Interview by Mark Lacey
MARC LABELLE OF DIRTY HONEY TALKS ABOUT HIS JOURNEY FROM HOMELESSNESS TO PLAYING 2500 CAPACITY THEATRES AND SUPPORTING GNR … AND THEIR FORTHCOMING UK TOUR IN JANUARY 2023
MGM: You guys just introduced yourselves to the UK in a big way through supporting the Rival Sons on tour, as well as playing Download, and your own headline date at the intimate Oslo in London.
Marc: We couldn’t have come to the UK any better. Obviously, we’re opening for Rival Sons, who’s a band that I’ve loved for a long time and always will. But to go over there with them and play theatres, it was the best situation possible. It’s my favourite size place to play; 1500-2500 capacity rooms. It’s intimate, but it’s full. As an opener it makes it really exciting for the band. And then, obviously, playing at the Oslo in London to your own crowd of only 200-300 people. It was just sweaty and fun; a really fun way to enjoy working in the UK for the first time.
MGM: How would you describe your sound to people who haven’t heard Dirty Honey before?
Marc: We’re inspired by the greats that came before us, whether it’s Zeppelin or Aerosmith, AC/DC, the Stones, the Black Crowes. I’ve seen comparisons literally to all those bands, and Guns and Roses. We’re a Los Angeles blues-based rock n roll band with big riffs and big choruses and a high energy rock n roll show. That’s what we set out to do.
MGM: Tell me about how you got together, from the origins of ‘Ground Zero’, meeting John and how you met the rest of the guys.
Marc: We were that typical California ‘suitcase and a dream’ story. For John, Corey and myself; we all moved to LA looking to get something going on. Justin’s the only LA native … he’s from Van Nuys. Each of us just started gigging on our own and trying to find our way, playing bars and clubs, and we were lucky enough to find each other and start this thing that has just been catapulted into international work. It’s pretty crazy. I met John first at a show here in Santa Monica and he introduced me to Justin, and Justin introduced us to Corey. We just kept gigging around bars and clubs here until finally we had some songs that were working. Our songs now are pretty new with the exception of ‘When I’m Gone’. That was something that was always kicking around, but not in the arrangement that it is now. I married the chorus and the verse riff part of two different songs, it became what it is now. I remember when our manager first heard it, he was like, that’s a fucking number one song. It’s that classic thing … we didn’t recognise what the hell we’re doing. We definitely give him credit for that.
MGM: Did it kind of feel like you’d found the dream line-up when you guys met? So many bands go through numerous incarnations before they gel.
Marc: Dude, I went through a hundred of them. Honestly. The problem here is everybody’s so sort of attracted to that shiny lifestyle of being a side man, and it’s so attractive because they pay you really well. If you get hooked up with a pretty good artist, you can make a really nice living as a guitar player for an artist that you and I have probably never even heard of. But they’re a touring artist that generates money, and that’s a path that a lot of people take. That was really frustrating for me. When you get something going with a drummer, for instance, or a guitar player, and then they get a gig with, say, Christina Aguilera, for instance, and they’d be gone for six months. It’s like, well, fuck, what am I supposed to do now? So, you have to start over again, and then that would happen a dozen times before I finally got the line-up that was dedicated to being in a band.
MGM: After being called ‘Ground Zero’, you guys were called ‘The Shaggs’ at one point. Is that right? And how did you settle on the name Dirty Honey?
Marc: Yeah, some bad names. Dirty Honey was just a name that I’d kicked around for a little bit. We were actually at a gig in Santa Monica one night. We had this list of terrible band names, but Dirty Honey was like, one, two, or three at the top. We’d been changing names seemingly every week and the manager of the club was like, what are you guys this week? We had to stick to something. I was like, how’s Dirty Honey sound? Everybody’s like, pretty good, let’s go with that. So that was it. From that moment on we were Dirty Honey, and it stuck. Our buddy Aaron did the logo, and he’s an artist out of north of New York City, and he crushed that for sure.
MGM: Having formed the band, you went from playing pub & club shows to going off and then touring with Slash & Myles Kennedy, and then The Who and Alter Bridge and GNR. It just seemed to happen so quickly for you guys. How did that come about?
