Interview: Marc Labelle of Dirty Honey

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Dirty Honey performs at MECU Pavilion on Sept. 22, 2019. (Photo by Chris Smyth)

Los Angeles-based rock and roll band Dirty Honey are beating the odds. As an unsigned band, Dirty Honey has overcome the obstacles that come with not having a major label in their corner, and the band saw their debut single, “When I’m Gone,” become a #1 US rock radio hit in late 2019.

Dirty Honey was supposed to be in Australia right now recording their new album, but the travel restrictions caused by the coronavirus have stuck the band in Los Angeles.

Lead singer Marc Labelle recently spoke with Parklife DC’s Chris Smyth about what it’s like to write and record in this time of coronavirus, the band’s relationship with Slash and Myles Kennedy, their upcoming European tour with Alter Bridge, and when we may see Dirty Honey make their first stop in Washington, DC.

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This transcription has been edited for clarity. Listen to the audio of the entire interview here:

Chris Smyth: This is Chris Smyth with Parklife DC and I am speaking on the phone with Marc Labelle, the lead singer of Dirty Honey. Marc, thanks for talking with me.

Marc Labelle: Thanks for having me. How are you?

CS: I’m doing great, how about yourself?

ML: I’ve been better, but you know, this is a weird time, obviously. But there’s worse things that I could be doing, or could have to do I guess. Other than staying home, you know?

CS: Right, so let’s start with that. How are you doing? What are you doing to pass the time right now? Because you know, we are all stuck home.

ML: Yeah, we were actually supposed to be, we were kind of scheduled to be in the studio in Australia right now. Obviously, we are not in Australia. The borders are closed. We’re just taking the time to write some new music, get some stuff demoed. There a lot of emails going back and forth between us and our producer. And it’s kind of an agonizing writing process that we all put ourselves through. But it’s kind of a good reset button because we’ve been pretty much on the road the whole last year. Even though the whole world seems to be falling apart, there’s not a lot of outside influence or expectation or anything. Everyone seems to be focused on what’s happening in the world, and it gives us a time to reset and focus and worry about writing music. Other than obviously staying healthy.

CS: Sure, well how are you guys doing that? Are you just writing stuff and demoing it and sending it back and forth? Are you jumping on Google hangouts together and trying to play together?

ML: No, we’re definitely still getting together. Our whole philosophy is you do it together. You get in a room together and you record it together. We’ve been keeping the total number of people under ten. But yeah, we’ve been getting into our little studio up in the valley and demoing some stuff and sending it to the producer. Obviously he can’t be with us in the room. He lives in Australia, so that poses its own challenges. And we certainly talk to him or Skype or Zoom. The band though, yeah, we’ve still been getting together and writing and demoing stuff, so that’s no problem.

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CS: Cool, so I know that you guys did your previous album in Australia, your EP you did in Australia, and now you’re doing this one again. Why continue to go back to Australia when you live in Los Angeles? There’s a thousand recording studios you could choose from.

ML: Our producer lives in Byron Bay with his family. And he’s got a great studio out there. Initially when we started looking at options the first time around, it was, do we go somewhere in LA? Do we go somewhere in Nashville? Lets check out rates, this and that. Studios in LA, good ones, can be $2,500 a day. So that gets pretty costly pretty quick. And then Nick the producer was like, “If you guys can just get yourselves out to Australia, we’ll give you the studio for free. And if you guys get a record deal or a publishing deal or whatever, you can just pay me on the back end.” And that’s sort of the arrangement we have with him and that’s what we wound up doing. All in all, we did the whole thing for less than $10,000. That’s four days in a nice studio in LA. So it seemed like an obvious risk to take. And you get to make a record with somebody that was in the room making some of our favorite records from Pearl Jam to STP to Springsteen to Rage Against the Machine. That alone was worth the trip. You know, just to work with him.

CS: I don’t know if you’ve said the guy’s name? Who is your producer?

ML: Nick DiDia. He was an engineer for Brendan O’Brien, who has made so many great records. He started producing bands in the late ’90s, and he got tied up with this band Powderfinger out of Australia. It’s a great band, and we are certainly enjoying that relationship that he’s sort of made in Australia. And he’s got his roots set there and stayed there ever since he started working with them.

Stream Dirty Honey by Dirty Honey on Spotify:

CS: There is obviously no way to know how this is all going play out in the short term. But is the hope that you guys basically have everything ready to go so that when you step foot into the recording studio you guys can just basically play the songs and get everything recorded?

