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Chatting with John Notto of Dirty Honey

John Notto of blues-rock band Dirty Honey discusses the band’s whirlwind rise the last two years, which included touring with Slash and opening for The Who; the band’s classic rock sound; and vintage equipment.

Dirty Honey

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By Chyrisse Tabone, Rock At Night Tampa

Rock At Night has always had a penchant for classic rock bands—and Millennial bands that have that dirty, sexy, rock sound. You’ll find us following bands large and small between the UK, EU, and US such as Blackberry Smoke, Magpie Salute, Greta Van Fleet, rumHoney, Tyler Bryant & the Shakedown, and many more that have the “it” sound. Now, our new favorite band is Dirty Honey, a Los Angeles band which released a must-hear self-titled EP which will give you faith that classic-sounding rock music is here to stay!

Dirty Honey came to fruition a couple of years ago but has managed to tour with Slash, open for The Who and Guns N Roses, not to mention playing at a slew of summer festivals such as Welcome to Rockville, Rocklahoma, and Sonic Temple.

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A two year whirlwind

Dirty Honey EP

Rock At Night interviewed John Notto, guitarist with Dirty Honey, asking to recap the band’s last couple whirlwind years. He said, “We did seven shows with Slash this year and three last year, and those three were really our first shows, in terms of real shows. When we got management, that was the first thing that was kind of booked us.”

I responded, “You mean you guys formed two years ago and, bam! You’re touring with Slash?”

Notto explained, “The singer and I have known each other the longest, pretty much six years, the whole time we’ve been in L.A.. or longer.  Then I met the bass player, Justin.  The singer, Marc, I’ve known for a long time. I played in his bar band. He had some originals but for the most part they were bar band gigs. For a long time it was my way of keeping rock ‘n’ roll in my life in this L.A. landscape. I brought in Justin because the bass  player was going to leave.  Justin and I met through our circle of musicians in L.A. and he is just “rock ‘n’ roll” in my opinion.

“So we started plodding along, trying to make it an original project and getting away from the cover band thing. It was really hard for us to find a drum chair so Justin brought in Cory for one of our cover band gigs and he said, ‘Yo! I really want to do this! I want to be in the band!’  And he was kind of the first person that was awesome and also said that! There’s no shortage of people wanting to be in a band but admittedly we wanted somebody really good!

“So the two year mark was when Cory joined us on drums. That’s when we named it “Dirty Honey” and that’s when we started to become serious.  That’s when the songs were written.”

Management is key

L-R: bassist Justin Smolian, vocalist Marc LaBelle, drummer Corey Coverstone

Notto discussed how the band became serious, started song writing, and acquired management from a long-time friends he describes as “like having our uncle manage us…we’ve known him so long it kind of felt like family.”

He said, “After we made a music video, we got the attention of our current manager, who had been a longtime friend.  We had known about our manager for many years. He had seen us play in our cover band gigs and never took us seriously because we weren’t doing anything serious. When he heard ‘When I’m Gone’, our current single, he was like, ‘No questions asked! I can put this on the radio!’

“He said,  ‘Hey! I got some gigs for you guys! You guys want to open for Slash?’

“We were all like, Ahh…yeah!’

“Good! Because I already said ‘yes’!”

So I asked about the name of the mysterious manager, and Notto laughed, saying, “Sorry! His name is Mark DiDia.  He has a history of running record labels. He was with Columbia and Capitol—I think President of A & R? Then I think about 10 years ago when everything wasn’t as lucrative, especially for A&R People, he switched over to managing. He also manages the Counting Crows, Three Doors Down.  I guess back in the 80s, he was doing promotions for Geffen Records. And so that was awesome for us! Now, he doesn’t really boast about that stuff. He doesn’t hang on that. He just really works very hard.

Impressed with the lengthy resume, I exclaimed, “WOW!  You hooked up with the right person!”

Notto responded, “And on so many levels. Like I said, we’ve known him as a friend and a trusted advisor. For a long time he was like, “This is what you have to do if you ever get your shit together as a band.”  It’s really good! We feel really lucky!

I boasted, “He might have opened the door for you guys but it’s obviously your talent and sound that is going to keep you there. I mean, I love your EP!”

“Oh, thank you so much! That means a lot to me! We are really focused and we really try real hard, which is sometimes means arguments, you know, not settling. We really try hard for the songs to be catchy and iconic and memorable. We want every second to be…”

Compromise is essential to quality

John Notto described how working together as a band is key to creating the best music possible.  A person cannot get tied up in ego and ownership.  He relayed, “I might be jamming on the guitar and thinking it’s awesome and Marc is like, ‘Oh! Maybe take out a few notes!’

The members might lean toward different styles but Dirty Honey’s sound is, as Notto puts it, “That classic, sexy, rock ‘n’ roll thing!”

