Having just released their latest record, Can’t Find The Brakes, Dirty Honey are back with a bang. Not that they ever left. Sticking true to the album’s title, the self-releasing 70s divine, hard-rocking quartet is running full steam ahead. Critical acclaim already at their heels and heaps of upcoming shows on the way.
Dirty Honey – Can’t Find The Brakes (Dirt Records)
Release Date: Out Now
Words: Monty Sewell
MetalTalk sat down with guitarist John Notto midway through their current US tour. Grabbing a few minutes in between their hectic tour schedule, we got to peak behind the curtain of one of rocks’ hottest players.
But first, the exhilarating – albeit slightly exhausting – life on the road was in full swing. “I’m just in full tour, blur mode of kind of living,” Notto sighed, a huge grin plastered on his face. “There have actually been a lot of hiccups with our bus this week. It has been quite a ride, but the shows have been excellent.”
But what can they say? With an album title like that, we would not expect anything less from the surrounding Dirty Honey lives that inspired its creation.
“We have only been home for about six weeks since spring 2022. It is just continuously six weeks here, six weeks there. This is two months of this tour. We just keep going. Heck yeah.”
Since striding out onto the scene in 2017 with their initial EP hit, Dirty Honey has managed to walk that fine sound line between the retro and the modern. And in wonderfully stylish boots, too.
“It is pretty simple what we do. When recording, we do not replace drum sounds or fix antyhing. We rely on ourselves to play it the best we can in that moment. Sometimes, there are little mistakes, but if the take is magic, that is what we will use.
“It is not like we Google how to sound retro or intentionally replicate old recording techniques, so we do sound modern in that sense, but we focus on performance.”
Raw and ready, the new album holds onto that trademark Dirty Honey sound, featuring strong essences of 70s heyday vintage classic rock.
“Many people liken our qualities to Led Zeppelin. People accused them of ripping off the blues, which they certainly did. But they used (what was at that time) modern sounds, which made it their own.
“You look at The Black Keys or Greta Van Fleet, I think their records don’t sonically sound old, but their style is. That is what Dirty Honey is to me.”
Already having graced some of the biggest stages in the world, when comparing their studio work with their live fantastics, the music is wonderfully preserved. In a world of over-production, the band has crafted their recording to epitomise that tremendous live imposition, if not just slightly tightened.
“We have always had those comments right from the get-go. I could not tell if it was a compliment in the beginning. But people were always like, wow, you’re better than your record. And I was like, well, the record is good, though? But we are live people; we feed off the energy.
“But also, live is live. You’re servicing the moment, and so that has a different need. We want it to feel inspired and raw when we are in the studio. But also, you are trying to serve timelessness.
“So sometimes that little extra swag thing that blows up the concert hall doesn’t necessarily need to be on the official record forever. In classic examples like Jimi Hendrix, when you listen to his albums, the solos are very intentional and much more reserved and mellow than he is live.”
All hopes are for a Dirty Honey live album.
“We are actually recording every show this tour. I have no idea what will happen with it, but it would be a dream of mine to put out a live record. I always loved live records.”
Guitar-wise, Notto is a self-indoctrinated Les Paul man, rocking a 2003 relic-ed version for the last ten years. Similar to Dirty Honey’s debut, self-titled album Can’t Find The Breaks hosts a mirage of notable Notto riffs.
With twenty-two frets, six strings, and a worldwide back catalog of already done riffs longer than life itself, how hard is it to create new melodies with equal musical thrust every time?
“It does not come easily and is different for every riff. With some, it’s an elusive bird to catch in the room. But the ones that hit the hardest are perfectly simple yet leave room for that live thing where I can add swag to the insatiable solo parts.”
While tracks like Coming Home (Ballad Of The Shire) keep the instrumentation beautifully and emotively minimal, powerhouse numbers like Rebel Son feature intricate guitar work that hits heavy with a textured ferocity.
“My approach has always been to layer different guitars. Even if it’s not blatantly different, it somehow adds a contour. If you think how many times Jimmy Page has two guitars going simultaneously, where one is completely fuzzy and one isn’t.
“If I did a rhythm guitar on the Les Paul, I might not take the solo on the same guitar or not that same one. You want something to stand out a little bit, you know?
“For, say, the song Dirty Mind, there is a double on the guitar. We brought in Les Paul Junior, which paired well, but you’re not going to hear it. It is there to thicken.
“But it is tight rope we walk. You must be careful when those second and third guitar layers go in because you still want it to be very doable live where no one will miss it.
“Like the intro to Tied Up where it just comes in and is grimy, and there is a lead guitar and a rhythm guitar. But live, if I play that dirty solo, no one is like, hey, where’s the rhythm guitar? Because it is not super consequential.”
The changes that inevitably come as a band grows and expands further into the desired musical orbit were present as ever when piecing the record together.
“I think all that changed was the idea that we could add keyboards and background vocals, things like that. If you think about it, many groups did that and didn’t officially have keyboards or background vocals in the band.
“Everyone from Van Halen to Zeppelin to Black Rose to Guns N’ Roses. And even then, if you listen carefully, they sometimes have three guitars going, but they layer it in such a way that it’s not noticeable.
“But if you have headphones on and are a dork like me, you will be like, oh, there is one in the middle and two on the right. That’s three guys. They don’t have three guys, but it just adds something. But, you know, Aerosmith obviously heavily featured keyboards a lot.
“I mean, all of Van Halen’s biggest hits are keyboards, which is so ironic for Eddie being a guitarist who essentially added a whole new way of playing the guitar to the world. And his biggest hits are all piano.
For a band that is so often compared to the music of the past, do you have any modern influences or artists you keep your eye on?
“I found some just live clips of Eric Gales that were inspiring and actually inspired the solo on Dirty Mind.
“Some of the earlier records of Marcus King where his playing was just amazing. Of course, we pay attention to what Greta is doing. I have recently been told I need to hear the Metallica record, so I will give that a go.”
Got to love the legacy bands bringing out new material.
Speaking of which, with such strong influences at hand, how much do you feel bleeds into your writing?
“Well, I listen to a lot of Allman Brothers, and of course, Hendrix was very jammy, which I resonate with. But rock and roll, classic rock jam, is my kind of thing.
“The challenge and the spark comes from writing something so good you could cover it forever. And because we came from a cover band, that is what clicked with me.
“I mean, you could cover Back in Black forever, and it’s always fun; you don’t have to change a thing. So that is my challenge: how do I write something where it almost plays itself?”
Being fresh off the rack, Can’t Find The Brakes might need a few more years till it is considered a classic. But what is certain is its undeniable rock ‘n’ brilliance.
With an irresistibly likable charm, Notto flashes on a pair of sunglasses before heading to soundcheck at Concord Music Hall in Chicago. With that kind of conversation you could get stuck into it for hours. But there is no doubt we will be catching up again soon.
“I’ll be home for Thanksgiving before we play a show in L.A. on the 20th. You will be able to livestream that one on Veep, and details will be released on our website. That is going to be pretty rad.”
Shining that gritty Californian sun upon their listeners with every track play, Dirty Honey will also be flying over early next year for a decent run of shows across the country.