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| 4 February 2020 | Reply

According to a recent press release: “Dirty Honey, one of the hottest new bands in rock today, offer up a brand new Amazon Original, a soul-and-swagger-filled cover of Aerosmith’s “Last Child,” written by Steven Tyler and Brad Whitford and originally released on the iconic band’s 1976 album, Rocks. Dirty Honey – Marc LaBelle/vocals, John Notto/guitars, Justin Smolian/bass and drummer Corey Coverstone – recorded the track on December 21 at the historic RCA Studio B in Nashville, TN, the same studio where The King of Rock & Roll himself, Elvis Presley, recorded more than 250 songs. Six-time Grammy-winning producer Dave Cobb (Chris Stapleton, Brandi Carlile, John Prine, and the Lady Gaga/”A Star Is Born” six-million selling “Always Remember Us This Way”) produced the track.” We spoke with guitarist John about the new music, influences, and much more…

John: Hey Todd, how’s it going?

Toddstar: Hey John, how are you doing today?

John: I’m pretty good, man.

Toddstar: I want to thank you for taking time out. You guys seem to be one of the hottest things on the planet right now, so being able to grab some time with you, it’s really appreciated.

John: All right. No problem, man. We’re out here just cruising the countryside, taking in all of America.

Toddstar: It’s got to be a fun venture for a kid from Massachusetts who grew up in Maine. What’s it like for you to be out on the road soaking all of this up?

John: This is dream come true. Flat out what it is. Sometimes you get goosebumps when everyone’s singing all the words to songs you wrote. The other 23 hours are all made worth it for that one hour, hour 15.

Toddstar: You mentioned that people are singing all the words. Let’s talk about the music. You’ve got the EP out with the first single “When I’m Gone,” which just blew up. What’s it like for you to know that there are people out there singing songs that you crafted? They’re part of you and who you are.

John: It’s an amazing feeling. You get goosebumps and you just kind of lose your breath a little bit. And that hasn’t gone away yet, with each audience that does it. We poured a lot of hard work into these songs to craft them, to get them to where they are. It’s amazing when that happens to realize that some of these ideas came out of me, so flippantly, offhanded like. It comes from such a natural place, so then to have people singing it, just, it’s hard to believe sometimes.

Toddstar: You mentioned you’re out on the road, and I’m up here in Detroit, but you’ve got a killer sold-out show at the world famous Machine Shop coming up. First, we’ll start with, have you heard anything about the Machine Shop from other people you’ve toured with, or what you might expect from a venue like Machine Shop?

John: I don’t think I’ve done my due diligence yet on it. I’ve heard of it, and I’ve heard it’s a place that you want to play, and it’s got a lot of history, but I don’t really know specifics.

Toddstar: So you’re going to get a little trial by fire.

John: I kind of like it that way. It’s like it’s better to hang out with a celebrity that you’re not really familiar with, kind of thing.

Toddstar: “When I’m Gone” kind of broke you guys. What other songs out there are the ones that you really thought would be the lead, would be the one that kind of took you guys to that level?

John: I wasn’t very good at personally spotting a hit. I think I’m getting better at it now, but “When I’m Gone” is an older song, and I didn’t really know it had the potential that it did until our manager basically signed us on the merit of that song. He kind of put the juice behind us based on that song. And so we always knew right out the gate that would be the lead single. Yeah, I think after that we knew that “Rolling 7’s” and “Heartbreaker” would be next. That became clear in the studio. Both those songs got their finishing magic dust in the studio. And we all just kind of got goosebumps with all of those. And I think “When I’m Gone,” we just knew the style of it was a great first statement. Just to have it kick you in the face immediately, recognizable guitar riff, doesn’t waste any time getting into what it’s all about; we always felt like, even if some of the guys have other songs that are more their favorite, I think we always felt that that was a great lead-off.

Toddstar: Fair enough. You mentioned “Rolling 7s,” and that happens to be my favorite. I noticed that in some of your recent set lists, you’re closing the show with that. Is there a specific reason that you have pulled the setlist together the way you have?

