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From Dance Routines to Dirty Guitar- A Chat with Dirty Honey Guitarist, John Notto.

Los Angeles based Blues/Rock band, Dirty Honey, have just released their sophomore album “Cant Find the Brakes” which is aptly named, considering the touring schedule and the success that this band has seen in their short time together. It’s hard to believe that this band only formed in 2017 -noting that Covid stopped the world music scene during this time, but they have still managed to support some of the world’s biggest artists and play the biggest festivals across the globe. If that is not extraordinary enough, they have over 300,000 monthly listeners on Spotify alone and it’s continually growing. Heading out to Australia’s famous BluesFest in Byron Bay, sees Dirty Honey share the stage with some of the world’s most renowned musicians- From Elvis Costello, Ben Harper, Blind Boys of Alabama, Tom Jones and so much more. But what makes Dirty Honey so special? Is it as simple as ‘once you hear them, you just get it’? Obviously, something that producer Nick DiDia supports, after producing both of the band’s albums. DiDia has a huge list of work under his belt; from Springsteen, Rage against the Machine, Incubus, Pearl Jam to our very own Powderfinger and The Living End,  being just a snippet of his discography.  Lead guitarist John Notto, speaks highly of Didia and why wouldn’t he?

“I think at this point it’s obvious that we like working with Nick. He is a rock’n’roll producer. What he does well, is makes us sound like a real rock’n’roll band but still with a concise arrangement that sounds professional. We do some studio tricks in terms of overlaying guitars and things, but he makes sure that never outweighs the raw feeling of a band. I think that’s special”.

But releasing a second album is notoriously nerve wrecking for artists. Will this album be their sophomore slump? Will they be able to replicate their sound, their high intensity of their first LP? Their first album is such a majestic piece of dirty rock’n’roll, paying homage to their influences such as the greats- Led Zeppelin, ACDC and the likes.

“Its a good place to be at when you’re a little nervous. It means you did something outside of your comfort zone”. I think we’re excited about it overall, but you know there are some songs on there that went directions that we haven’t done before, and I think it’s an exciting feeling seeing what people think”

Cant find the Brakes’ has lived up to the traditional Dirty Honey sound and this album is really sublime. Dirty Honey don’t follow a formula or process to their writing. The only key that they follow, is that all members are usually involved in their approach to songwriting. But how do they go about writing such monster of songs?

“Its usually music first, then lyrics last. Unless Marc (LaBelle) wrote them himself which has happened a few times. He wrote down lyrics when I was just strumming (the) acoustic and I kind of arranged the rock band version which I mean, I arranged it with the guys in the room, but I had a visions for it as soon as I heard it. But most of the time it’s all different you know. Justin (Smolian) came in with almost 99% of Coming Home’s fingering part as he plays classical guitar, so he basically had that written and then Marc added music and I added my parts you know. Then something like ‘Don’t Put Out The Fire’, started with me and Justin just jamming , me on drums and then once we got Jaydon (Bean) in the room, the four of us just really finished it together and really made it a song. We had an old chorus to it, but we got rid of that. It is a little different every time, but it speaks to the fact that we are open to however it’s going to come.”

Since their inception in 2017, the wheels have not stopped rolling for Dirty Honey. Supporting huge acts such as The Black Crowes, Guns’n’Roses and the likes of Rival Sons and Alter Bridge. This new found fame and activity can be hard on any established band, but more so on infant bands not used to the stress of touring and the lifestyle that comes with performing on the road. But there is something really secure in Dirty Honey and that’s their hard-working attitude.

“I think the key to it, is to always be looking forward. We are always thinking about and working towards and brainstorming, ‘how to get to what is next or whatever is next’. Also just always writing music either personally or together and keep talking, keep the atmosphere you know? Also sometimes you are too tired to recognize any of it. We have basically been six weeks on tour, six weeks break – that exact schedule since the summer of 2021. So it’s basically that six on six off for three years now. So it’s not stopping. There is no reason to stop. I think a huge part of what we are, is being a great live band.”

