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Rockers Dirty Honey Set To Release Debut LP,

Interview With John and Justin

April 9th, 2021

Dirty Honey is set to release their self-titled debut album on April 23rd.  I got to preview the record and I can assure you it will be one of the top rock records of the year.  If you like the classic rock sounds of Aerosmith and Guns N Roses, you are going to love Dirty Honey. 


Guitarist John Notto and bassist Justin Smolian spent some time with us discussing the new album, touring with Slash and their future plans.  Make sure you check out their latest single, “Gypsy" at the end of the interview. 


Greg Drugan:  Hey guys!  I wanted to congratulate the both of you on a great, new kick ass record.  I think it’s a great rock record with no filler on this album at all.


Justin Smolian:  Thank you, man.  That’s a big compliment.  What’s your favorite jam?


GD”  “Gypsy” for me.  I think that’s a kick ass song.


JS:  Really?  A guy earlier today said that’s his favorite song.


GD:  Wow, well maybe that will be your next single.


John Notto:  It probably won’t be. (laughs)

GD:  (laughs) So you guys went with that same dirty, classic rock vibe from your first EP.  I really think that it’s a sound that people have been missing in rock music for a few years.  What brought you to that type of sound?


JN:  I think it was a mix of our ideology and then working with a producer who had that same ideology. 


JS:  Our producer made some of our favorite records.


JN:  Yeah, he engineered Evil Empire by Rage Against The Machine.  Sonically, it could be a little different than ours, if you compare them directly.  But the experience of how they made it is exactly in line.  They rented a rehearsal space and recorded it live.


JS:  It’s cool because I kinda model my bass tone after Tim Commerford in a way.  It was cool because I could be like “How did you record his bass?”  

GD:  That is pretty cool.  I was talking to the other guys (Marc and Corey) a little bit earlier and I told them my only complaint is that this album is too short!   With only eight tunes, you are making me want to hear more.


JN:  Well, that was the point.

JS:  That’s how we’re spinning that!

GD:  Like I said, I think “Gypsy” is a great song.  What are some of your favorites?


JS:  I really like “Tied Up.”  I love the way it swings and it has a really good groove for me.   I remember working on it at soundcheck and doing the bass groove.  Cory and I just kinda started doing an Earth Wind and Fire kinda thing.  Then John was like, “Oh, we’re doing that now.”  It’s a little more funky than some of the other stuff.  It’s fun for me as a bass player to play.


JN:  Every time I try to choose one, I just love all of them so much.  I think the surprise sleeper for me is “Take My Hand.”  This is a flavor on the record that is definitely needed, and man it kicks ass!  


GD:  No doubt about it!  Now, I was getting a little Van Halen vibe from “The Morning.”  John, is that something you were thinking about during that song.  Maybe a little “Best of Both Worlds.”


JN:  It’s funny, because that was the thing when I wrote that riff, Marc had to get out of his head.  It wasn’t a direct riff, but it has a similarity to it.  Actually, the guitar solo on that is something I’m really proud of.  I did that on a (Gibson) ‘65 ES 335.  I used my Les Paul on most of the stuff, but that one man.  Justin says “John, you fucked up.  You should have used that guitar more.”


JS:  I know!  People think he’s just the bass player, he can’t tell the difference.  They don’t know!  I’m telling you man, it brings that extra five percent that no one cares about, but I do! 


GD:  You guys have some back up singers on a couple different songs.  Who’s idea was that to bring them in?  It really does add some depth to those two tracks.


JS:  “Another Lifetime” is very much a Marc original by himself.  It was his decision on that song to add some extra parts and some keyboards.  He just wanted to hear the same thing for “Tied Up.”  John was singing background on tour when we were playing it on tour.  

GD: Looking back a little bit, who was the first artist you saw in concert and how did that impact you?


JS:  The first concert I saw was a Phish concert right before they quit in the 2000’s.  It was at a festival.  How it impacted me was that I had never heard of them on the radio or anywhere.  Being very young, I was surprised that there was like this whole other thing.  How does someone achieve this level of fandom without that?  I think it was a pretty cool kinda thing having those hippie roots and doing it the way we are doing it without a label.  We are on the radio, but we kinda made it “a stick it to the man,” thing.


JN:  My first concert was the Beach Boys.  I was kinda young and my mom would play them in the car all the time.  The first concert that had a real impact on me was when I was fifteen.  My dad dropped me off at The Troubadour and I got to see the Melvins.  It was just awesome.  It was totally packed and I remember being so overwhelmed from it being packed that I just threw up on the floor. People were just moshing everywhere, and I was like this is so crazy and awesome and I want to do this all the time.


GD:  I read that both of you studied music in college.  How has that helped your career?


JN:  It definitely made me practice more.  When you’re in that environment full of musicians, and a lot of talented ones and everyone’s working so hard, it taught me that work ethic.  It also exposed me to genres of music that I might not have found and I learned to appreciate.


JS:  It was just a big waste of time.  In terms of doing this, I don’t know if it directly helps you be an artist.  You learn some history and stuff.  You get better ear training and some fundamental things.  But you have to make your own style and no one can teach you that.  It’s just kinda a thing that you do and then you have all the work on yourself to do.  