John: Just like the release schedule of the singles, we wanted to hit hard. We thought “Scars” was actually a great opener. We crafted an intro for the show that leads right into it. So we kind of hit hard in the beginning, just to come out and just bash people over the head. We don’t talk between the first three songs. Which I love doing that. I feel like my favorite bands do that. And as far as closing with “Rolling 7’s,” I think we felt it was a big smash of a song and we feel like it’s probably the most fun smash. We feel “Heartbreaker’s” a big smash too. But I think emotionally it doesn’t sit as an ender. It’s a little bit more, kind of a breakup song, so I think we didn’t feel that was a closer, even though that’s a big singalong at this point. You know, “Rolling 7’s” is becoming a singalong too. It’s just a fun song, and it’s really catchy, and it’s just a good feeling to close the night on.

Toddstar: On a recent show, you threw a couple of covers in there. Do you guys keep those up as you go through? Are these songs that you guys just love to play live?

John: The Aerosmith cover, “The Last Child,” has been a mainstay. That was kind of born out of opening for Slash, kind of wanting to nod to his influence a little by doing a song that we kind of found out was most likely one of his favorites. Definitely off his favorite Aerosmith record. “Whole Lotta Love” we just figured it was a cool piece. We don’t play the whole song, so we just kind of come out of the bass solo into it.

Toddstar: It’s funny you mentioned that Aerosmith link for you was the Slash component, especially with you being born in Massachusetts. When I read through your bio you didn’t necessarily link yourself to being influenced heavily by Aerosmith. It’s more of like the Hendrix, the Queen, Van Halen, so I’m curious where that Last Child connection came in. It’s a nice segue to the Slash thing, because you guys have toured with some heavy hitters, Guns N’ Roses. Slash’s band with Myles, and you’ve also toured with The Who. What kind of information or knowledge did you guys walk away from as rookies in this game, from bands like that? What nuggets of knowledge did they impart to you that you’ve been able to kind of integrate into life on the road?

John: Well actually with both Slash and Alter Bridge, for me personally, seeing how those guys, both Mark Tremonti and Slash, they warm up and play guitar very religiously and disciplined before their shows. The fervor for playing guitar is still very alive and strong in both of them. So, and they take what they do real seriously, and they still love it. And Mark Tremonti literally runs through all of the solos that he’s going to play off every night before the show. Because he’s like, “Hey, my fans want to see me play the solo exactly how it goes on the record. They don’t want to see me kill it.” So you know, and Slash is more just like he just kind of noodles and plays guitar. I think he kind of comes from that, from more of like a flow state. Like just warming up, creating, writing riffs, you know. But that was a really big inspiration, just seeing that, because these guys have been in the game for so long and they’ve … both of them have already done their biggest work, sort of behind them, in terms of albums, and it’s like they’re still just going hard. It’s great. It just teaches you, that’s the most important thing, what you’re doing, aside from any of the, any and all of the other side distractions that of course Slash is notorious for in his heyday, and of course just being rock stars and all that stuff that comes with it. Of course it’s fun, but at the center of it all has to be passion for what you do on stage.

Toddstar: John, I picked up in your bio that you play drums and bass, but your main gig is guitar, obviously. It was your first love. What kind of prompted you to go ahead and learn the bass and drums?

John: Well, that’s actually been a more recent thing. I would never consider myself next to actual drummers and bass players. I wouldn’t call myself that. But I think what prompted it was being at home and being by myself, and I have a studio, and I have all those instruments in the studio. And so I started wanting to make demos that were good enough to get people into them by myself. And it’s really kind of born out of necessity. I had a drummer roommate, two different drummer roommates, so they would give me helpful lessons on how to practice it. I’m still quite sloppy, but it just helps really the writing process, seeing ideas come to life.

Toddstar: What’s the first song you can remember learning and playing, and knowing you nailed it.

John: I feel like the first song, it was kind of a batch of a few. It was “Rock and Roll” by Led Zeppelin, I think it was “Stairway to Heaven” actually. “Stairway to Heaven” was the first song that I really took lessons from a guy and had him show it to me, over the course of many lessons, and get it all the way, because even though it’s long, it’s really not super complicated. It’s just got a lot of parts, until you get to the guitar solo, of course. But, just had a knack for it early on, and I was always into old music from the baby boomer generation. So I, yeah, from my mom’s record collection and stuff. So I just gravitated to that stuff. Guitar music just isn’t as interesting from the 2000’s. I think, the last time it was really super interesting is probably Kurt. I mean, I don’t know, like maybe the early 90’s. So those are the first songs. “Welcome to the Jungle” was probably the hardest one. But I could get it. I used to try to get my friends to play it with me, but I don’t think they were as devoted as I was.

