense is the trick.”
BraveWords: Another Steven Tyler-ism loaded with sexual innuendo comes in “The Morning”, courtesy of the line, “I’ve got the key to your ignition.”
Marc: “Good eye, I love it! That’s very Jagger / Tyler, loaded with sexual innuendo. You’re spot on, there’s no doubt about it.”
BraveWords: “Take My Hand” has a real Zeppelin flair to it, with a guitar solo that could have come straight off of Slash’s Les Paul.
Marc: “That one came together… John (Notto, guitarist) had the verse riff.”
Corey: “It started on stage. We were doing a show in L.A. at a little club, and during soundcheck we just started jamming. That song has gone through several renditions and arrangement ideas.”
Marc: “Flash forward six or seven months, I was walking around New York, and I hummed (the vocal melody) into my phone. Then we soundchecked again in New York, and we sort of put the two together, and we all got that feeling. You’re looking around at each other like, this is pretty cool. It was that blend of those two that made it work. It wasn’t until Phoenix that we actually played the song live together; after we opened for Guns (N’ Roses). I actually specifically remember I was in the van in Phoenix before the show and wrote a new melody to the song – like five minutes before we went on. I was like, ‘Boys, just hang on tight. This is going to sound a little different, just keep going.’ And they didn’t miss a beat. It’s weird how they come together sometimes.”
BraveWords: The a cappella ending of “Tied Up” is unexpected, but incredibly cool, as it showcases the strength of Marc’s voice beautifully.
Marc: “Thanks. We were doing that on tour for a minute. John and I would sing it a cappella, then we lean into the background singer, Shoshana Bean; she’s been a great supporter of ours.”
Corey: “I actually attempted to sing, and no one liked it (laughs). I would agree with them, it was horrible. I don’t know how to make my voice sound cool, so they scrapped it.”
Marc: “When you need that soulful bit, there was a thing on ‘Down The Road’, on the first EP, we had this background vocal idea. I tried to do it and (producer) DiDia was like, ‘Yeah, we need some girls to do this. It’s got to sound soulful and huge.’ That idea actually didn’t end up making the record, but I still love that.”
BraveWords: The album is so ‘70s, not only in the way it sounds, but in the way you did it. There’s only eight songs on here. Initially, I thought I wanted more – ten or twelve songs. However, every song is awesome, and the shorter album length makes you play it again.
Marc: “Thank you. We have other stuff that didn’t make it. None of it is dead. One of them specifically I still really love, and we all really love. We want to go back to the drawing board and see how we can make it the best it can be. After listening to everything, this one should be better. We just didn’t nail it. I don’t know if it was the time constraints in the studio or what, it just wasn’t perfect. It should be what is perfect to us, which is, it should sound live and kick ass, and the performances should be great. There’s still more to come.”
BraveWords: There’s no foreseeable, large scale touring in the next couple of months. Will Dirty Honey do another pay-per-view livestream, performing the new album on stage in front of cameras?
Marc: “Hell no. We were really happy with The Viper Room one (in July 2020), but I think that’s the last one we’re going to do – unless something absolutely terrible happens and we have to go back into lockdown. I think touring for us, in The States, is probably going to pick back up this summer. I think there’s pretty good optimism about that, then we’ll see what lies ahead after that. But in terms of doing a livestream, I don’t think anybody’s all that interested in doing another one. That format has been so exhausted over the last six months.”