by Keith Valcourt
Like The Strokes and Greta Van Fleet before them, Dirty Honey are here to save rock and roll. Maybe. In a time of mumble rap and auto-tune, the band bucks the system by playing real deal, down and dirty rock and roll. Without backing tracks. Without help from technology. Just four guys, drummer Corey Coverstone, singer Marc LaBelle, bassist Justin Smolian, and lead guitarist John Notto, playing their asses off. The sound is as retro as it is modern. Think Aerosmith meets Black Crowes played by guys half their age without the in-fighting and drug problems.
I caught up with John Notto in advance of the band’s May 1st gig in Virginia Beach, VA to discuss which guitar he would save in a fire, his worship of Led Zeppelin, and why the music of Dirty Honey may be what your life is missing right now. Yes, you with the Post Malone parody face tattoo.
Q: Is it true you got your first Stratocaster when you were eight? And what made you want to play guitar?
A: I was already doing air guitar shows as a kid on a ukulele with no strings to the music that was on the radio. Even if the music didn’t have guitar in it. My friends and I used to hold concerts for our neighborhood parents. Complete with dance routines. That desire to perform in front of people at an early age was there. One of my friend’s dads played guitar in a band. I was over at his house and picked up his guitar one day. He showed me my first chords. The campfire chords and the bar chords. I ran with those like an animal. I just got it from there. I took a few lessons after that. But we moved, so I didn’t stick with them. I was mostly self-taught from there.
Q: I know you have some classic guitars in your collection. If there was a fire and you could only save one, would It be your ‘58 reissue Gibson Les Paul or your 1930’s Dobro?
A: I’d have to save my Les Paul. I actually paid more for it. And I don’t think the ‘30 Dobro is retaining its value like I thought it would. Maybe it’ll bounce back. We need someone to have a hit record featuring a Dobro, and that will make it popular again. First, I need to get the neck reset on mine. Right now, it doesn’t really play in tune. It sounds amazing with a slide. They make theses humbuckers with semi-permanent glue. You add those, and then they sound rad.
Q: How did Dirty Honey come together?
A: Fate man. No, I’m just kidding. (Laughs) – Marc (LaBelle – lead vocals) and I met through the drummer he was playing with. After a year or so, I met Justin (Smolian-bass), and then he joined. We didn’t really have a permanent drummer for a while. We had rotating drummers who played our cover gigs with us. In late 2017, we met Corey (Coverstone), and he was the first drummer who was both awesome and wanted to be in a band. A lot of people in Los Angeles are trying to land big gigs in established bands rather than start from scratch. Once we got the core unit, we were ready to start making moves.
Q: How did you transition from playing covers to originals?
A: We would play these long cover band gigs in bars. Two to three hours a night. Multiple sets. We started working our originals in the first set when there weren’t a lot of people there, to get the kinks out. Then slide them in later in the night when everyone was hammered. Early on, I remember we played more of Mark’s songs which were very AC/DC influenced. We would play one of his songs and some drunk lady would yell, “Why don’t you play an original!” Over time we just stopped playing the covers and played the originals.
Q: For those who have yet to see the band live, what is a Dirty Honey show like?
A: They can expect a full throttle good time. I like to call it “New Fashioned Rock N’ Roll.” It is a genuine effort. They will see instrumentalism played on the kind of good songs people haven’t heard in a long time. I think we live in the era where fifty percent of what you are hearing in a big concert is a recording. It might be refreshing to see us. There are no tracks. We play everything live. And we play it balls to the wall.
Q: Coming from New England, were Aerosmith a big influence?
A: Yeah. They were a much bigger influence on Marc than me. The old greatest hits collection was in my Mom’s record collection. The red one with the wings on it. I spun that a lot growing up. But I was more profoundly obsessed/affected and developed my idea of what a rock star was by listing to Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin. Those records so made me wish I had been born in my parents’ era. Led Zeppelin had such an effect on me.
Q: There is a lot of press out there hyping you guys as the next band to break. Do you worry about the hype?
A: No. I think we are better live than on the record.
Q: Have you experienced groupies yet?
A: Oh man. I plead the fifth. (Laughs) You know what? We are professional and focused right now. Right after the show, it’s bus call. There’s not a lot of time for the “riff raff,” as they say. Most of us have girlfriends. We’re good guys.
Q: So, there is no sex. The rock and roll is there. How about the drugs and partying?
A: I like to have a good time. I don’t think any of us have an infinity to do the harder drugs. We grew up with the knowledge that the older generation didn’t grow up with. We’ve seen the VH1 “Behind the Music” docs. We’ve read the Keith Richards book and the Slash book. Certainly, we’re not wealthy enough that if I OD in a hallway, someone will pick me up and take me to the hospital.
Q: You look at Slash’s book as a cautionary tale and not a “how-to manual?”
A: Yeah. It’s certainly an alluring lifestyle. We did get into rock and roll for the lifestyle. We love the attention and meeting people. We will do a shot with a fan. The allure of being a wildman and playing music from the heart is great. I don’t need to go shoot something in my arm and not talk to anyone. The big take-away I got from the Slash book is heroin did not sound fun to me. I’m so social. That’s why I like to drink, because that is with people. Some drug that makes you want to crawl up in a corner of a hotel room, that sounds awful.
Q: How do you spend your downtime on the road?
A: We have more dash time than downtime. I love walking around the Capitol area when I’m in DC. Even though I have already seen it. It is such an incredible area. If I have any time off in cities, I like to find a vinyl shop. And I’m picky. I don’t like to go to new record stores with reprints. I like old places with used racks full of slightly beat up, ten-dollar, original albums.
Dirty Honey is playing FM 99’s WNOR’s “Lunatic Luau” at Veterans United Home Loans Amphitheatre in Virginia Beach, VA on May 1st.
Keith Valcourt is a Los Angeles based music and entertainment writer. He has interviewed thousands of celebrities in the worlds of music, film, TV and comedy for dozens of outlets including: L.A. Times, Washington Times, LFP Publishing, ChelseaCommunityNews.com, RetroRoadMap.com LaArtsOnline and more. Much More
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