Dirty Honey’s John Notto and Justin Smolian join Anne Erickson to discuss their first full album and more in this lengthy video interview
Dirty Honey creates real raw rock ‘n’ roll in the tradition of some of the greatest bands of the 70s and 80s. Think Aerosmith, The Rolling Stones and a little Guns N’ Roses for added flavor.
Now the group is back with their first full album, a self-titled set, which will be released on Friday (April 23). The band members quarantined together last year to work on the album, and the result is a very cohesive and dynamic sound. rock music ensemble.
Dirty Honey’s John Notto and Justin Smolian spoke with Audio Ink Radio’s Anne Erickson about the new album, what makes a good rock song and their love for a variety of musical genres. Watch and read the full interview below and subscribe to Audio Ink Radio on YouTube here.
Anne Erickson: Congratulations on the new self-titled album. I really like the live rock vibe of the album. Was it a conscious thing or did it just happen?
John Notto: It’s conscious. It’s partly our love for the music we love, and then also our producer’s kind of ideology of how he likes to make rock records. So, there’s a simpatico there, I think… It’s even more live than the first album, actually. More alive.
Justin Smolian: I think most of the rhythm tracks were, I mean, they were all done live, except for small edits.
When I think of Dirty Honey, I think of real rock ‘n’ roll. I wonder why, in your opinion, constitutes real rock?
Justin: It must be a little dangerous. What do you think, John?
John: I think there is a slack. And a swinging, hip-firing feel. Even if you didn’t do it like we did. Like, even though there was a lot of overdubbing, there’s always a way to do it, that captures that.
Justin: And, there has to be a taste of the blues in there.
John: There must be a taste of the blues! I hate to make rules, but if you remove that, and I learned that writing riffs, you can be one note from modern metal or hard rock to rock ‘n’ roll. And, there just has to be a certain language to remember, and then it’s rock ‘n’ roll and it’s sweaty.
What do you think would be some of the influences, in particular, that came out on this record?
Justin: It’s a little big. Guns N’ Roses, Aerosmith. Those two there.
John: Specifically, “Mr. Brownstone” and “Walk Like That.” No just kidding. In fact, all the obvious heroes we’ve probably already started. Guns N’ Roses, Aerosmith, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, the Stones, Chris Cornell. Justin brings- I think the thing you bring is a 90s rock flavor without trying. I’m not saying you’re Mr. Rock from the 90s, but you know, that’s what I’m saying. (Laughs) I’m kind of saying, like man, change your bass tone! No just kidding. (Laughs)
Justin: Also, I know John, Corey and I like funk and R&B music a lot too, so it has to groove. So, we can put together a whole list of those types of artists that we like too, that influenced us maybe indirectly. But, you read interviews on Aerosmith when they were making these 70s records and these guys were just listening to James Brown and that kind of funk back then.
John: But, I was going to say – we didn’t mention that before – but I think a big influence or a big thing on the information of the songs on this album was actually what we had already done. We did our first EP, even though it was short, it was quite varied in style, which was kind of like, we took our big break, just pull what we have and finish it. So the result is that we realized we had seven songs and seven different paths that could be explored. Every song is another avenue…so, we have these tracks that we kind of took inspiration from, and it’s fun, because I feel like we’re starting to develop a language.
What was that experience like, quarantining together and going through that weird year where you couldn’t really be on tour and really focus on the new album?
Justin: I think during, and especially the real heat of it, like summer, I think there was a lot of – now looking back, it’s just a blessing, as I have said, for the record, but it was difficult.
John: It was hard. It wasn’t necessarily so fun until we finally got to eat the fruit we stripped off, which made the record.
Justin: It was just difficult. There were so many outside – I mean, I live in Hollywood, and the protests were literally going past my apartment, every day for weeks… There are shootings outside my house.
