I love getting in on the ground floor of new bands, especially if there’s a Maine connection involved. So when I heard from an old PR friend in Burbank, California, about a group she thought I’d like and by the way, one of the guys was born in Massachusetts and grew up in Maine, what else could I do but request a chat with John Notto? Notto is the guitarist for Dirty Honey, and in our conversation the affable young man filled me in on some historic news the four of them, singer Marc LaBelle, bassist Justin Smolian and drummer Corey Coverstone, recently experienced.

Q: Where am I calling?
Notto: I’m in Los Angeles, California, and right now I’m in Culver City.

Q: Now, Heidi told me that you have a Maine connection, right?
Notto: That’s correct, yes. I went to USM and did jazz studies there in the 2000s. It’s a pretty school.

Q: I agree. I was there in the late ’60s andearly ’70s.
Notto: Wow! How was it in the ’70s, man? That’s where the music I like came from (laughter).

Q: (Laughter) Far out, man! Yeah, I started reviewing music at that time.
Notto: Oh, man, dude, I should be interviewing you!

Q: Well, I think the folks reading this would rather hear about you. So, jazz studies there, huh?
Notto: Yup, but I was never going to be a jazz player. I always knew that it was going to be some form of rockin’ (chuckle).

Q: Yeah, but the thing of it is the broader your scope of music, the more nuances you can bring to your playing.
Notto: Yeah, I think there’s a value in (that). Guitar playing’s always the way in, right? I just love great guitar playing, but it’s gotta all be in the family of blues influence. So when you start to get into that, there’s like jazz, there’s R&B, there’s funk. I started with rock ‘n’ roll, so it helps you start to see the connections between good music. It’s really everyone following essentially the same formula and speaking a different language.

Q: When I first listened to your group’s music I heard the swagger of The Black Crowes and Guns N’ Roses, and it brings back memories of what I’ve loved in rock music for so long.
Notto: Well, I appreciate that. It’s the kind of music that’s been moving me since I was, you know, 8 years old. I’ve always been listening to my parents’ music more. I think it’s been two-fold to know that the cats who were there during the time when it actually existed are not only appreciative of how we’re doing it (and) have channeled it, but that we still sound like ourselves. That’s one of the higher compliments we get, and it’s more frequent now, which is nice. The second part is really, really young kids — the kids who are like 14 who are looking up to us and learning our songs on YouTube and posting their covers. … It’s really exciting to know that there’s kids out there today who are just the same as kids like we were 10-plus years ago. Kids who are in the wrong generation; it’s just really cool (laughter).

Q: It’s funny, as you were talking about people’s reaction to your music, I was nodding frantically, because they’re right. It is you; it is Dirty Honey, but … it is like an homage to what’s come before, without blatantly ripping it off.
Notto: You know, I think it’s a testament to our honesty about being this style; although we do wear the clothes, it runs deeper than that (chuckle). And it’s not just because it seems like it’s “in” right now or that there’s a wave; we didn’t jump on anything. If anything people started to feel like this music could be cool, so we got discovered. It felt like luck finally turned out way, so to speak.

Q: And especially during a pandemic, too, that must have presented some problems for you guys.
Notto: Well, plainly put it entirely erased a very lucrative year, a breakout year. I mean, three days before we were supposed to go to Australia the country shut down, and we were going to record the second record (there). Now, we only had enough songs for an EP, so we were a little unprepared and … up against the gun; so in that sense the quarantine absolutely, 100% positively affected the record. But the rest of the year was absolutely, 100% negatively affected us.

Q: Which means all the tours you planned for were canceled, right?
Notto: Yeah, it was going to be a pretty exciting year, and it went all down the toilet. Well, we said, “At least we can make a much better record than we imagined we were going to make.” So we cooked up about 12 songs and chose eight of them. We’re really proud of the effort we made. Some people will want more, eight songs isn’t a ton, but we don’t have to put out filler, (which) is the best thing; we don’t have to do that.

Q: Well, what you ended up with was an album of eight singles. They are all that stand-alone strong, in my opinion. But you said you were finishing up your second record, which is the one I’ve been listening to. I thought it was your first one.
Notto: People are calling it the debut album, because it is, I guess, the first full-length (record). Of course we had the EP which came out in the spring of 2019, and we released our single, “When I’m Gone,” (which) went to No. 1 on the Mainstream Rock Radio chart. That made history, I guess, because we’re the only unsigned band to ever do that, ever, which is pretty crazy!

Q: Congratulations, man, that is impressive.
Notto: Well, you know, the historical factor of it really didn’t sink in right away — it was just so exhilarating. The whole ride up, the whole focus, the meetings, being on the road as it was happening, being tired and just working toward your dream, and every day getting closer and closer to the top, and we did it. I think we were there for like two weeks, but it’s really a great promotion lift to have done that.

Q: Have you ever performed in Maine?
Notto: I have only done it a few times since I moved to Los Angeles with the big dream, but the most rewarding time, without a doubt, was when Dirty Honey got to come up … in 2019. It was so exciting; we played the “Impact Music Festival” in Bangor. It was great because my family’s from that area, so everybody came out, and we were actually the very first band on. We played out set; we crushed it, and we went out to dinner. It was just really cool; there were people from my childhood and family members that I hadn’t seen were there. It felt like finally the (homecoming) I’ve wanted. It was really exciting; it was just amazing.

Q: Speaking of homecomings, what are your thoughts on Maine?
Notto: Maine’s got a nice, different pace, and I miss it. I go home every year, and it’s a bummer not to have been home this past year; that’s a real bummer.

Q: Is there anything, John, that you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this?
Notto: Check out the album, blast it in your car/and a concert from Dirty Honey won’t be too far!
www.dirtyhoney.com

Lucky Clark has spent more than 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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