Dirty Honey, LA’s Independent Rock and Roll Dream

By Lisa Lynn Morgan

Dirty Honey’s debut single, “When I’m Gone,” became the first song by an unsigned artist to reach No. 1 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart. Their second single, “Rolling 7s,” went into the Top 5 and was still headed up. Meanwhile they had opened for The Who, Guns ’N Roses, Slash, and Alter Bridge and were playing major festivals like Welcome to Rockville, Rocklahoma, Louder Than Life, Heavy MTL, and Epicenter. On the band’s first U.S. headline tour in January and February 2020, the band sold out every date.

And then Covid happened.

Unlike many, that did not stop them. In June 2021, amid the lockdowns, Rolling Stone wrote them up as an “Artist You Need to Know.” The headline: “Dirty Honey Wants to Spark a Classic Rock Revival.” They’re not wrong. This ensemble knows who they are, are unapologetically fantastic at it, and determined to create that footprint in an era that is hungry for it.

Lead vocalist, Marc La Belle channels the voices of Steven Tyler, Axl Rose, Robert Plant, and even a bit of Chris Cornell – a ridiculous concept, I know, but just listen and you’ll hear it. There’s presence about him that tells you he has a steel grip on his trajectory, and nothing is going to hold him back.

Guitarist, John Notto, obviously fell into a vat of chill swagger. He’s just cool AF. The nonchalant Rock and Roll X-factor is grafted into his DNA, and he has a skill set to support it. “As a guitarist, I’m always inspired by the everlasting pursuit of the perfect riff,” he says. Every new recording gives him the chance to say, “Oh, you thought that was good? Hold my beer.” Having looked them both in the eyes, it can be said with absolute confidence, the only way forward is up. There is no Plan B. They both left the east coast for Los Angeles with no safety net. Le Belle has stories of sleeping in his car and admits to getting down to his last $20. Notto shares similar experiences.

Many of their colleagues hung up their dreams at the bus station. But these two have the will and work ethic, and their rhythm section is as fun to watch and tight as any touring band. But it’s an underlying wisdom and business sense out-weighing their years that is likely to underwrite their success. They also believe in their management, with good reason.

When it came time to record their self-titled full-length debut album, the band—vocalist Marc LaBelle, guitarist John Notto, bassist Justin Smolian, and drummer Corey Coverstone— teamed up with producer Nick DiDia (Rage Against the Machine, Pearl Jam), who also produced the band’s 2019 self-titled EP, Dirty Honey, capturing that ever-elusive live sound, that for this band in particular, defines them and gives them a seat at the head of the class. “Because of the pandemic,” says drummer Coverstone, “we had a lot more time to write and prepare, which was great. It meant that we were able to workshop the songs a lot more, and I think it really made a difference.”

This modern classic rock ensemble’s, talent, energy, work ethic, and intelligence just might give them the tenacity and staying power to resurrect what their mentors did 30 years ago – leave an indelible musical footprint that impacted everything.

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