Sitting inside a hotel room with an unmade bed the morning after a show in North Carolina, Marc LaBelle is wearing a Led Zeppelin T-shirt. His well-worn Aerosmith shirt lies nearby. Talking about his preference for bands over solo acts, LaBelle says via Zoom, “I don’t have a Bob Dylan tee. I don’t have a Bruce Springsteen shirt. I like bands, and I like that energy.”
The long-haired, behatted LaBelle is the frontman for one of hard rock’s best new bands, Los Angeles quartet Dirty Honey. Alongside guitarist John Notto, drummer Corey Coverstone and bassist Justin Smolian, the group struck thunder right from the start.
Their 2019 debut single, the rooster-strutting “When I’m Gone,” became the first song by an unsigned band to top Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart. The follow-up, casino boogie “Rollin’ 7s,” peaked at No. 3.
This spring, Dirty Honey followed up their self-titled EP with a self-titled full-length album. Boasting solar stomps like “California Dreamin’” and their latest single, “The Wire,” the album is a potent mix of oomph, groove and hooks. Then there are the tracks where Dirty Honey’s pop sensibility surfaces even more, like the breakup-sex ballad “Another Last Time.”
“The typical rock radio music you hear today is missing the ‘roll,’ that swing,” LaBelle says. “I think that might be off-putting to a lot of more casual music fans. But the blues in there, that’s what makes rock and roll more fun. And that’s what we’re after.”
Dirty Honey spent the summer touring as the opening act on the trek celebrating The Black Crowes’ 1990 debut album, Shake Your Money Maker. Playing amphitheaters every night, Dirty Honey hasn’t just been warming up crowds for Crowes hits like “Hard To Handle,” they’ve been winning over new fans with their classic chops and svelte tunes.
“We’ve definitely grown a lot over the summer,” LaBelle says. “The feel for a bigger stage — a better understanding of having to work an audience — that comes with doing it, you know, 30-plus times already now.”
Coverstone and Smolian’s steel-wheels make Dirty Honey songs easy to get into, even on first listen. It also gives LaBelle and Notto a ramp to launch into Dirty Honey’s version of the classic rock dynamic duo (or as fictional singer Jeff Bebe put it in Almost Famous, “I’m the frontman and you’re the guitarist with mystique.”) LaBelle and Notto are finding their own fingerprints as a vocalist-lead guitarist combo by also drawing from the singer’s fondness for Billy Joel and diva-pop and the guitarist’s Funkadelic and Phish joneses.
“It’s easy to be like, ‘I’m pulling from Angus (Young)’ and ‘I’m pulling from Steven Tyler,’” Notto says from behind mirrored aviators. “And yeah, we love the obvious things. But how you sneak in the guilty pleasures, so to speak, I think is what starts to make you original.”