Toddstar: We mentioned you toured with Slash and Mark Tremonti. Being able to do what you love – playing guitar – who is the one guy you’ve been able to meet that caught you completely starstruck?

John: I think Slash. I actually have a funny story. I met Slash about six or so years ago when I first got to L.A. And he was sitting in at a jam in L.A., and a friend of mine was singing, and so he gave me the heads up and he’s like, “You got to try to get into the club.” And it was one of those clubs where you had to like wear expensive clothes and bring girls, and they almost didn’t let me in. And like I had my friend come out and we were all begging the guy [inaudible 00:20:28] he basically said no. And then my friend walked away but then turned around and tried one more time, and he let us in. But he’s the guy, he’s literally like, “Do you have girls?” And we’re like “No.” So anyway, I ended up standing right next to the stage, which wasn’t really a stage, it was just an area. It was so packed. Word had got out. And it was those dark Hollywood clubs, and I look behind me, and right behind me was Slash and his, at the time, wife Perla, was like standing almost on me. And for some reason I thought, “Oh, I should put on my shades.” I got freaked out. All right. So I put on my aviators that were in my pocket, and they were like mirrored. And a few minutes later I get a tap on the shoulder and it’s his wife, and he’s kind of like poking his head out behind, like looking, and she’s like, “Hey, Slash doesn’t usually perform without shades. And he’s really nervous to do that. And he forgot his. You think he could use yours?” I mean, and I … they were like, they just flew off my head. I was like freaking out. I just gave him my shades. I was like, “Can I get a pic?” And he was like, “Yeah.” And he was so gracious, but it was so busy, and his handler, he had his handler with him, and he was really kind of annoyed that I wanted a pic. But I was just like forcing it. Slash was like, “Thanks so much man. Thanks so much. It’s totally cool.” You know, he was really nice, and the guy was like, “All right, all right, all right. Like hurry up.” And he kind of snapped a picture too early. So I’m not even smiling at all. Slash is like half … he’s like grimacing because he’s on his way to smiling, and he has my shades on. It looks like I didn’t care. It was … I was so pumped, and when he walked off stage, it was so busy he couldn’t go near me, and he reached over the crowd and handed me my shades back. I didn’t even expect them back, and he just gave them. So that’s probably, I was really starstruck at that time. In terms of this run, meeting them again in this context was, I was still starstruck. I think I was more starstruck knowing that when I was sound checking he could hear me playing. That was amazing. I’m like, “Slash can hear me right now.”

Toddstar: That’s a cool story. I know you’re busy, so I want to wrap this up with one last question real quick, John. What’s the one album, if you had to pick one album that you recall being the monumental album that made you decide rock and roll was for you, what would that album be?

John: Oh, for sure Led Zeppelin II. And I didn’t, like I said, my first teacher was an older, like classic rock head. And he was like, “You should listen to Led Zeppelin.” And I went home and I was like, “Mom, who’s this Led Zeppelin guy?” She laughed at me and was like, “It’s not a guy, it’s a band.” And then she walked me over to the record collection, which I had never even touched, and pulled out Led Zeppelin II. She’s like, “I think I have one of the records.” And put it on, and I heard “Whole Lotta Love.” And then when that guitar break came in, I was in. That’s it. I mean that’s still like the best guitar break of all time. I feel so much pressure doing that, when we do it live, because it’s just so iconic in my head. It’s just unbelievable. Like, so that record was it. You open up the album, and it’s like that big gold or weird colored zeppelin, and it’s like on the pillars is each of their names. Plus they’re from such a bygone era. There’s so much mystery about them. It’s just like, yeah. You know what I mean?

Toddstar: Well, I’m old enough to remember when you would actually open a vinyl record.

John: I know, right? Yeah. So that was cool. I mean that’s for sure the first. That was it.

Toddstar: Awesome. Well again, John, I appreciate you taking the time out. And I can’t wait to have you experience what the Machine Shop is, and a couple days later I’m going to get the pleasure of checking you guys out when you’re in Detroit.

John: Oh, awesome. Yeah, I’m psyched about that. We sold out the first venue, so we moved up. I’m really thrilled. That’s a first.

Toddstar: That’s awesome. So, wish you well and safe travels on the run until you land in Michigan.

John: Thanks man. Thank you so much.




Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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