Few bands can say they have it all, but Dirty Honey certainly does. So, if you’ve missed them to this point, you’ll want to change that, as the Los Angeles four-piece, whose 2019 self-titled EP was shot out of a cannon via the success of the chart-topping rocker, “Rolling 7s,” is on fire. If you missed their 2019, then maybe you caught wind of their also self-titled debut full length in 2021, which cemented their status as saviors of rock via songs like “The Wire,” “Tied Up,” and the anthemic, and yearning slow burner, “Another Last Time.”
As for having it all, one look at Dirty Honey’s lineup, which features quintessential frontman Marc LaBelle, groovy bassist Justin Smolian, thundering newcomer on drums Jaydon Bean, and the guitar gunman of this generation, bar none, John Notto. And while the lineup on the whole smokes, there’s no denying that the chemistry between LaBell and Notto is magical, which is fine, as that’s expected from “classic rock” bands.
Except that Dirty Honey, with its twenty-something lineup and easy breezy mindset, is only “classic rock” in name because their philosophy is decidedly modern. Want proof of the duality inherent within their ranks? Dig on the blissfully rocking Can’t Find the Breaks, which comes in hot as Dirty Honey’s latest full-length affair.
Songs like “Won’t Take Me Alive,” “Coming Home (Ballad of the Shire),” and “Ride On,” to be sure, showcase what initially made Dirty Honey darlings of the proverbial “new wave of classic rock” movement—which is here to stay, by the way. But make no mistake—there’s progression via maturity here, along with boatloads of gut-punching vocals and gargantuan riffage.
While on the road in support of Can’t Find the Brakes, from their hotel room, Dirty Honey’s Jaydon Bean and John Notto dialed in with ClassicRockHistory.com to run through Jaydon Bean’s induction, the writing and recording of their latest album, the state of rock music, and what’s next as they look ahead.
DIRTY HONEY: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview
Going into the recording sessions, what was your intention with Can’t Find the Brakes after the success of the 2019 self-titled EP and 2021 self-titled album?
It was a new chapter. Obviously, we have a new drummer [Jaydon Bean], and being in a small band like this, that’s potentially a huge deal, as it’s 25% new personality in the mix. Lucky for us, it was somebody we’d known for years, so we got to skip the question mark that would have been getting to know the new guy entirely.
Justin [Smolian] and I knew that Jaydon brought more than just drum skills to the table. It was perfect timing for my personal goal: to spread our wings a little, widen our lane a little, and bring some of the things you hear on the record, some funkier things, some acoustic things, ballad things, more variety. A lot of my favorite bands have variety.
I think I came in new as an outside perspective and then got to see where their heads were in terms of writing a new record. Everyone was on the same page and wanted to expand the sound. I was an undertone when I came in, but I still wanted to be a little fresh with things. I think that stretching is apparent in our capabilities. That’s barely half the songs that we demoed out, and we’re jamming on, and we kind of whittled it down to that for this record, and I think it worked out well.
All the sounds that make Dirty Honey, well, Dirty Honey, are still apparent on Can’t Find the Breaks. But there’s some maturity in the songwriting and overall progression. Can you expand on that?
Thank you. I do agree. The simplest way to say how we took it on was with a more open mind. Jaydon coined the phrase, “Let’s be open to infinity,” which became our mantra because we all have that moment when someone throws out a risky idea. We’ve all been that guy where it’s like, “Well, I don’t know if that’s gonna work,” and we’d remind ourselves, “We really need to open to infinity!” Then if it sucks after hearing it, we’ll know.
Exercising that way automatically means you’re trusting yourself to do it well, but you’re also trusting that if it isn’t good, you’ll know it, which gives us a lot of strength. That’s why you’re hearing what you’re hearing, and that’s maturity. It’s not so much like, “Alright, let’s study a gospel record and try to copy that.”
One example of this is “You Make It All Right.” When we got the basics done, and it was time to redo the guitars, the question mark was, “This song is still a little too gospel R&B” because we knew that’s where it came from. So, when it was just Nick [DiDia] and me redoing the guitars, it was for me to put the right flavor on it so people would digest it as a Dirty Honey sound.
I said, “I gotta find my own personal influence within the lane that makes sense.” So, I started thinking Bob Seger, then I started, and then I brought in the solo, and I was thinking like David Lindley, and Slash had a baby, and then I felt like now I have my influences in my head that I love. That’s the central part, which is more in our lane but still in that gospel R&B family. But one of the big challenges was getting Marc [LaBelle] to love the song [laughs].
Dirty Honey is a big part of what’s referred to as the “new wave of classic rock.” Do you feel any pressure to not only meet that expectation but also better it?
The pressure was relieved once we realized that the vibe with Jaydon was more open and became a fun vibe.
I remember a lot of pressure from my point of view. I didn’t play on the first record, so I can’t compare, but in terms of the energy going into this record, I think it was more of a creative vibe. We’re really tapping into a good energy that we could feed off. In terms of being the second record, our sophomore record is important.
