Dirty Honey Continues its Success as an Unsigned Group with Gritty, Self-titled LP Debut

After graduating college with a communications degree in New York, Dirty Honey vocalist Marc LaBelle headed out to the city of angels, to chase his dreams of making rock music. He was immediately disillusioned by the apparent two-sides of Los Angeles. One, a city where dreams become reality, full of Hollywood Hills and Laurel Canyon mansions with floor-length windows and infinity pools, and another with a virtually non-existent rock scene that was instead replaced by a homeless crisis and wealth of indie-pop hipster bands.  

Videos by American Songwriter

“Honestly, I was shocked when I first moved to L.A. and there was no rock scene happening,”  LaBelle told American Songwriter. “There was this whole movement of bands like the Vampire Weekend, like the hipster bands in Silverlake. And all these places like the Whisky, the Roxy were charging bands 600-1,000 bucks just to hit the stage.”

Subsequently, LaBelle spent a year’s worth of days living in his car and on friends’ couches. Fueled by persistence, a swagger like Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson and a voice with grit like Wolfmother’s Andrew Stockdale and The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, he navigated his way throughout what was left of the L.A. rock scene and made a home in it, leading him to three other musicians doing the same. With guitarist John Notto, drummer Corey Coverstone and bassist Justin Smolian, LaBelle formed Dirty Honey, a group that would go on to be the first unsigned band to land a No.1 chart spot on Billboard with the song “When I’m Gone,” from their self-titled EP in 2019. Now, they are making history again with more chart climbing material from their forthcoming self-titled full-length album. And they did it all by staying true to their music and playing every dive they could for a few bucks or a hot meal.

“While the hipster wave was happening, we just stayed true to our ourselves and played bar gigs all over town for a couple hundred bucks and a free meal,” LaBelle said about the band’s humble beginnings. “We sort of built our network and our fanbase that way. I definitely think that’s how you get good, playing several times a week, if not you’re doing something wrong. It was our trial by fire.”

After successfully conquering an L.A. scene, saturated with indie-pop, ‘hipster’ bands, Dirty Honey are climbing once more with their new single “California Dreamin,’” currently at No. 21 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart. The song’s concept links back to the early days of the band’s struggle, detailing both the cruel and glamorous parts of the city they each have chased their dreams in.

“I sort of lived, both of those lives,” LaBelle said about Los Angeles. “Sometimes it’s not the greatest place in the world and sometimes it is. And it’s nice to tell a different side of that story and it can be very dark. I mean, there’s a million examples of it going very poorly for people. And even when it goes well it can also be a dark and lonely place, living in this age of social media where people only put out the best version of themselves publicly. I think it’s good to peel back the curtain and show a little truth about whether it’s California or your own experience or just life in general. It’s a story less told these days.”

Telling the visual story of the song is the music video directed by Scott Fleishman. The video is steered by one important prop, a wooden door that represents opportunities as well as endings that occur in music and Los Angeles.  And it’s crucial role in the video made the pain of lugging around 300 pounds of wood from shot to shot all worth it.

“I was shown this art installation out in Bombay Beach,” LaBelle remembered. “At one point in the ‘60s, the water became poisonous to all fish and it became this like abandoned city. And now it’s sort of like a home for all these art installations that people bring back from Burning Man and stuff. And I saw this one doorframe on the beach that just lead nowhere, and I said to my director, ‘what if we go through this doorway and you sort of take a trip to California like a bad dream or something?’”

“California Dreamin” with its metaphorical messages, catchy hooks and definitive, commissioned props has already garnered over 350k views on YouTube and will surely be joined by other songs from the new album like “The Wire” and the bluesy- ballad “Another Last Time.” Both songs adhere to the sultry, gritty guitar work and vocal texture the band has built a reputation on. “The Wire,” in particular, allowed LaBelle to show his vocal chops, hitting Robert Plant range highs inside sing-along anthemic choruses, steeped in Slash level lead guitar riffs. 

“I usually don’t have my hooks in anything too much until I hear a riff that inspires me,” LaBelle said about ‘The Wire.’ “John sent that to me and it was actually a busier riff, it wasn’t as simple. There were a lot of nuances when he played it. And it was my job to make more of a statement in the riff.”

“Another Last Time” was a different feel entirely and allowed LaBelle to meander through the song in a lower, more casual register that aligned with the song’s bittersweet, emotive tone with lyrics that elicit a dreaded but beautiful feeling of looking back on a love that was often a back-and-forth battle. “I just came up with this phrase ‘another last time’ and it was too good to not write something on that,” LaBelle said.

A big fan of soulful vocalist like Otis Redding and Chris Robinson, Labelle took a more bluesy vocals approach to the song, letting emotion take over. “I love people who have soul in their style, that’s what I’m drawn to,” he said. “It certainly comes from the blues where it’s all feeling. “

Making a record with feeling and soul to it was the ultimate and singular goal, for the band only paralleled by its desire to make a record that would stand in a live setting, when people could return to the world of rock and roll concerts.

“We set out to make fun record in a not so fun time,” LaBelle said. “Knowing that when all this ended, we wanted to bring a good time to the stage when everything opened up again. I don’t think people are going to want to be reminded of COVID or listen to music that’s like crazy serious. I think we made a fun record, a soulful record with some great sexy riffs.  It’s a rock and roll record and one of the better ones I’ve heard in a long time, so I’m curious to see what people think of it. I don’t think the best has been heard yet.”

Check out Dirty Honey here on release day, April 23, and follow the band here. 

Leave a Reply

Years & Years Let It All Hang Out In “Starstruck” Video