Classic rock revivalists Dirty Honey storm into the Sand Dollar Downtown

Dirty Honey

“In LA, you either work at Olive Garden, or you play gigs for other people as musicians,” bassist Justin Smolian says. Judging by the shaggy, shoulder-length hair, the vintage aviators and the comparisons to Guns N’ Roses, Smolian and his band Dirty Honey weren’t made to serve breadsticks.

Leading with vocalist Marc LaBelle’s blockbuster range and chugging power chords, this young, Los Angeles-bred rock band—also featuring Jaydon Bean on drums and John Notto on guitar—has chased a dizzying upward trajectory, supporting Led Zeppelin, Guns N’ Roses and the Black Crowes on tour, and becoming the first unsigned band to notch a No. 1 single on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Chart with 2019’s “When I’m Gone.”

Touring behind November’s Can’t Find the Brakes, Dirty Honey is set to play Sand Dollar Downtown on November 19, and the excitement is real.

“I love Vegas. It’s a great place to rage, they’ve got good weed, they’ve got good food. The first time we played there we played Caesars Palace, opening for Guns [N’ Roses]. That was really cool because they put us up at the hotel so you’d literally leave your hotel room, take an elevator down and you’re on stage in two minutes,” Smolian says. “I get pretty wasted every time I come to your city. I’m expecting the same thing to happen.”

Congrats on the release of Can’t Find the Brakes. “You Make It All Right” is a favorite of mine.

Justin Smolian: That’s a really special song for us, too. We all wrote that in the rehearsal room together right before we left for Australia, actually; it was one of the last things we finished.

Jaydon Bean: Yeah, it was kind of spur-of-the-moment. It all happened within a span of about a half an hour, from start to finish. We just jammed it through … and the song was pretty much finished in one run through.

Dirty Honey has exploded since “When I’m Gone” dropped. But how important was it to keep cutting your teeth in bars and clubs, even though you were growing in popularity?

JS: Tiny club shows are some of my favorite shows because they’re so intimate and there can be so much energy in the room. It was great practice for us, too, because you’ve gotta learn how to win over a small room before you can win over an arena. We spent years playing bars in LA and we played a lot of college bars. We would get people going crazy—like, breaking stuff in the venues, moshing. Our goal is to bring that small bar energy into the arena.

It’s almost a gift and a curse. Bands go viral fast, but get thrust onto a festival stage without having had the time to develop their stage presence.

JS: It’s definitely feeling more like a big rock show now and not just an awesome band playing in front of you. We’ve gotten to open up for some of the best. Watching KISS do their show, it’s insane with all the pyro and lights. Guns [N’ Roses] has an amazing set. It’s really cool to be able to learn from the best.

JB: Production ends up being a fifth member of the band. It ends up being a super important part of the live show, especially when you get bigger because just having four or five dudes on a stage playing music can get boring for the people 15,000 seats back. They need those lights and the big pyro, the whole production behind it. We’re slowly working our way up there.

For Can’t Find the Brakes, you worked with Grammy-winning producer Nick DiDia in Australia. What brought you the most satisfaction or joy out of those sessions?

JB: We did about three and a half weeks of pre-production before we went to Australia, where we all were writing together and working the arrangements on the songs. Once we got to Australia, we started working with Nick and tracked about 20 ideas, whittling it down to the 11 on the record. We had a corny motto that we stuck by, which was “being open to infinity.” We tried to channel that, and Nick was really good at helping keep us on that path. He’s a bit of a Rick Rubin, guru-ish kind of guy. He really trusts his ears and the feeling he gets when he’s hearing something.

JS: I got a lot of satisfaction out of hearing these songs come to life. There were a couple of songs we wrote over there, “Can’t Find the Brakes” being one of them. Having those moments of a song coming out while you’re in the studio was pretty inspiring. And it helps being over there, it’s a beautiful place. We were able to walk to the beach from our AirBnB every morning. Nick’s studio is in this beautiful countryside. It’s actually in a shire.

You’ve amassed a lot of older fans because of your classic-rock sound. Was that an important audience for you to get approval from?

JS: No, that was kind of like shooting fish in the barrel, I think.

JB:We opened [shows] for a lot of fans of that era, so that gave us the route to collect some of those fans, but I don’t know it was necessarily a goal. We were just doing the sound that we liked, and that comes through when we’re all expressing ourselves together. Whoever listens to it, is who’s gonna listen to it. We just hope it’s everyone.

JS: I had a feeling the older people would like it when I sent the “When I’m Gone” demo to my dad, and he lost his mind and started sending it to all his friends. I think we’re onto something with the dads here (laughs).

DIRTY HONEY With Austin Meade, November 19, 6:30 p.m., $30, Sand Dollar Downtown, thesanddollarlv.com.

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Tags: Music
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Amber Sampson

Amber Sampson is a Staff Writer for Las Vegas Weekly. She got her start in journalism as an intern at ...

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