John: And, also, there were a lot of fights where I didn’t even play guitar for a while. So, we persevered, but there were definite periods when it was like, man, I’m just depressed. Midlife depression was real. And, I think we each hit it at different times, and then we did some really nice streaks too, just the three of us – Justin, Corey and I got together sometimes, and we were like, let’s play our favorite records . So we learn Rage Against the Machine songs and try to play them as well as possible. It was like all phases of it.
At first you opened for Slash on tour, which is really cool. Do you stay in touch? I wonder if he had any words of encouragement.
John: Well, that’s funny. We’re the two biggest Slash bosses in the bunch, that’s for sure. But, we missed Slash’s personalized words of encouragement.
Justin: We were outside… It was after a gig, and we were fooling around, and Slash took Mark and Corey aside. It was at the end of the race we had done. He said, “I’ll tell you guys, really appreciate what you’re doing. We love you guys. I couldn’t – we hear you every night.
There is always the next time! If Slash and Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators come out again, they should bring you back with them.
John: Myles was really accessible, and we also did the Alter Bridge tour.
Justin: Myles has been the most supportive. He literally comments on everything we post on Instagram and even on our personal pages.
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 own way. I mean, it has to be kept. He doesn’t know if you’re going to take a 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. It was pretty cool.
Do you feel like there’s a rock revival going on right now? Bands like you and Greta Van Fleet are so popular. It’s refreshing to see this kind of music getting 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 spent quite a few years in the trenches, trying to tinker with the recipe and also being in total darkness and living in Los Angeles.
Justin: I grew up in Los Angeles, and the rock scene is pretty dead. I mean, there was kind of a metal scene when I was young, but everyone idolizes the Sunset Strip, especially the people who live here, but that’s not what it’s supposed to be.
John: If you bounce around in rock circles with musicians, it’s a bit more 80s. Everybody’s a bit Mohawk and likes to wear those bracelets with spikes and that’s just not us. So, even in a weird way, we don’t fit into the rock scene that exists.
Justin: At least for me, it wasn’t a fun scene growing up. It was a bit more aggressive and a bit mean too. It wasn’t like that fun 80s or 70s party mentality 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 there’s all these young kids, like, doing guitar videos of the guitar riff or doing it solo. And, I’m like, “Oh, that’s great.” Kids all over the world love it.
John: It’s faster than it was even with the last ones. So we are even seeing growth. It’s just exciting. And, it is us who live our truth, musically. So you can’t ask for a better deal, really.
There is a perception that young people don’t want to hear guitars anymore. I feel like you’re a band that really proves that wrong. What has been your experience with young people who adopt your music?
John: That they love it. Is that the same number of people who love Cardi B? I am not sure. But, they’re there, and I think we’re a voice that validates them, in a way. They validate us, and we validate them… For example, I had the chance to see good music from my parents, but there are no more bands now. Oh wait, there’s a band! Yeah, there’s a group from my generation. You see this comment all the time. It’s really encouraging.
I often hear you guys in the same breath, it’s Greta Van Fleet,” like, “Oh, those are two hot new bands out there. Would you consider touring with them one day?
John: Absolutely not! (Laughs) No, just kidding.
Justin: If the situation is good.
John: Yeah. It’s definitely not… Why would I say no?
Do you feel a kindred spirit with Greta Van Fleet? Because, as I mentioned, I often hear you two referred to as the two hot new bands.
John: It’s kind of exciting, I think, just to be named as a hot new band. I think the one thing that’s cool is that we see a lot of Greta fans showing up to shows. Especially towards the end of the year, when it started to get a little bigger, late 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 are not of the same taste at all.
Justin: “But, you two are rock ‘n’ roll.”
John: Yeah, four guys playing dirty, fat. And, Greta has her thing, so that’s cool. It’s good. I really feel like we have our own way right now, which is great.
Justin: Yeah. I see them as a contemporary and not as a competitor. So I wouldn’t be, you know, opposed to doing a show with them.
What are you most looking forward to when your fans finally hear the new full album?
John: I’m very excited because I think we did a really good job and I love every song.
Justin: I think everyone who liked the first EP is going to like this record. I don’t think we changed the sound. I think we just improved on what we built on the first record.