Going into 2020, Dirty Honey had all the momentum of a locomotive speeding downhill. A forerunner in LA’s resuscitated rock scene, the quartet held a No. 1 single in one denim pocket and a slew of upcoming European and Japanese headlining dates in the other. And they had already opened for some of rock’s most bankable acts. “Then,” says singer Marc LaBelle, “it was like a punch in the gut.”
LaBelle had first met guitarist John Notto while working the local Santa Monica, Calif., scene. The pair teamed up for a couple of false starts with local bands, then added bassist Justin Smolian and drummer Corey Coverstone to the pot. In 2018, Dirty Honey emerged, and immediately attracted the attention of Columbia Records vet Mark DiDia.
DiDia signed on as manager and sent the foursome to Australia to track their debut EP with his brother, renowned producer Nick DiDia. The EP’s lead single, “When I’m Gone,” quickly topped the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart—the first by an independent band to do so—and DiDia ushered Dirty Honey into support gigs for The Who and Guns N’ Roses.
Then, the global pandemic hit. The members of the group were forced to scrap their plans to record their first LP in Australia and pivoted to working at Hollywood’s Henson Recording Studios. With Nick producing remotely, by way of real-time audio and video feeds, they assembled the eight-song, self-titled album.
LaBelle learned from the success of “When I’m Gone.” He resisted the temptation to quickly push out a follow-up release, taking the time to flesh out their songs, especially two of the album’s stronger cuts—“Another Last Time” and the subsequent Top 20 hit, “California Dreamin.’” “Ultimately, not giving up on something yields to some sort of success,” LaBelle says. “I came away with something I absolutely love.”
In 2021, the band resumed touring, opening for The Black Crowes on the recently reunited group’s Shake Your Money Maker 30th anniversary summer run. LaBelle calls it a dream come true—sharing stories over dinner with the Crowes siblings, Chris and Rich Robinson, and jamming with Rich on Aerosmith tunes at soundcheck. “We have nothing but love for those guys.”
In late January, Dirty Honey will embark on a co-headlining tour with Wolfgang Van Halen’s Mammoth WVH. And LaBelle still has his sights on Europe. He’s also currently working on some new material, often channeling new ideas during his regular motorcycle jaunts around California. On a recent October ride to Yosemite, he says that he found his muse in the rhythm of the road, “seeing what the radio station in your head creates.”
“Rock-and-roll lost its way a little bit in the digital era,” LaBelle admits. “But rock-and-roll isn’t dead. There’s something happening here. It’s real and it’s authentic.”
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