Dirty Honey singer Marc LaBelle grew up playing hockey and listening to Rock & Roll. For him, the two things just seemed to go well together.
“The music went hand in hand with these long hockey road trips that my dad and I would go on,” he says.
“I remember listening to Howard Stern, who was synonymous with Rock & Roll. He would play everything from Aerosmith and Zeppelin to Soundgarden and the Black Crowes. At a very young age, my dad introduced me to Aerosmith and serendipitously, my step-dad introduced me to much older Aerosmith. I loved both versions, really. That was my hook into (music) for sure.”
Initially, LaBelle, who’s from upstate New York, moved to New York City to try to launch his music career. When that didn't take, he packed his bags and went west.
“One of my best friends from growing up lived out here in Los Angeles,” he says. “He told me I should be singing. He introduced me to some other musicians to help me figure out. That took over my life quickly. It was a chain reaction. My buddy from home introduced me to musicians and then you meet more and more as you gig around town. Over the course of a couple of years, you get introduced to everyone through networking. The moment we wanted to do something original, you weeded out the people who were faking it from the ones who really wanted to make it.”
LaBelle says there was a shift happening in the local L.A. music scene as Dirty Honey began playing shows.
“Kids our age and younger said they had never seen a band like us,” he says. “They had grown up with Hip Hop and more Indie-sounding hipster bands like Vampire Weekend. It’s not like Blues- and Soul-inspired. They had never seen a band that embodied the energy of a young Guns N' Roses or Aerosmith or something. They never had that. That was more the scene. Everyone was chasing this Indie Rock thing that I never really fell in love with.”
Dirty Honey initially cut an EP that gave it a bit of traction. A follow-up full-length recorded during COVID just came out.
“We were supposed to do the album in Australia with our producer, who lives out there,” says LaBelle. “The pandemic put the kibosh on that. Our producer stayed in Australia. He produced it via Zoom. We had a whole situation where he could hear what we were recording in real time, and we could talk to him in real time and see him on a big monitor. it was really cool. We recorded in the room together the way we feel rock records should be recorded and the way they used to be recorded. The producer on Zoom was definitely an adjustment.”
LaBelle, who evokes Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler on the new album, can really screech. A song like "California Dreamin'" finds him evoking Toys in the Attic-era Aerosmith, and the guys add a little Southern Rock swagger to the mix too. LaBelle even admits he was a bit concerned about how well he’d be able to execute the songs live given the demands on his voice.
“When you’re writing that, you think, ‘Am I going to be doing that night after night?’” he says. “I tested things out the other day, and it worked out pretty well. The set list has this nice arc that gives me a break right when I need it. When you’re writing the super high choruses, you check yourself and ask yourself whether you can play the songs night in and night out. Before we went on tour, I set up a ProTools session and got my chops up practicing singing along to the record about 1,000 times before we went out to make sure it was possible.”
Thanks to what LaBelle describes as “good management,” the band landed the opening slot on the Black Crowes reunion tour that’s visiting amphitheaters this summer and fall.
“It was going to be just a few gigs and then as time wore one with COVID, it made the most sense to have just one band and not switch bands and crews out midway through the tour,” says LaBelle. “Getting (the Black Crowes') Chris and Rich (Robinson) to agree on a band to take out is tough. They won’t take out a band that their audience wouldn’t like. We’re going to do our best not to suck before them and put on a great night of Rock & Roll.”
During Tuesday's concert, The Black Crowes will be playing the entirety of 1990 album Shake Your Money Maker, as well as some of their best hits.
For more info and tickets, visit riverbend.org.
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This story was originally published by CityBeat sister paper Cleveland Scene.