Q&A: Marc LaBelle of Dirty Honey, the Unsigned Band That Climbed to the Top of the Billboard Rock Charts

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There has been a recurring narrative in recent years of emerging bands swooping down to save the soul of rock and roll.  All too often, though, many of these bands have been unmasked as false saviors and manufactured imposters. In this vacuum, the upstart band Dirty Honey has revved up the riffs and swagger on its debut EP, injecting new energy in the rock idiom, the band’s organic, singular sound rooted in the echoes of such acts as Aerosmith and the Black Crowes.

Dirty Honey’s single “When I’m Gone” has been a smash hit, registering number 1 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Song Chart last October, the first time an unsigned band achieved that feat.

The band also received kudos for its version of the Aerosmith classic “Last Child” from Tom Hamilton himself.

Part of Dirty Honey’s appeal derives from its rootsy, dynamic vibe and from the many talents of front man Marc LaBelle, who boasts not only iconic grit and panache, but also an educational background spanning broadcasting, marketing, and corporate communications and a stint as a location scout.

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In addition to LaBelle, the band includes John Notto on guitar, Justin Smolian on bass, and Corey Coverstone on drums.

Rock Cellar: Dirty Honey has enjoyed an unusually strong reception in a short time, especially as an unsigned act. To what do you attribute your popularity?

Marc LaBelle:  The world has been clamoring for real rock and roll, and there hasn’t been much of that in recent years. People are ready and eager for real rock and roll that is authentic. I think we’re delivering more authentic and powerful rock and roll.

So many people have a passion for older bands, classic rock bands. First and foremost, I’m a big fan of that music myself, but to a large extent, real rock and roll has lost its luster.

When we first started recording, we were too focused on trying to push rock to the next level, and the music we were writing wasn’t really true to what we were really about, which was more in line with the attitude of 70’s rock and roll.

The music we initially made was a little too progressive for my personal taste.

Rock Cellar:  How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your recording and touring plans?

Marc LaBelle:  We were planning to head to Australia to record a new album on March 17, but Australia closed its borders and we had to postpone the trip. It’s been frustrating and difficult. But I’ve been writing plenty of material for the album, and ironically, the shutdown has been beneficial for me creatively.

We finished the first leg of our tour this year on Feb. 28 in LA, and planned to resume touring in mid-
April, but we had to cancel, of course. So we’ve been using this time wisely as much as possible, and trying to focus on making a great record.

Rock Cellar:  You have a strong, distinctive voice.  To which singers would you compare your vocal style?

Marc LaBelle:  I’ve been compared to a lot of different singers — it’s been crazy. I can understand the comparisons between my voice and that of guys like Steven Tyler, Robert Plant and Chris Cornell, all of whom I’m a big fan of, and all of whom have certainly influenced my style.

I’ve also been influenced by Chris Robinson, Brian Johnson, Bon Scott and even people like Janis Joplin and Sam Cooke. I listen to a lot of the old blues cats, including Otis Redding and all the Kings.

Rock Cellar:  How did the debut EP come about?

Marc LaBelle:  Well, the EP evolved through my relationship with [manager]Mark DiDia, who I’ve known for many years. He’s a been a great person to bounce ideas off of over the years, given his musical history. I played a demo of “When I’m Gone,” and he pretty much freaked out. He said “that’s a number 1 hit.”

We were initially going to record the album in Detroit, but once that fell through, I told Mark to send the demo his brother Nick, a producer in Australia who’s worked with everyone from Pearl Jam to the Stone Temple Pilots to Bruce Springsteen. He had a similar reaction to his brother, and shortly thereafter, we jumped on a plane and recorded at La Cuerva Studios in Byron Bay, Australia.

Rock Cellar: You have a n educational background in broadcasting, marketing and corporate communications. How has that helped you approach the music business?

Marc LaBelle:  Well, I’ve tried to apply creativity in a marketing sense to music. One of the ways we’re establishing trust with our fans is by making high quality merchandise, including T-shirts, that looks and feels good and isn’t disposable. Also, my background in video and film helped in the making of our music videos. I had connections with film personnel and other people, allowing us to reduce production costs significantly for the “Rolling 7’s” video.  People seemed to really it.

Rock Cellar: “Rolling 7’s” comes across as a gritty rock song accompanied by a video that harkens back to those of such bands as Aerosmith.  What inspired you to write that song?

Marc LaBelle:  The song just came naturally as I wrote it. I was sitting in my room in Australia, and this idea of rolling 7s at the craps table came to mind. As I wasn’t very familiar with the game, I had to do some research on what it meant, and the more I learned, the more I thought “this is just too good.”

The music has this really sexy vibe, and lyrically, I wanted to match that. The song’s video is gritty, raw, and realistic. It reflects experiences we had when we first started playing to half-full clubs in LA.

When we started out, we’d be playing somewhere on a Wednesday night with a random cast of characters at a bar in West LA.  We’d play to fighting college kids, bikers, local drunks, etc. It didn’t matter. All of these things really happened. We did the video in just one take, and it represents a few of the things we endured on a nightly basis.


For more on Dirty Honey, visit the band’s website.

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