JN:  I feel that after I graduated college, I spent a year unlearning what I learned in college and actually just focused on what I actually wanted to do in music.


JS:  I think that I actually got ahead of that curve a little.  After two years in, I was like, I know that I’m never going to do this style of music that this school is teaching, for a living.  So I kept what was close to me going.  I just kept rocking and doing what I had to do to pass.


GD:  You can tell that in a technical player and people that do have their own sound and feel.  Sometimes, when you hear someone play you know that they’re proficient but you think, where’s the guts behind it, where’s the heart behind  it?  You have that heart in your music for sure.


JN:  It was a conscious decision, in a way because I actually didn’t practice sometimes. (laughs)  Some of my favorite guys kinda sound like they don’t practice so much.  I know what you’re talking about, some of the guys that were older than me and had gone through the schooling sounded like they came out of a factory.  That sounded like death to me!  Maybe I should have just practiced what I loved, but maybe not.  We are still here! 


GD:  Justin, I heard that you were a studio musician before you joined the band, who did you work with in the studio?


JS:  Nobody important.

JN:  We were both studio musician failures.  We just made "keep the lights on money."


GD:  The four of you come from different parts of the country.  How did you guys meet up and form Dirty Honey?  Was there an add in the paper or did you just kinda meet each other?


JN:  We just kinda met each other.  I met Marc through some guys that he had in his unit at that time.  Then I met Justin through a private jam.  Justin and I clicked right away and started writing music.  We had this instant connection that could just go anywhere.  Eventually the plan became to get the two of them in the group.  We got the drummer in first, then we got Justin in, then the drummer didn’t want to stick around, ironically.  It took a little bit and then we found Corey.


JS:  I did some of those random sideman sessions with Corey and we had a gig.  The guy playing drums at the time couldn’t do it, so I went through my phone and hit up Corey.  He absolutely crushed it without really knowing the tunes.  I remember right after the gig, Corey stood up and said, “I want to be a part of this band!”  Right after that, things started snowballing.

GD:  Nice!  You guys have something going on for sure. You guys played the Viper Room for a live stream last year.  What was it like playing to an empty room, but knowing there were thousands of people watching online?


JS:  I hated it!

JN:  Did you?

JS:  I didn’t even want to do my bass solo.  I need energy in the room.

JN:  Yeah, yeah.  I felt like I was getting that because I knew people were watching.  It’s still live, but they aren’t in the room.  It was just a relief to play.  It was our first live stream too.


GD:  Both of you have said that Guns N Roses was a big influence on you growing up.  What was it like touring with Slash?


JN:  It was a pinch me moment for sure.

JS:  I remember the very first gig we did with them, which was before we even made our first EP.  It was so cool for him to take us out.  Right before going on stage, I remember looking at John like, “Oh my god, we actually did it!”  

JN:  We were getting a little warm and fuzzy.  Like, holy crap, this is finally real.  Our hero heard us play, it was just a great night all the way around.  The fact that he ended up, really, really appreciating what we were doing and taking us out for thirteen more shows, it was awesome. 


GD:  I’ve been fortunate enough to see you guys twice.  The first time you opened for Slash, and the second time was when you opened for Alter Bridge at The Cleveland Agora.  I had the chance to talk to Marc after the Slash show and he said that was the hardest you had to work to win an audience over because it was a seated show. But you did win us over and everyone was rockin’ out at the end.  What are your memories from that show?


JS:  I remember that John and I got super ripped afterwards and we were fucked up and Slash ended up talking to Marc and Corey telling them how much he appreciated us and dug us.  John and I were super pissed that we missed that!  We proceeded to go out until three in the morning trying to make up for that feel good story. (laughs)

GD:  Marc said that show was one of the best mech sales that you had.  We may be a tough nut to crack, but once you win us over, we will support you forever.


JN:  We sold merch all night!  It was like a retail job!


GD:  We may be a tough nut to crack, but once you win us over you’ve got fans for life.  I know that there were a lot of Dirty Honey fans that went to that Alter Bridge show just to check you guys out!


JN:  Thank you, man! Marc has a particular aversion to seated shows but we always win them over.  Same thing happened in Chicago at Chicago Theater but we got the standing O at the end.


GD:  So it’s looking like things are finally starting to calm down and it looks like we may be able to get back to somewhat normal this summer.  Do you have any plans to hit the road?


JS:  Yes and no.

JN:  We’ve got contingency plans for all openings.  We have some stuff lined up for headlining. We have some stuff lined up for going out with another band.

JS:  A festival lineup, you know.

JN:  The state’s have to open up.  I don’t want to say anything because they’ve been saying the plague was supposed to be gone by this point.  If things work out, we could be out there for the summer.  I will say that.


GD:  I wish you all the best with the new album, rock fans are really gonna like it and I’ll make sure people will know when it comes out on April 23rd and we’re here to support you!


JN:  Well, thank you!  We really appreciate the time.

JS:  Thank you so much! 

Make sure you guys pick up Dirty Honey's debut self-titled album when it comes out April 23.  It will will be on your playlist all summer long and for years to come! 

To get another taste of the band, check out their second single, "Tied Up."

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