Dirty Honey, Interview – Rock Music Needs to Be ‘Dangerous’

2021-04-19

Pictured: Dirty Honey embrace raw, edgy guitars and solos on the new, self-titled album.

Dirty Honey – Story by Anne Erickson, photo by Daniel Prakopcyk

John Notto and Justin Smolian of Dirty Honey join Anne Erickson to discuss their debut full-length album and more in this extensive video interview

Dirty Honey craft real, raw rock ‘n’ roll in the tradition of some of the greatest bands out of the ’70s and ’80s. Think Aerosmith, the Rolling Stones and a little Guns N’ Roses for extra flavor.

Now, the band is back with its debut full-length album, a self-titled set, out Friday (April 23.) Band members quarantined together last year to work on the album, and the result is a very cohesive-sounding, dynamic set of rock music.

John Notto and Justin Smolian of Dirty Honey sat down with Anne Erickson of Audio Ink Radio about the new album, what makes a good rock song and their love for a variety of genres of music. Watch and read the full interview below, and subscribe to Audio Ink Radio on YouTube here.

Anne Erickson: Congratulations on the new, self-titled record. I really enjoy the live rock feeling of the album. Was that a conscious thing, or did it just happen?

John Notto: It’s conscious. That’s been partly our just love of the music we love, and then also our producer’s sort of ideology about how he likes to make rock records. So, there’s a simpatico there, I think… It’s even live-r than the first record, actually. Livelier.

Justin Smolian: I think most of the rhythm tracks were, I mean, they all were pretty much done live, except for small edits.


When I think Dirty Honey, I think real rock ‘n’ roll. I’m wondering, why do you think constitutes real rock?

Justin: It’s got to be a little bit dangerous. What do you think, John?

John: I think there’s a looseness. And a swinging-ness and a shoot-from-the-hip feel to it. Even if you didn’t make it the way we made it. Like, even if there was a lot of overdubbing, there’s still a way to even do that, that captures that.

Justin: And, there’s got to be a taste of the blues in there.

John: There’s got to be a taste of the blues! I hate to make rules, but if you take that out, and I’ve learned this from writing riffs, you can be one note off from metal or hard modern rock to rock ‘n’ roll. And, it’s just got to be that there’s a certain language to remember to keep in there, and then it’s rock ‘n’ roll and it’s sweaty.

What would you say would be some of the influences, in particular, that came out on this record?

Justin: It’s kind of the big ones. Guns N’ Roses, Aerosmith. Those two.

John: Specifically, “Mr. Brownstone” and “Walk this Way.” No, I’m kidding. Actually, all the obvious heroes we’ve probably started before. Guns N’ Roses, Aerosmith, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, the Stones, Chris Cornell. Justin brings in- I kind of think the thing you bring is a ’90s rock flavoring without trying. I’m not saying you’re Mr. ’90s rock, but you know, that’s what I’m saying. (Laughs) I’m kind of saying, like dude, change your bass tone! No, I’m just kidding. (Laughs)

Justin: Also, I know John, Corey and I also really love like funk and R&B music, so it’s got to groove. So, we can go down a whole list of those kinds of artists that we love, too, that have influenced us maybe indirectly. But, you read interviews about Aerosmith when they’re making those ’70s records and those guys were just listening to James Brown and that kind of funk at the timing.

John: But, I was going to say – we haven’t mentioned this before – but I think a big influence or a big thing on informing the songs on this album was actually what we had already done. We realized our first EP, although it was short, it was pretty varied in style, which was kind of just a sort of like, we caught our big break, let’s just pull whatever we have and finish it. So, the result is, we realized we had seven songs and seven different lanes that can be explored. Each song is another avenue… so, we have these lanes that we kind of took cues from ourselves, and it’s fun, because I feel like we’re starting to develop a language.

What was that experience like, quarantining together and during this weird year where you guys couldn’t really be touring, and just really focusing on the new record?

Justin: I think during it, and especially the real heat of it, like the summer, I think there was a lot of- now looking back, it’s just a blessing, like I said, for the record, but it was tough.

John: It was tough. It wasn’t really necessarily that fun until we finally got to eat the fruit that we bared, which was make the record.

Justin: It was just hard. There were so many outside- I mean, I live in Hollywood, and the protests were literally going by my apartment, every day for weeks… There’s shootings outside of my place.

John: And, also, there were a lot of bouts where I just didn’t even play guitar for a while. So, we persevered, but there were definite periods where it was like, man, I’m just depressed. The quarantine depression was real. And, I think we each hit it at different times, and then we hit really nice streaks, too, just the three of us- Justin, Corey and I at times just got together, and we were like, let’s play our favorite records. So, we’re in there learning Rage Against the Machine songs and trying to play them as good as we can. It was like all phases of it.