To us, the last record was our second record. I know the first one is only an EP, but that’s the one I think where we felt pressure because the EP had our number one hit; it had “Rolling 7s,” which many people regard as our best song.
That went to No. 3, and in one year, we went from opening for a failing band for $200 a night to selling out 1,000 seat places. So, the cream-colored LP, that pandemic record, that’s the one, I think, where we felt the pressure, and it was less of a fun experience as a result.
To me, Can’t Find the Brakes carries the vibe of “Rolling 7s” and “Another Last Time,” but there’s growth here, too. Which of these songs excites you and which best represents Dirty Honey today?
“Don’t Put Out the Fire” is a banger. I don’t think there’s one on the record that’s not going to be fun playing live. We had a lot of fun recording “Rebel Son.” There’s a whole outro section on that where we pretty much just jam, and as instrumentalists, John, and Justin love that part of me. That was a live jam in the studio that we just did in one take, feeding off each other.
If you look at it from the opposite direction, I think “Satisfied” and “Get A Little High” are our standard meat potatoes genre that we’ve already established, so those are a given for the people who want more of that. That’s always a nice point of pride because I don’t think they’re copycat songs.
Songs like “Coming Home,” “You Make it All Right,” “Rebel Son,” and “Don’t Put Out the Fire” are the outer edges of our growth. I’m proud of those. I think they’re great songs, and there’s so much growth. And I personally am proud of the riff in “Won’t Take Me Alive” because it’s super kick-ass, and I’m thrilled with that.
Bands used to get together in a room to write and record, but now it’s a lot of passing files back and forth via email. But Can’t Find the Brakes has the sound of a band playing live together. Was that the case?
It’s a blend because we really like to get part of the experience with Nick and me working together. I know Nick really enjoys it, and I do, too. Part of the fun and creativity of the guitar parts is getting picky about the guitar tones, layering different guitars, and experimenting with different amps, so most guitars are redone over the top of the bass and drum and ride together.
We do a whole take as a band. We record everything first, even Marc’s vocals. Some of that even sometimes makes it into the track, especially if we’re not recording to a click, which was about 90% of this record. It’s harder to piece things together when you’re not recording to a click, especially the drums, since they are essentially all one take, and you can’t really overdub drums when you’re doing no click.
The short answer is we go in, play it all together, and then we most commonly replace the guitars and vocals. And that’s purely for Marc; it’s emotional and isolation of sound as well. A lot of times, the tracking tone is like an approximation.
And then, when we really get into it, I can get further into my imagination. But you still have that feeling since we’re overdubbing onto a bass and drum tape that played together. So, I’m playing along with natural energy. It’s not like Jaydon did it to a click and then emailed me the track, then Justin did it to that; those are horrible.
And then, on top of that, there were still a lot of the rhythm guitars that were the original takes we did that are still on there. It’s not that we just scrap everything; at least 60% of the stuff already stays, especially some more organic ones. I’m pretty sure there was quite a bit of that.
How do you view the success of Dirty Honey, given that many people feel rock music isn’t nearly as relevant as it once was?
We just love rock ‘n’ roll because it’s not a very sought-after genre. If we’re reviving it, then that means we’re really important to it.
We’ll do what it takes to make sure people hear the music we love and keep it alive. I don’t think that we’re going anywhere, and I don’t think rock and roll is ever going to go anywhere.
You automatically become important if you’re one of the few who are good at a genre that no longer tops the charts. I feel fortunate that we are one of those bands. We always played that way. We were a cover band we played, honestly, not note for note correct necessarily because what was more important was putting a shit-ton of energy into it, and so people, even back in the cover band days, felt like we were playing the songs like the original band would have done it in 1971 which is to make it exciting.
You’re currently on the road promoting Can’t Find the Breaks; beyond that, what’s next?
We’re planning to get out more in Europe because, fortunately, we do well enough over there to warrant continuing to invest, and we’re also doing well here. We’re technically global, and that’s awesome. We’re on the radio in the U.K., we’re on the radio in Germany and in Italy, all with great success.
I’m excited to go back and pump those markets more and be around those fans’ energy; they build people there in Europe and love it. And as far as the album goes, I’m just excited for everyone to hear it. I hope it’s buzzworthy, I hope people talk about it, and I hope people go, “Oh, here’s a band whose flower has opened up, and it feels like their artistry feels deeper and wider.”
It’s a lot of the same stuff for me, too. Being a new guy in the band, it’ll be interesting to see the response when people who have been fans of the band still don’t know there’s a drummer after a whole year; it still happens, believe it or not [laughs].
Whether people are happy or unhappy or whether anyone even cares. Or if they didn’t notice, it would be in a good way. I’m excited to hear people’s responses to some of the new sounds. It’s not a change sound; it’s still Dirty Honey. Our sound has some freshness, and I’m excited to see a response from our fans to that sound.
Dirty Honey: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview (John Notto & Jaydon Bean) article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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