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Dirty Honey navigates challenges in making first full LP

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

Posted: Thursday, April 22, 2021

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Dirty Honey charged into 2020 with a lot of momentum, and a plan for the near future.

But like so many others, the Los Angeles rock quartet -- whose self-titled debut full-length album comes out Friday, April 23 -- learned that things don't go according to plan.

The group planted its flag in the rock 'n' roll soil during 2019 with "When I'm Gone," the first single by an independent band to ever top the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. Its follow-up, "Rolling 7's, hit No. 3, and Dirty Honey promoted its first EP with tours opening for Guns N' Roses, the Who, Alter Bridge and Skillet, and Slash & the Conspirators. Expectations were stoked for an album, and the band was ready to travel to Australia during March of 2020 to work again with producer Nick DiDia.

"Then all of a sudden everything happened," frontman Marc LaBelle recalls via Zoom, referring to the global pandemic that shut down travel as well as studios. The trip and recording session was put on hold, and a video for another EP track, "Heartbreaker," was canceled. And as travel restrictions continued, Plan B sent Dirty Honey to Henson Studios in Hollywood, with DiDia supervising remotely from his home base Down Under and sleeping in a van outside the studio because of the time difference.

"We were just like, 'F**, are we really gonna do it this way?' Nobody wanted to do it that way," LaBelle says. And while drummer Corey Coverstone says that the band "definitely missed" DiDia in the flesh, the process worked out much better than any of the band members -- including guitarist John Notto and bassist Justin Smolian -- anticipated.

"It worked pretty flawlessly," Coverstone says. "Henson and everybody out there were so nice. And Nick was on our laptops or phones, in our headphones, tapped into the session. It worked out pretty great." And, he and Labelle both add, the delay worked to the benefit of the eight-track "Dirty Honey" album.

"We just had way more time to write and way more time to refine what we had," Coverstone recalls. LaBelle says that Dirty Honey initially had four songs "we were really confident about" -- enough for another EP rather than an album. The delay allowed the group to add material; The closing track, "Another Last Time," "was completely a quarantine creation" according to the singer, and even the first single, the semi-autobiographical "California Dreamin'," came along late in the process. Some song lyrics were even composed while the band was in the studio.

"It was great having time to put things together, to figure out the puzzle," explains LaBelle, who formed Dirty Honey in 2017 with Notto, after the guitarist sat in with LaBelle’s cover band in a Los Angeles club. "Some idea that I sang into my phone two years ago might go with a riff or something. Having that time to experiment with different things really helped to create better material."

What didn't change was the sound. "Dirty Honey," like the band's previous EP, is a showcase of timeless rock, an assemblage of riffs, hooks and melodic swagger that nod to a checklist of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame touchstones without sounding dated.

"Timeless...That's a word Marc has always thrown around, referring to albums he loves and stuff," Coverstone says. "We're all striving for this sense of a timeless sound. That's really the word that stands out to me." LaBelle, meanwhile, notes that "we try not to get too crazy with tones and stuff that are tied to whatever era and just be authentic to ourselves. Everybody has a personality that comes through their instruments, their playing. We just want to sound like Dirty Honey...and not too derivative, obviously."

As the album comes out, the band is doing what it can to build its presence. It's released a video for "California Dreamin'" and expects to film another one soon. Dirty Honey isn't interested in doing a livestream performance -- "soul-sucking" is Coverstone's term, while LaBelle feels that the market is "super-saturated" -- but is hoping to be able to play live shows during the fall.

"We miss it a lot, man," acknowledges LaBelle, who fills his free time watching and playing hockey, while Coverstone has been mountain biking. "That's what we work so hard to do, play shows for people who care about what you're doing, and all of a sudden it's gone. It's not fun at all to sit at home, knowing you have this beautiful record coming out and you want to go and play and do everything you can to make sure it succeeds. You're just sitting there, waiting for the world to turn back on."

Dirty Honey isn't just sitting around, however. Coverstone says he, Notto and Smolian are passing demos of new material to each other, which will eventually be turned over to LaBelle for melodies and lyrics.

"We're not, like, diligently working on writing new stuff right now," the drummer says, "but it's always kind of in the background, little ideas being passed around. That's never gonna change."

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