Marc: Our manager is great at introducing us to the world. We share the same management company as Slash & Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators. When he heard ‘When I’m gone’, he started playing it in his office, and Slash’s manager heard it, and he was like, “what the hell is that? Who is that?”. Our first show was with Slash & Myles in Phoenix. I’ll never forget Myles pulling us aside, and saying, “you guys are fucking awesome. What you’re doing is cool. I know it’s early, but just keep going and blah, blah, blah”. So that was really inspiring. And then probably five or six shows later Slash said the same thing to me and Cory, and we were like, this is pretty sweet. That was unexpected and unsolicited. That turned into playing with Guns N Roses, and me singing with Slash at this event and it started a nice relationship with him. He’s been awesome since day one. He’s got great taste in rock n roll music too.
MGM: Slash has obviously taken you guys under his wing, and you’ve just recorded ‘Mississippi Queen’ with Slash for the recent Leslie West tribute album?
MGM: Your EP was recorded in Australia. What took you there? It seems a long way from LA.
Marc: Yeah, our producer Nick DiDiaa went to Australia ten years ago with an Australian band called Powderfinger, and Bernard Fanning is their singer. A great band, and great collaborator with us. Nick and Bernard started this studio out there and they became a producing team. We were kicking around ideas of who we should make this record with, and I knew Nick. He’s my manager’s brother, and he’s worked with everybody from Bruce Springsteen, Rage Against The Machine, Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam. I’d been obviously aware of the stuff he’d made and threw this name out there. He listened to the tune and he was into it. I looked up flights and it was actually more reasonably priced to go to Australia than it was to rent a studio in LA for ten days, so, it worked really nice. That was an amazing time in my life, honestly. Like, super inspiring and just being somewhere new and just able to focus. And obviously, Byron Bay, Australia is beautiful. We were pumped to go there.
MGM: You’ve got the accolade of being the first unsigned band to get the top of the Billboard with ‘When I’m Gone’, but why do you think that song resonated with people to get that level of success?
Marc: I wish I knew, man, because we would love to do it again. The song has a great riff, great chorus and melody. I think the message in the song is somewhat vague, actually, and that was intentional. People responded to the lyrics, “you’re going to miss me when I’m gone”. That’s a very universal emotion. I’m sure that had something to do with it. But it’s very sing-able and memorable, and a strong riff is a great place to start with any sort of rock n roll song.
Marc: The lyrics to that song were my experience of being homeless in LA. I was surrounded by extremely successful people that knew my situation and there was a chip on my shoulder about it, like, damn, I’m like this homeless guy in LA. I think, at least, that I’m somewhat talented. But nobody was really jumping in to help facilitate my band and the art. So that’s where the lyrics came from. It’s kind of a fuck you to the people that had a chance to do something about it and didn’t. I was living out of a Mini Cooper in Los Angeles for about eight or nine months here, and sleeping on couches on the weekends, going out with friends. I didn’t have a tonne of money. I’d been kicked out of the place, and I was living and sleeping in the car for the most part. Once that phase ended, a buddy let me live on his porch in West Hollywood with a group of guys that are friends for fucking life. (Shout out to 1047). We had some good times at that house. But I was living on a futon on the front porch outside. I remember my mom came to visit one time and she was like, why is all your shit outside? I didn’t want to tell anybody what the situation was because I genuinely felt like I was raised well and had a good head on my shoulders. It was just strictly financial. I’m so glad things are better now.
MGM: When Dirty Honey supported Rival Sons earlier this year, not many people in that crowd would have heard you before, and yet within seconds of your first song, people were singing along to every single chorus. Is creating that reaction luck, your partnership with John, or something else?
