Dirty Honey are in a precarious position. They’re arguably the hottest band in the land, but they are still paying their dues. It’s a rare off day during their cross-country tour and the band’s members are cramped as they travel through Georgia in a minivan. Marc Labelle, who has been garnering attention because of his vocal prowess is currently behind the wheel.
Since forming just two years ago, Labelle, guitarist John Notto, bassist Justin Smolian, and drummer Corey Coverstone have slowly been building a following around Los Angeles and beyond. Among their fans are Guns N’ Roses and the Who, both of whom they’ve opened for. As heard on Dirty Honey’s self-titled, self-released EP and heavily viewed YouTube music videos, the band play a groove-heavy, soulful brand of rock that is parts Aerosmith, Guns N’ Roses and The Black Crowes. This is an extremely talented band with tons of potential. It is the perfect time to jump on the bandwagon.
Labelle, hopefully pulled off to the side of the road, and spoke with The Aquarian about the band’s journey.
Driving a van between shows. These are the days that Dirty Honey are paying their dues.
We certainly are. But we’re doing it the right way. We’re doing it without [the support of] a record label, so we’re learning a lot about the business [from a vantage point] most [aspiring] bands do not have.
During Dirty Honey’s current tour, the band is moving between contrasting climates. You just left warm weather and are about to head into bitter cold temperatures before heading back into warmer temperatures. How are you going to maintain your voice?
It’s a challenge, but it is not the first time we’ve undertaken such a tour. We did it last year in March when the temperatures [in many cities] were changing from winter to spring. The pollen in the air and the various allergies posed a bigger challenge to me. But I grew up in colder temperatures, so I am used to it.
You were raised in Upstate New York?
I grew up in Schenectady.
Why did you decamp for Los Angeles?
I left to pursue a career in music. New York City is a tough place for a band to make it. No one has a car and you can’t carry your equipment around on the subway. The nature of New York City makes it more of a hotbed for hip-hop artists. It’s easier to bring a laptop to gig than to lug a drum set and guitar around. In Los Angeles, everyone seems to have a car. It’s an easier place for bands to prosper.
You headed West with little more than your self-confidence?
I was waiting tables in New York before I headed to Los Angeles. I had a few friends who suggested I come out [West]. They said, ‘I think you could make it out here as a singer.’ We put a little band together and started playing a few shows.
There was a point where you were living out of your car and showering at your gym. You were essentially homeless.
I did that longer than I am happy to admit. It wasn’t so bad. Southern California is an easy place to live like that. And I was willing to do whatever it took to make it.
You held out for the right situation. Weren’t you in a cover band when you met guitarist John Notto?
We were performing both originals and covers. Los Angeles club gigs are often booked for four hours, so you have to come up with material to fill out the sets. When starting out the Stones did it, the Who did it and Aerosmith did it. It’s a rite of passage. When John sat in during one of my last band’s gigs in Santa Monica, I thought, ‘This is the guy I should be doing this with.’
How did the rest of Dirty Honey come together?
John introduced me to Justin the bass player and, a couple years later, Justin introduced us to Corey [the drummer]. Once the lineup was in place, momentum started building.
Why did the band choose to self-release an EP and not put out a full-length debut?
We were not looking for a major label to sign us. We were just looking to hit people over the head with five killer songs. We want to maintain the quality of our music. We don’t want to become a band that releases an album with two or three singles and filler. I would rather release five great songs at a time. But if 10 great songs come about the next time we’re in the studio, we will release an album.
Who are Dirty Honey?
Musically, we play sexy, soulful, rock ‘n’ roll. It’s live. It’s energetic. We have big riffs and great melodies. Our objective is to create great performances; something that is lacking in the current rock ‘n’ roll landscape.
Another thing often missing from music is groove, which Dirty Honey certainly has.
There is no lack of that with Corey behind the drums. I recently had a talk with Jimmy Vivino from Conan O’Brien’s late night band, who said our band is full of soul and has a great groove. He said, ‘You have a great drummer who could make people move without anyone else on the stage.”
Aerosmith were a major inspiration?
I discovered them in my parents’ CD collection. The first concert I attended [was an Aerosmith show]. Both my dad and my stepdad introduced me to the band around the same time. I actually met the band at the radio station in Schenectady right before the first show I attended [during their 1997 tour]. They were nice to me and signed a bunch of stuff that I had. I got a rare glimpse of a rock ‘n’ roll band going to do radio promotion and then going to do their show in a limousine. I thought, ‘That looks pretty cool, man. That looks like a good time.’
Clergy receive their calling from their respective deities. You received your calling from Steven Tyler.