Early on, you opened for Slash on tour, which is really cool. Do you guys keep in touch at all? I’m wondering if he’s had any words of encouragement.

John: Well, it’s funny. We’re the two biggest Slash heads in the band, for sure. But, we missed out on the personalized words of encouragement from Slash.

Justin: We were outside… It was after a gig, and we were screwing around, and Slash took Mark and Corey aside. This was at the end of the run we’d done. He said, “I’m going to tell you guys, really appreciate what you’re doing. We love you guys. I might not- we hear you every night.”

There’s always next time! If Slash and Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators go out again, they should bring you with them again.

John: Myles was really accessible, and we also did the Alter Bridge tour.

Justin: Myles has been the most supportive. He literally comments on anything we post on Instagram and on our personal pages, even.

John: He’s just awesome. He loves us, and he’s super cool, super approachable. And, Slash, again, was very supportive, but he has to show it in his certain way. I mean, he has to be guarded. He doesn’t know if you’re going to line step or not. He doesn’t’ know you.

Justin: But, he’s obviously supportive. I mean, he asked Mark to sing with him at NAMM a year and a half ago. That was pretty cool.

Do you guys feel like there’s a rock revival right now? Bands like you and Greta Van Fleet are so popular. It’s refreshing to see this kind of music get attention.

John: It’s certainly refreshing for us, especially! (Laughs) I’m just grateful that it’s refreshing and that there’s an appetite for it. We’ve spent quite a few years in the trenches, trying to tinker with the recipe and also just being in complete obscurity and living in Los Angeles.

Justin: I grew up in L.A., and the rock scene is pretty dead. I mean, there was kind of like a metal scene when I was growing up, but everybody like idolizes the Sunset Strip, especially people that live here, but it’s not what it’s all cracked up to be.

John: If you bounce around in the rock circles with musicians, it’s kind of more ’80s. Everyone’s kind of mohawked out and like wearing those bracelets with the spikes and it’s just not us. So, even in a weird way, we sort of don’t fit in, in the rock scene that does exist.

Justin: At least for me, it wasn’t a fun scene to grow up going to. It was kind of more aggressive and kind of mean, too. It wasn’t like this fun ’80s or ’70s party mentality that you see when you watch a documentary or something… But, it’s really cool. We released a single a week and a half ago and like, and there are all these young kids, like, making guitar videos of the guitar riff or doing it as a solo. And, I’m like, “Oh, this is awesome.” Kids all over the world are digging this.

John: It’s faster than it was even with the last ones. So, we’re even seeing growth. It’s just exciting. And, it’s us living our truth, musically. So, you can’t ask for a better deal, really.

There’s a perception out there that young people don’t want to hear guitars anymore. I feel like you’re a band that really proves that wrong. What’s been your experience with young people taking onto your music?

John: That they do love it. Is it the same amount of people that love Cardi B? I’m not sure. But, they’re out there, and I think we’re a voice that is validating them, in a way. They’re validating us, and we’re validating them… Like, I was lucky enough to be shown great music by my parents, but there’s no bands now. Oh, wait, there is a band! Yeah, there is a band from my generation. You see that comment all the time. It’s really encouraging.

I often hear you guys in the same breath is Greta Van Fleet,” like, “Oh, these are two new, hot bands out there.” Would you ever consider touring with them?

John: Absolutely not! (Laughs) No, I’m just kidding.

Justin: If the situation is right.

John: Yeah. It’s certainly not- Why would I say no?

Do you feel a kindred spirit with Greta Van Fleet, at all? Because, as I mentioned, I often hear you both referred to as the two hot new bands out there.

John: It’s pretty exciting, I think, just to be named as a hot new band. I think the one thing that’s cool is – because we see a lot of Greta fans show up to the shows. Especially towards the end of the year, when it started to catch on a little more, the end of 2019 and early 2020. And, a lot of them were excited, because they were like, “We have two bands, and the best part is that you guys aren’t the same flavor at all.”

Justin: “But, you’re both rock ‘n’ roll.”

John: Yeah, four guys playing dirty, greasy. And, Greta’s got their thing, so it’s cool. It’s great. I really feel like we have our own lane right now, which is awesome.

Justin: Yeah. I see them as a contemporary and not a competitor. So, I wouldn’t, you know, be opposed to doing a show with them.

What are you most looking forward to when it comes to your fans finally hearing the full new record?

John: I’m most excited, because I think we did a really good job, and I like every song.

Justin: I think anybody that liked the first EP is going to like this record. I don’t think we changed the sound. I think we just improved upon what we built on the first record.

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