I responded, “I would describe your music as blues-rock too. There’s a lot of blues influence in there.”

Covers-the best form of flattery

I laughed, saying, ”This is funny. I looked up Dirty Honey under UltimateGuitar.com and already there are guitar tabs for ‘When I’m Gone.’”

Notto, chuckled, saying, “That, I have to say, is one of the biggest compliments!  Yeah, there’s been a lot of Instagram kids, kids that are like 17, who are doing it. One kid was like 12 and even 8, trying to play. It was the cutest thing in the world!

I asked, “They had the tuning ½-step down, E-flat, etc. for ‘When I’m Gone’. Is this correct?”

“Yeah!”

Dirty Honey Live – L-R: Drummer Corey Coverstone, bassist Jusin Smolian, guitarist John Notto, vocalist Marc Labelle

That classic rock sound!

I asked, Do did your parents listen to classic rock? How did you get into this sound?”

Notto agreed, “That was it, totally! It was really raiding Mom’s record collection. Which I found out in recent years was more my aunt’s collection. I don’t know how she ended up with them but the really good ones were my Aunt’s.  They were vinyl records and I got into them at the same time I picked up the guitar. And today’s music, there isn’t much guitar…in our time.”

I responded, “It’s funny because that’s what I call “real music”. There’s real guitar solos that takes skill. It’s not sampling.”

“I like it when humans are playing it.

Vintage equipment for a vintage sound

I had noticed a YouTube video of Jon and Justin visiting a vintage guitar and equipment museum. I asked about his experience and Notto responded, “That was a dream come true to actually play a 1958 Gibson Les Paul. My goal was to play a 1969 but then I got so excited with the 1958. I actually have a reissue 1958. It’s a great guitar. It’s a custom shop. And to play it through a Dumble was even more mind-blowing! I don’t know if you are familiar with Dumble amps.?  Dumble started making them in the 70s but he really came into prominence when Stevie Ray Vaughan played them.

Listen to the fascinating story about Dumble Amps in the audio interview

I asked, “Since you are playing classic rock music, do you try to use vintage tube amps or certain typs of effect pedals? How are you capturing your vintage sound?

Pausing a second, he responded, “That’s a great question! I don’t take vintage stuff on the road. I don’t have any vintage amps which would be correct for what we are doing. I have a reissue JMP 45 (that’s a Marshall). The reason I chose that amp is because to me, the sound comes from having a real amp that has overdrive. You turn the amp so loud it’s working beyond its maximum capacity. I chose the JMP 45 because it’s only about 40 watts, so you can crank it, and it’s not a problem.

“I hooked up with Gibson so I just hooked up with two standards. That’s what I take on the road now. They are really great! They really kind of reinvented themselves. What I mean, they’ve kind of gone back to what made them really good, even at the non-custom shop level. I’m really happy with the guitars. So the key to my sound is mostly guitar and amp. There’s no distortion or overdrive pedal. The pedals are kind of color stuff—the delay, a Uni-Vibe (Chorus/Vibrato pedal), a fuzz, a wah pedal…by in large, the tone is the amp.”

“I noticed your ballad  ‘Down the Road’ has an organ to capture that vintage sound. Notto explained the story of the edition of the organ, saying “Not everyone was happy when we were done recording it so I called on a friend from New Orleans, who is a great organist, and I’ve known him a long time.  Marc really wanted organ so I got my friend [to help]. Everybody was happy!

I agreed, “It totally fleshed it out. It made me think of the Black Crowes. By the way, I’m sure everybody tells you all the time you sound like Black Crowes, Guns N Roses, Aerosmith. I’m a fan of Magpie Salute, Rich Robinson’s new band.

The life of touring

I asked, “Now that you are living your dream and touring. Is it what you expected it to be?”

John Notto responded, “I think it’s a mixture of better and worse.  The better part is the show. We did our first tour with Red Sun Rising and Goodbye June and it was humble. We played in smaller venues—but we won people over every night. Obviously the 30 minute set is the reward but when we go over to the merch table, meeting people, and things are going well, that kind of makes the next 16 hour drive that we have (that part is worse than we thought)…sleeping for five hours and driving for eight more. But when you get there and feel yourself spreading your awareness to that much more, the people’s reaction was better than I could have imagined.”

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Chyrisse Tabone, Ph.D.

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

I grew up in a household full of rock music, studied journalism in college, and then became a scientist.Although my science career has served me well, music has always played a major role in my life. I grew up reading "Creem" magazine; I play several musical instruments as a "hobby";and it seems a camera has always been in my hand. Now, I am combining what I love the most--music and photography--serving as editor of Rock At Night. I travel between the US and UK seeking my dream! My motto: life is short...no regrets. Chyrisse
Chyrisse Tabone, Ph.D.
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About Chyrisse Tabone, Ph.D. (505 Articles)
I live and breathe music through playing, writing, and photography.

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