Marc: I think it’s not without hard work. I’m always writing, recording stuff on my phone, and usually the really catchy stuff sticks in your head. There’s a couple of things swirling around my head now, and sometimes they’re not even rock ideas; they’re singer songwriter things. Or it could be almost like electronic music. But the common thread between any great song, no matter what the genre is, is a great melody, and a melody to me is a riff or something you sing. If you can pop a lyric on top of that, that really resonates with people, like, “you’re going to miss me when I’m gone”, that really helps. But I think having something to say is a big thing. We just finished recording a new tune that’s important to me. It’s a social commentary song, but in that classic vague way that I like to write songs. It’s about current events, but you don’t want it to be so current that it’s not timeless. It’s catchy as fuck. I write riffs too, but they’re always better when John plays them. Justin writes riffs as well, but I really look to John for four great riffs a year, because that really gets me inspired. He’s already thrown out a couple, so we’re excited to get back in the studio and there’s definitely a wealth of material. It’s just got to be honed and focused to make it a curated song.
MGM: The rise of Dirty Honey coincided with that period just before COVID hit. How did you cope with getting through that period just as you were taking off?
Marc: It was terrible. There’s no bones about it. We were getting ready to go to Australia again when the shit hit the fan. We weren’t financially ready for that, and you’re riding this really magnificent wave of success that just absolutely comes to a crashing halt. For a little while we were all pretty depressed about what was happening, but we got through it. We went out into nature, we recorded some really cool videos and tried to stay busy and then we made a new record that was great. But we didn’t really want to make the record having our producer on Zoom in Australia and us being a studio, that wasn’t the best experience. But we stayed busy writing, creating content and just trying to keep moving forward because you couldn’t do anything about it. I’m proud that we were one of the first bands back on the road after things settled down.
MGM: You’re about to come over to the UK as part of 30 headline dates across Europe. What will fans expect to see from those shows?
Marc: Definitely a longer set. Hopefully some new music, and we’re working hard on that. We’ve got some new stuff recorded. It’ll just be nice to not be restricted to 30 minutes and feel that pressure of the time constraints. We’re really hoping to just bring our brand of American blues-based rock n roll to the masses for the first time in a headline sense. We’re not shy. If we work on a new tune on Thursday and we’re passionate about it and want to try it out, we’ll play it on Friday, we don’t care at all. So hopefully there’ll be some of that too.
MGM: Who else is on the bucket list for you to tour with?
Marc: The big one for me is definitely Aerosmith, AC/DC and third would probably be the Rolling Stones. I think AC/DC, like Guns N Roses transcend generations so you can get young kids at their shows along with people that are 75. Their music is so timeless. Aerosmith might be a little less so but they still have Steven Tyler on American Idol, so they’ve brought a lot of youth into their audience.
MGM: Two last questions for you. Your rise feels quite fast. How you keep your feet on the ground and ensure Dirty Honey can be a long-term success, unlike some bands who have peaked early, and then faded away? And how do you avoid the curse of the lead singer disease, where some lead singers become unbearable over time? You seem like a very nice man.
Marc: Thank you. I appreciate that one (ha ha!). It’s all an act, man. It’s just a ruse. I’m very appreciative of the success. It was not without a lot of hard work that we’ve gotten this far, and you’re doing everything you can not to blow it. Having put in the time that I have, I think you definitely appreciate it a little more than maybe those that have the success really early. Our manager reminds us all the time, it’s always going to be about the music. You make great music, you have a long career so, I really try and put a lot of effort into the writing, finding great melodies and riffs. I’ll pick up the guitar every day, even if it’s only for an hour. After a tour, I usually try and decompress by going somewhere for a week. I’ll go hiking or motorcycle riding just to reset and get away from everything, because touring definitely takes a toll on you. But I also like to experience everything that this life has to offer. I got into this to keep it exciting and not have a normal 9-5 job and I want to see places and experience other cultures and this is the perfect situation to do that.
Photo by Rick Horn
Dirty Honey’s UK tour runs from 21st – 31st January, with tickets available from: www.dirtyhoney.com/tour-dates
21st: Waterfront, Norwich
22nd: Crawford Arms, Milton Keynes
24th: The Garage, London
25th: Manchester Academy
26th: SWG3 Studio Warehouse, Glasgow
28th: Bodega Social Club, Nottingham
29th: Corporation, Sheffield
30th: Globe, Cardiff
31st: Engine Rooms, Southampton