Saturday afternoon in Norwich and Dirty Honey were preparing for the opening night of their first headline UK Tour. They are a band that has worked hard. They have the material, the attitude and the look, so the excitement was building for another step into what will be a bright future. MetalTalk found John Notto in a bright mood, despite the jetlag, looking forward to the evening.
John told MetalTalk’s Paul Monkhouse that he was feeling great and ready for the tour. “We’re sold out tonight, and we sold out all the UK shows,” he said. “It’s a great honour.”
The band was last in Norwich in June 2022, supporting Rival Sons, and on that night, there were plenty of Dirty Honey t-shirts in the audience. “That was a good show,” John says. “I think we had that effect on a lot of the cities with Rival Sons. There was a lot of Dirty Honey merch speckled in. It’s a good feeling when you’re opening for somebody, and you see people already supporting [you]. A lot of times, you have to win them over, cold, so it was nice not to have to do that as much.”
Now was their first chance to headline in Europe, but the band have already played with Kiss, Slash, The Who, to name three. Did John ever imagine when he was starting out, he would get to enjoy this?
“I got to have a casual conversation with Paul Stanley,” he smiles. “That was cool. We played in bars forever and basically were ignored by everybody as just a classic rock cover band in a way. Back then, I think it did get to the point where it was hard to imagine. We waned long enough. Then we just wrote the right song and made a nice recording of it. So now that we’re here, it’s challenging and fun to just try to keep making it new and fresh and go as hard as we can.”
This is far removed from the early days of Dirty Honey performing on the pavement on Sunset Boulevard. “That was the first show with the four of us,” John says. “I know they had played with Marc, and Justin had already tried out Cory, but I wasn’t on that gig. It was like a cover band gig, and I didn’t do it for some reason. But the first with the four of us was on the street.”
They were “a band that was kind of waning and like not really selling tickets” in those early days, John said. “It’s like boot camp, but it just kept getting better.”
From there, John says it was a steady progression. “We got management,” he says. “Then we opened for Slash, played Aftershock, went to Australia and made the EP. Then we were doing clubs like this [Norwich Waterfront, 700 capacity] in the US.”
The run with Slash was followed by a run with Alter Bridge. “Alter Bridge was the first sign that we were going to work as a band because even though we were opening, we made money,” John says. “You kids out there, it’s not all about the money, but I’ll tell you what it helps. Right after that tour, we did a little taster headline tour. Just Southwest… 200 people. And that was all sold out.
“And then we did our first headline tour, right before Covid-19 February 2020. That was basically also sold out.” John says the tour was to 400-800 seater clubs.
“It was this grind of steady climbing up the ladder, so to speak. But you know, Covid was a real kick to the junk. That was tough. But you know, we were able to make a record during Covid, and we picked up where we left off when we came back in ’21. We did another headline tour, like this size, to kind of get back into it.
“Then we went out with the Black Crowes, and that was really great. So I think by that point, we knew, okay, we have an audience, and we’ve got a thing. We can hit the road, and people want to come to share the music, and people want to come for the time.”
Dirty Honey were the first unsigned band to top the Billboard Mainstream Top 100 Chart. “I think that chart has been around for like 30 years, maybe ’90s,” John says. “But that was an honour. We had a real nose to the grindstone. We’re gonna do it however we have to do it. If the right label doesn’t make the right offer, we’ll just figure out how to do it. There was a real inspiring kind of spirit around the camp to make it happen.”
The band travelled to Australia to record their EP. “The producer [Nick DiDia] is our manager’s brother, and he has quite an illustrious rock ‘n’ roll resume as an engineer/mixer,” John said. “So it was inviting to work with him. We had talked to some other producers first, and the deal didn’t work, right? He offered a friendlier deal… basically offering us to just pay for the record after we made it. So that really helped.
“He’s great. He worked on all of the Pearl Jam Records. He worked on Evil Empire [Rage Against The Machine]. He did all the Stone Temple Pilots records. He has a lot of experience, so it made more sense to do that. He has his own studio. That’s mainly why he didn’t come to L.A.
“It just made sense to go there, and it was also nice to get out and get away from the girlfriends and the wives or whatever and just focus on the music itself. We didn’t have a lot of time. I think we were only there 12 days.”
The status of the new Dirty Honey album is something all the fans are interested in. “It’s not ready, but we’ve recorded one song,” John says. “We’re not going to release it quite yet, but it’s a riff I wrote. I’m pretty proud of it. It’s a more aggressive song than we’ve done, so it was pretty cool.”
John says there are “loose plans to finish it by the end of the year. We’re gonna come back here in the summer and hit the festivals.”
The next album, though, will signal a new bubble. “I think that the EP and the LP are almost one artistic statement,” John says. “They just happen to have not happened at the same time. When we were writing the LP, it was a continuation of what we learned how to do on the EP.
“I think it feels and sounds that way. It’s very much the same spirit and attitude. There are a lot of sister/brother songs that were all honest creations. I don’t think we’re ever trying to recreate. I think that was, to me, one bubble we were in. I think the next bubbles coming.”
Dirty Honey have demos and completed songs that John says they are planning on recording. “It’s going to be different, but not too different. I think for me, it’s important to have some growth. I wouldn’t be as excited, maybe, to just make another LP-sounding record. I don’t want to alienate anyone. I’m not nervous to change.”
The band played a couple of UK shows before the Rivals Sons support tour. How important was it for them to break it in the UK?
“I think, personally, it’s very important,” John says. “We’ve known who the Rival Sons are for a long time. I think we saw them in 2013 in a tiny club in L.A. Not a lot of people came, but we knew from looking online that they were big here [UK] back then. So we’ve always thought the UK would love our stuff. Europe would love what we want to do. So it’s always been on the radar.
“It’s really exciting, and it is important to come here, and it’s fucking going the way we thought it would be, man. So you know it’s a blessing, and as I said, it makes you want to work harder and keep going.”
With the whole of the tour sold out now, that must be an incredible feeling, considering it’s only their second time over here.
“It is, yeah,” John says. “We’re grateful. You can’t beat the rock ‘n’ roll show with too many people in the room. Just enough, so no one’s comfortable. I love it.”
This is a band with big ambitions, which is great to hear. “We have no shortage of big ambitions,” John says. “I personally would love to headline bigger and bigger rooms. Headlining is the best for me. I think it’s the most rewarding experience.
“There’s nothing like walking out into a full room of people who can’t wait for you to play your music, you know. That’s the best feeling. It’s the most rewarding, and that’s what you’re doing it for.
“It feels the same if it’s a bar that only holds 50, but if it’s full, then it feels great. I think we did that in New Jersey. Asbury Park was one of our first headliners, and it was jammed. Just a bar, stickers all over the walls, serving beer. But it was full, and that was great.
“I’m sure it would be a dream for Mark to open for Aerosmith, and that would be great, obviously. I think this last summer opening for Guns N’ Roses, observing everything from the size, the spectacle, the fandom they have, as well as seeing the operation. How big that is and how on point it is from minute to minute. We all know the legend of them. They’ve overcome a lot of not nailing it from minute to minute.
“The operation runs tight now, so it was pretty incredible. Personally, being a part of that was a real learning experience. You learn what it’s like to run around on the stage in an arena or, I should say, a soccer stadium. You go 20 ft to the left, and you can’t hear yourself anymore. So that’s the biggest thing for me about doing those shows. It’s learning.”
If things continue the way they have, obviously, those headline stadium tours are beckoning in the future for Dirty Honey too.
“Maybe we’re a record or two away,” John says, “It’s all we’ve ever wanted to do, man. We had to have the posters on the wall as kids, so, like, let’s go.”