Dirty Honey first hit the scene in 2019 with their EP featuring the singles “When I’m Gone” and “Rolling Sevens”. I spoke to guitarist John Notto in early 2020 when the plan was to head to Australia to record a full-length debut and hit the road. The pandemic changed those plans a bit, but the band is now ready to release that long-awaited debut. John and bassist Justin Smolian joined me to talk about the upcoming record and much more.
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On whether this feels like a debut after the success of their EP – Justin – It feels like a second record to me. John – It feels like a second record, just because of what we were able to pull off in terms of a career push-off. That first EP felt like a full album cycle, even though it’s not a full album. It was pretty crazy to finish right before the pandemic came in, right before the lockdown, came in, to finish at the El Rey here, sold out about a thousand people, and go, “Wow, we did this song seven songs”. Seven released songs. So I didn’t guess that we would be able to do that. I think we were all pretty shocked. So it doesn’t feel like our first album, but yeah, it’s the first full-length. 1:02
On using the pandemic downtime – Well, what we did was we took the extra time and we use my rehearsal space and then we rented another rehearsal space, and we just said, “Well, let’s take all these seedlings that probably weren’t going to make the record and see them through, this is an opportunity”. It really probably would have been another five or six-song EP if the pandemic hadn’t happened. I’d say most of the songs that are on this were at least partially formed before that, before the pandemic, but we really got to, like, workshopped them and get them just way better than they would have been if this hadn’t happened, honestly. In terms of the record, it was 100% positive, I think. 2:15
On the history of the songs on the new record – It’s all brand new. A lot of it was actually written on the road touring the last EP. 3:38
On remaining an independent band – We haven’t been actively pursuing label offers, to my knowledge. So right now, we’re just going to keep pushing it the way we did. During the first year, even when labels either turn us down or the offer wasn’t right, there was this sort of mantra that started from our manager, it was, “Screw it, we’ll do it and figure out how to pay for it later”. You’re either with us or you’re not was our thing So I think we’re just continuing that. We’ve really got a great team behind us. We’ve got a great manager, great agent, great radio guys. We’re really fortunate in that regard.4:21
On being a California band – I think it was just important for us to not try to be anything other than, at least for three of us, what we’ve become by living here because we’re transplants. Justin here, he’s a native. You’ve seen Sound City? He grew up right down the street from that, a Van Nuys original right here. I think that moving here, like for me and Cory (Coverstone, drums) and Mark (Labelle, vocals) moving from kind of not rural, I was really rural, but we got northern Maine, you got upstate New York and you got sort of bum fuck Oregon. We love the wilderness, the woods, and stuff. You come to California, there’s a certain brand of performance. So if you’ve got that in you, you tap into it. I think that’s kind of what makes us California. We played especially (in) Santa Monica and Hollywood and we really developed our live performance from that. We used to play in this really shitty bar called The Basement, but it would be packed with college kids. By the third set at midnight or 1:00 in the morning, everybody was so hammered and John would be making out with girls while he’s playing. I would bum rush the audience and start a mosh pit. It would just get crazy. The floor would be covered in glass by the end of the night. None of that’s an exaggeration. We really wanted to take that idea, that performance with us on the road. I think that’s why people like seeing us so much. We really want to bring that same mentality, a crazy small bar to, hopefully, big arenas one day. I was like, “Let’s just take The Basement to the arena”. 6:12
On the benefits of the club scene –There was a certain freedom to be in down there (in The Basement). It’s like a speakeasy, it’s like a juke joint. It was like we’re down here and whatever goes kind of thing. It was great to do those gigs, too, because we would do cover songs also, but we would really stretch those songs out and improvise them and go into these long jams that I think. made us develop more as a band, get better at playing together, learning how to take other songs that we loved and make them our own. 8:55
On picking songs for the new record – I think we’re taking advantage of the fact that you don’t literally need filler anymore. So we cut three songs that if, in their current form, if we put them on the record, they’d have been filler. We don’t have to succumb to those pressures of yesteryear So if we have eight bangers, let’s put out eight. Why put out 11 songs and three of them will be under-realized. Maybe they’ll make the next record and they’ll be better than they were.…I would say across the board it’s a benefit not having a label there saying anything. Considering again what Justin said, considering the teen we do have in place and the passion we have from that team. I can’t imagine another cook in the kitchen. Our heads are in the right place, too. So we know that we want to write great songs. So there’s no argument there. 9:45
On whether they feel frustrated or motivated seeing The Grammys ignore rock – I think mostly the last thing. Everybody has their time holding the torch, and that includes genres, I think. So that part’s natural, but I think the fact that…we’re in such a unique place that what we do naturally automatically puts us in a unique spot that we can lean in harder. I think rock’s always kind of been for the outcasts. I’m not super upset that they weren’t featured. I mean, obviously, I would like to have seen a rock band perform, but I wasn’t upset about it or anything. I was just thinking, “Hey, you know what, maybe we’ll be there next year because we’re awesome”. It would be all the more cooler to be the, “Huh, these guys are doing it?” 11:45.
On whether future touring plans will include headline dates or opening shows – We’ve got people figuring that out for us. We do have some things lined up, we’ve got a little bit of both lined up. I think that the things with other bands are very exciting if they’re able to happen.I think for me and probably Justin and anyone else in the band, the most satisfying is to do your own show. I mean, it’s just because the audience is there for you. The night is yours, there’s no time limit. There’s no feeling like when the audience is singing along to every song. You can’t beat that. I mean we’ve opened up for some big bands and played some big stages, but my favorite memories are probably from some of the smaller club shows where we’ll stop playing the song and the audience keeps singing along. Well, you can beat it with a great guitar solo. Most songs are bs, bs, bs, guitar solo, bs, bs. Well, just that’s just my opinion. I mean, it’s cool. It’s a good time to smoke weed, I guess. 14:44
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