Hotstar: Dirty Honey Ushers In Rock’s Next Big Moment

Dirty Honey
Mike Savoia
– Dirty Honey

Popular music trends come in waves – such as with the garage-rock revival of the early 2000s, to the EDM craze of the later 2000s to the current wave of hip-hop – and it’s becoming more and more clear that it could be time for rock to rise once more. 

“It feels really special,” says Dirty Honey guitarist John Notto, seated on a leather couch backstage at a packed Strummer’s in Fresno, Calif., while straddling his Gibson Les Paul. 
“I think it’s us, it’s the movement, because the time is right for what we’re doing – and we’re doing it right. We have the right songs and the right sound. It all feels really special.”
Dirty Honey just wrapped up a warmup run of West Coast clubs, its first real headline gigs. The band played to elbow-to-elbow crowds singing along to hits that have permeated rock radio even in secondary and tertiary markets – with the single “When I’m Gone” even reaching No. 1 on the Mainstream Rock Songs Chart without a label.
The timing may be right, with bands like Greta Van Fleet becoming true hard-ticket headliners doing a decidedly throw-back rock n’ roll style that older generations may crave while younger generations may have missed out on – most recently exemplified when 17-year-old superstar Billie Eilish revealed during an interview that she wasn’t aware of classic rockers Van Halen. 
“There’s some nostalgic older types, and some who haven’t seen it yet,” says Dirty Honey frontman Marc LaBelle, very much in the mold of the ’70s-style lead singer, with flowing long hair, T-shirt, upper-register vocals as well as tons of stamina from years as a hockey player as well as leading a bar band playing three- or four-hour sets. “One of my first shows ever was Aerosmith, I was interviewed by the local news station because I was just a little kid, like 7 years old. Now, when I was just in Italy, I saw a kid in a Soundgarden shirt, probably like 15. He told me, ‘I can’t tell you how much I love your shirt,’ and I was wearing a Led Zeppelin shirt. It feels like there’s a starved music community out there that loves rock ’n’ roll.”
Not quite coming out of nowhere, Dirty Honey was taken on somewhat reluctantly by Red Light Management’s Mark DiDia, known for handling major rock clients such as the (recently reunited) Black Crowes and others. He said he wasn’t quite sold at first and told the guys to keep writing. 
But LaBelle, having worked his way into a somewhat exclusive amateur hockey league in L.A. that DiDia participates in on Monday nights, was persistent.
“He had been bugging me to manage him forever, we hang out and go to hockey games together,” DiDia says. “He wrote that song ‘When I’m Gone’ last summer, we were hanging out on the Fourth of July in 2018, he played the demo I said, ‘That’s a No. 1 rock song if we do it right.” The band in October became the first unsigned act to achieve the feat, led by DiDia and Red Light’s Mark Gorlick. At first, they did shop the band to “the usual suspects,” labels that specialized in rock.
“Basically, everyone passed,” DiDia said. “No one kind of got it. ‘Rock doesn’t stream. You don’t have any streams.’ Well we haven’t put any music out yet, of course we don’t have any streams. I said this rock thing is happening and I don’t want to wait anymore, so I said we’ll just do it ourselves.”
DiDia wasn’t the only one who believed in the band and its music, either.
“It was immediate, I was a fan of the music very quickly, and it was one listen,” said UTA’s Ken Fermaglich, known as agent for Guns N’ Roses, Paramore and others, and who admitted he doesn’t take on many new clients. “I was excited because it was guitar rock, it was a band that has a sound from years gone by but is still contemporary, and I loved it from the first listen.” A team of UTA agents handles Dirty Honey now, with early gigs including opening slots for Slash, Alter Bridge, Red Sun Rising, and even a couple of recent Guns N’ Roses gigs – along with a few big festival plays at Danny Wimmer Presents events, some of the premier rock fests in North America. 
“There was 8,000-9,000 people there who knew nothing about us,” LaBelle said of the band’s first “real” gig, at Aftershock festival in Sacramento last year. “People are at festivals to experience and discover some new music, and if there’s some buzz people will check it out. We were playing to 4,000-5,000 people each time and it was passionate crowds, which was really cool.” 
Dirty Honey just announced its first “proper” headline run, the “Rolling 7’s tour named after their current single, with 25 dates across the U.S. in venues including Slim’s in San Francisco, Knitting Factory in Brooklyn, The Parish in Austin, Riot Room in Kansas City and Neumos in Seattle for Jan.-Feb.  Representatives at Red Light say the tour dates are already sold out or close to it. 
“We’re just looking to continue the momentum,” LaBelle says. “‘Rolling 7’s’ is working its way up now and they’re just starting to push that. iHeart told us, ‘When I’m Gone’ is still killing it, so let’s just hang on a second.”