ML: Yeah. I think once you start getting well recorded demos and sort of more complete ideas. A lot of stuff that flies around, you know, it could be as simple as me humming something into my phone while I was walking on some street in New York City. Once you sort of flush that stuff out as a group in the studio, you lay it down and hear what it sounds like with a full band it takes on a new life or it doesn’t. Sometimes things fall short in that way. And then we send it to Nick and he might say, “you know why don’t we try something else here? Maybe throw this part at the beginning instead of the end?” And we take those suggestions and we do it all over again. Hopefully we can actually get out there to record it and track it with him. He does a lot of the nuance stuff. He can make sure we get the right vocal take that has the right personality and the right emotion. And same with everybody else. That’s where his brilliance comes in. It’s a subtle thing, but it makes a big difference.

CS: Are we looking at a full length album or is it going to be another EP?

ML: You know, I don’t know how many tunes we’re gonna do yet. Right now, there is definitely a wealth of material. It doesn’t seem like that’s going to be the issue. I just think you want everything to be really, really good that you put out into the world these days, so if that ends up being five or eight songs, I don’t know. I’m hoping for eight at least  right now. I think that’d be a good number. So we’ll see. Remains to be determined.

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CS: All right. I want to talk to you about touring and all that, if that’s alright? You guys are still I guess supposed to go on this big European tour with Alter Bridge. I’m guessing that’s up in the air but as of right now it’s still scheduled? Is that about right?

ML: Yeah. It’s still on for now. I think one of the festivals got canceled today. I’m not sure which one. But it’s looking bleak but it’s still on right now. We’ll probably know more in the next two weeks or so.

CS: You guys haven’t been to Europe as far as I’m aware. Do they know who you are over there? Are you going in cold with Alter Bridge and trying to win everybody over?

ML: Yeah, somewhat. I was handling the merch. The online merch sales for a long time, and there is definitely a lot of stuff that goes to Italy, the UK, France, certainly Germany. Like, a lot of stuff. For whatever reason, whether it’s Spotify, YouTube, the internet, I don’t know, there’s definitely people that know us over there. But we’ve definitely never been over there in a touring capacity at all. So that’ll be a first. But from what we’ve heard from everybody, that is definitely a market that is really going to like Dirty Honey. Everybody seems to be on the same page with that one, from other musicians to fans, it’s all across the board so we are pretty pumped to get there.

CS: Yeah, it seems that right now that Europe and the UK and all that still have a big fan base for rock music, probably a little more so than here in the States.

ML: Definitely, and a big one just from knowing what I send out to people, definitely a big one is Italy. I’ve sent so much stuff to Italy this past year. I don’t know how they know about us. I think there was some radio air play over there on Virgin Radio and Radio Franchise. And it just happened one random day that like, I don’t know, two dozen orders from a foreign country came in all on the same day and I was like what is going on over there? And I had to figure out all of these international shipping policies. It was a pretty interesting, tedious day for me, but it’s a good problem to have.

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CS: So you guys have already opened for Alter Bridge, you’ve opened for Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators, and you’ve opened for Guns N Roses. So how did this relationship with Slash and Myles and that whole crew, how’d that develop, and how has that gone through over time?

ML: So our first real show other than locally in LA was in Phoenix with Slash and Myles and the Conspirators. So they were the first ones to really hear us before anything was even released. This was October 2018 before we even made the record. We had a demo of “When I’m Gone,” and Slash picks the bands, and our manager put in a call to his manager and sent the song to Slash and said “Hey, these guys would love to open for you.” And Slash was like “Hell yeah, lets do it. Sounds great.”

And that was three shows, that run. The last of which was in Denver. Myles, who is so nice, said that night in Denver, he said it a couple times on stage, he said “Give it up for Dirty Honey. I really think they are the future of rock and roll. It’s great to see a good young rock band. I really like those guys. Please support them.” And we were like, oh that’s strange, he really went for it tonight. And then he pulled me aside backstage that night and was like “I just gotta tell you I really love you and your band, and you’ve got a great voice. I’m really, really pulling for you guys. I think what you do is great, and I just wanted you to hear it from me.” And I was like, oh cool. That was really the first time I had a conversation with him, but he was very nice.

And then a couple months later we went out with him and Slash again. And then we got the Guns thing. And then Slash was nice enough to have me sing with him at this event for Gibson. I did an Aerosmith and a Zeppelin song with him. That was obviously a dream come true. It’s been about two years now, but to say they were the first to kind of take us under their wings is an understatement because they definitely were. Myles really stuck his neck out for us. In public, still to this day he’s always talking about Dirty Honey, which is so cool! He’s such a cool, genuine guy, and a good fan of music and rock and roll, and it’s nice to know that someone like that is in your corner. It really helps motivate you and encourage you to keep going.