And that they are – a great live band. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be the opening act for so many greats. This is a band that most headliners would dream of as an opening act, but also be a little afraid of, as they could outperform so many. But surely there have been great tours that can certainly tick off the items on the bucket list.

You know, The Black Crowes was definitely a bucket list tour for Marc, and for all of us it was a great experience to be on the road with them for so long. I got to know Rich (Robinson) and his tech and got to know a lot of secrets behind the curtain. They were very cool with us, and we just could see how the big boys do it for three months straight, with seven buses, and that was really rad. I think the other really really mind-blowing experience was doing Guns’n’Roses in Europe. They were playing like soccer stadiums and that’s a whole other level of big. That sort of thing is indescribable. They run a very tight ship and they play for like three hours a night and its just crazy. Seeing that, was extra special for me personally. I am a huge fan.” 

Bucket lists and musical influences start at a young age and for a musician like Notto, this was no different. Raiding his mother’s vinyl collection as a kid, his influences are easy to see.

“As a kid my first influence was Led Zeppelin. Jimmy Page, Jimmy Hendrix. Really whatever I found in my mother’s record collection. So it was like Jimmy Hendrix, but Led Zeppelin was the pinnacle. And then Allman Brothers Band, Queen, Guns’n’Roses was in there you know. When I went into Junior High, I got into Stevie Ray Vaughan and then got harder into ACDC.  Like all their catalogue stuff. They were kind of the early seedlings. I’m just a huge fan of guitar playing at this point. If someone’s really good and good at what they are doing, I really like it.”

You can certainly hear these influences in Notto’s signature style. A huge mixing pot paying homage to all the greats before him. And like many musicians of our time, they started at quite an early age knowing that this thing called music was drawing them under. But how did the love of music start for Notto?

“Its funny I don’t know. Before that (the guitar) me and my friends used to make up dance routines and then invite the neighbourhood over and charge them a penny to come in. They were terrible, but being the centre of attention probably or being the centre of the energy has always been something I was from a very young age and then I just loved music. I would air guitar to things. Then a guy that worked for my dad, gave me my first guitar. It was pretty shitty to be honest, but it was a telecaster copy, and it was very hard to play. But that kind of started it. I was already a fan of rock music, and older music. Then a childhood friend of mine, his dad played in a punk rock band, and he showed me my first chords and I just took to it. After that it’s been part of my life.”

Music has such a profound place in people’s lives, but to Notto it is a place of freedom and a secure sanctuary to let go.

“Music to me is Freedom! Because I think what’s celebrated most about an artist, is when they connect the two big influences that they love and it doesn’t have to have any other validation than that. In other words, you’re free to express the things you love. The bands that I loved as a kid, has some improvisation in it – like Zeppelin, like the live shows. Like a lot of those guitar players – like The Allman Brothers – a lot of those guitar players would play the part and then kind of change it and that’s part of it. I have always looked at it like you are free to do whatever you do, and the freer you are the more people are attracted to it . It’s just kind of the one place you have. Though that’s not always true. I think that once you have success at something, there’s a certain lack of freedom in the sense that you have to keep on delivering that. If for nothing else, you have to play a successful song your whole life, and if you grow out of it, tough shit. There are worse problems. But I think the way we approach the show, is that there is a freedom that people like it, (at least to the guitar fans that reach out to me), that I play the song, but vary it slightly in the moment, as I feel it. That’s what they like about the live shows. It’s not a 100% copy of the record. Sometimes I go into the show “let me do the record the best I can” but eventually when I get excited somewhere in the show I just start becoming more free”.

If you want to see some of that freedom, Dirty Honey are currently playing Bluesfest Festival in Byron Bay and on the first Headline tour of Sydney and Melbourne.

Tickets are still available for their headline tour below:

SYDNEY – Crowbar – Wednesday April 3
MELBOURNE – Stay Gold – Thursday April 4

Tickets now on sale from waxstartouring.com & octoberpresents.com

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