And Joe Perry. After that day, I would dance around the room with a broom stick, singing along to the band’s songs. My parents thought I was a little strange.
Did you tie a scarf to the end of that broom stick?
[Laughing] I never did that. That would have been a questionable fashion decision. That would have raised a few eyebrows.
Ironically, you are becoming known for your fashion sense. You are a fan of John Varvatos clothing and Nick Fouquet hats. Is a sense of fashion something that’s been missing from rock ‘n’ roll?
Punk fashion was cool and I loved the grunge scene. It was different; not caring about what you were wearing. But I am a big fan of John Varvatos shoes. They are awesome. Me, Howard Stern, and other rock stars wear them.
I agree that legendary radio personality Howard Stern is a rock star.
In my eyes, Howard is the ultimate rock star. He has his middle finger firmly pointed in the air. There has been no bigger rebel in entertainment history than Howard. During long car rides, my dad and I would listen to his shows. When I was in college, I was listening to him interview a musician and he was asking these insightful questions. I was entranced. I was looking at the radio as if it were a television. From there, I started checking out his older interviews with Steven Tyler and others.
How did Howard Stern inspire the name Dirty Honey?
I was listening to Howard’s interview with Robert Plant, who was talking about The Honeydrippers. I thought, ‘There’s such a great, dirty connotation that comes with that name.’ I had Dirty Honey on this list of 150 names we were kicking around, but that one definitely stood out.
Besides music, you’re also passionate about hockey and motorcycles. Isn’t it time to retire those hobbies and protect your voice?
I don’t have time for either one when I’m on the road. Once I’m home, however, I will turn off my phone and get back into things. Besides being a joy, hockey is great exercise. I play as much as I can. I also like to get on my motorcycle and hit the open road. I like to experience life; visit national parks. When this tour ends, my dad is going to fly out and we’re going to ride out to Big Sur and Redwood National Park.
You have an amazing voice. I want to protect you in bubble wrap.
I won’t ride around Los Angeles. I want to get out in the middle of nowhere: where there are no people and no cars.
Since relocating to Los Angeles, have you become a fan of the area sports teams?
Since I was a kid, I’ve been an avid Pittsburgh Penguins fan, though one of the New York Rangers has been a good friend and a big supporter. [Goaltender] Henrik Lundqvist and I were hanging out together a couple of years ago and he said, ‘I just don’t understand. You have one of the best voices I’ve ever heard. What the hell is the problem?’ His words and his kindness certainly meant a lot when nothing was going on [for me].
I love the Dirty Honey logo. That is all you need on the t-shirt.
Thank God we have more t-shirts waiting for us when we arrive at our next tour stop in Huntsville, Alabama, The logo shirts have been selling remarkably well.
Although the band has filmed some great videos, which are all available on YouTube, word of mouth is important. Touring, the logo, and the t-shirts will help spread the band’s name.
We decided a long time ago that we were only going to create high-quality concert merchandise. We were not going to sell poor quality items. Everywhere we go, we get compliments. I get videos all the time of people wearing our shirts. Spending a few extra bucks on production goes a long way.
The Amazon-exclusive video for Dirty Honey’s Aerosmith cover of “Last Child” is being passed around on Facebook, and not only by people who’re familiar with the song.
The amount of Facebook shares that thing has received is insane. One of Amazon’s representatives was at a showcase we did and, afterwards, he said he wanted to do something with the band. E-mails were exchanged and we ended working with [Grammy Award winning producer] Dave Cobb, who did an amazing job. We would love to work with him again somewhere down the line.
Nashville, where Dave is based, is not nearly as far away as Australia where you recorded the EP.
We’re going back to Australia in March to record with Nick [DiDia], who produced our debut EP. Ironically, Dave is a fan of Nick’s work and the two share a similar recording philosophy.
The question remains: will the next release be another EP or an album?
We are going to see what comes out [during the recording sessions]. There is no shortage of [song] ideas. But when we listen back to the finished product, we want to make certain they are all at a certain level. Five or 10, we will only release the amount of songs we consider to be great.
For the time being, everything will be released independently; without a major label’s influence?
We pass everything by our manager [Mark DiDia], but, so far, there have been no real talks about signing with anyone. And I don’t think any of us are eager to jump at an offer.
Something sorely missing from rock ‘n’ roll is personality. Can Dirty Honey reintroduce that?
There is a fine line between being hokey and being cool. There are a lot of artists who are no longer taken seriously. We’re just trying to be a badass rock ‘n’ roll band who plays soulful music. And we want to inspire generations to play guitar again.
Be sure to catch Dirty Honey at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn on February 5!