Read Parklife DC’s review of Dirty Honey at MECU Pavilion, opening Alter Bridge, in 2019.

CS: That’s really cool. That’s really cool that he’s been doing that. And obviously he’s bringing you guys out on the road again so it’s not a lie. He must think a whole lot of you guys.

ML: Yeah, and Tremonti too. We did a whole tour with Alter Bridge, and he’s so awesome. He’s another guy that’s a great vibe backstage and a big music fan, and he loves playing guitar. He’s been nothing but supportive too, so I have to tip my hat to all those guys for their support. Not only what they say, but by taking us out on the road with them and introducing us to their fans, it’s a huge, huge help for a younger band.

CS: Yeah, I caught you guys when you opened for them back in Baltimore back in September. I got to see you guys play then, which was great.

ML: That was at MECU, I think, right?

CS: Yeah, the pavilion right in downtown Baltimore.

ML: That was the night, Myles, I think lost his voice.

CS: He did yeah. He admitted it. He said it on stage that he got sick. And then a few nights later he had to cancel or postpone a show if I remember correctly.

ML: I don’t think they actually postponed anything. They just kind of had the crowd sing for him. And Tremonti picked up the slack for him a little bit too. Which was cool to see. They kind of wear that as a badge of honor that they really have a great track record of not cancelling or postponing shows. But you know you’d obviously understand if the singer doesn’t have a voice you kind of understand them not playing. But they pushed through man. There were three bands on that bill and we got to give it up to them for not cancelling on us. That was a welcome surprise, certainly.

CS: No, that’s good. Even with his struggles, he still sounded really clean, really good. And it’s always good to hear Mark step up because I think he’s got a really solid voice, and his stuff with Tremonti shows that off too.

ML: I said the same thing to Myles actually when it happened. I was like dude, I heard you weren’t having a great night singing, and I went out to the front. I was in the back on the lawn there listening to him, and I really couldn’t tell that you weren’t having your best night. I thought you sounded fine.

Watch the official music video for “Rolling 7s” by Dirty Honey on YouTube:

CS: I want to talk about your video for “Rolling 7s.” I think it’s really cool. I like how it looks like it’s all one continuous shot the whole time. How did that come about? Who thought thought of that idea and how did that come about? Because I’m sure you didn’t do it in just one take.

ML: Yeah, so it’s actually three shots. There’s a beginning shot. The whole middle is one take. Everything inside the bar is one take.

CS: Oh really?

ML: Yeah. And then there is obviously the shot of her leaving outside. It was kind of my idea to do a one take sort of thing. The director is a great friend of mine. He’s done a ton of music videos mostly in the hip-hop world. But I just told him, I just see a girl on a bike, in the desert, rolling into the intro to this song. What happens after that, I have no idea, but I would like to see it be a one take thing. If you’re up for the cinematic challenge of doing that, which I knew he would be, lets try and conceptually come up with something that works for that.

And he was like “Let’s do it.” He wrote this great treatment, and the day of making the video was filled out by just executing the camera movements. All the actors were awesome. The location was amazing. That was the struggle, was just getting the camera to move at the right time, in sync with the song when it needed to move from the front to the back. Their production team, Aplusfilmz did an incredible job. And I’ve had a ton of cinematographers come up to me saying that video is crazy. If you really watch it, it’s crazy what you guys pulled off in a day. It takes weeks to prep that. Yeah I got to tip my hat to Scott Fleishman from Aplusfilmz for executing that one.

CS: Very cool, very cool. That’s all I got for you. I really appreciate you taking all this time to speak with me. And I hope that whenever you guys are able to get back out there and you guys set up a US tour, you make a swing through DC again.

ML: I think we will. I’m pretty confident we’ll be swinging there before the fall. We haven’t actually been to the DC area, we’ve only been to Baltimore. We got to get to DC proper. My brother lives out that way, so I’m sure he’d be grateful to see us a little closer to home to.

CS: Yeah, that’d be great man.

ML: Cool man, thanks so much.

CS: Thanks again for taking so much time. I appreciate it.

**

For more Dirty Honey, visit the band’s website.

Here are a few more pictures of Dirty Honey performing at MECU Pavilion on Sept. 22, 2019. All photos by Chris Smyth!

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