For Niskayuna native and Dirty Honey frontman Marc LaBelle, landing a show at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, where he saw his first concert as a kid, is both surreal and exciting.
The fact that Tuesday’s show will be his first hometown performance and that the band’s opening for The Black Crowes is icing on the cake.
“I’ve definitely come full circle,” LaBelle said.
He saw Aerosmith at SPAC years ago and it’s partly what made him want to pursue music. Oddly enough, the last SPAC show he saw before getting together with the band in California was to see Tom Petty. The opener? The Black Crowes.
“It’s just very strange,” LaBelle said.
He was interested in music at a young age and took a few guitar lessons at Drome Sound in Schenectady. As far as vocals go, he’s mostly self-taught and his style pays homage to classic rock powerhouses like Robert Plant and Steven Tyler. He fine-tuned that style after graduating from Manhattan College with a degree in broadcasting, corporate communications and marketing and moving out to California in 2012.
“I think things really started to change when I moved to L.A. and started gigging very regularly. You either get better at something by virtue of doing it more or you don’t. It works itself out one way or the other,” LaBelle said.
It took a few years of gigging, playing bars and restaurants where the pay was often a free meal and $100, before the band now known as Dirty Honey got together around 2017. LaBelle is joined by John Notto on guitars, Justin Smolian on bass and Corey Coverstone on drums.
After the band released its debut single “When I’m Gone” in 2019 things took off. That bluesy tune landed the top spot on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Chart, and Dirty Honey became the first unsigned band to hit that mark.
“Rollin’ 7s,” Dirty Honey’s next single, rocketed to the third spot. Dirty Honey received write-ups in Rolling Stone magazine, which described the band’s sound as “ballsy, old-school rock & roll.” Along the way, the band has also opened for The Who, Guns ‘N Roses and Slash and headlined a tour of its own at the start of 2020.
When the pandemic began, touring and performing came to a screeching halt. Songwriting became the band’s focus.
“We wrote a lot,” LaBelle said. “We got into a studio of our own and wrote a lot, made a record.”
Initially, the band had planned to travel to Australia to work with producer Nick DiDia (who has worked with Pearl Jam and Rage Against the Machine, among others) on its eponymous debut record. Instead, the band members met virtually with DiDia.
“We made a really good situation out of something we were all really hesitant to even pursue. We didn’t want to make a record with our producer on Zoom but to our assistant’s credit and to the recording staff they made it really amazing,” LaBelle said. “It felt really safe and organic and the workflow was really good but that was definitely a big challenge in the beginning because none of us wanted to do it quite honestly.”
Beyond that, writing rock n’ roll songs with touring on hold was tough.
“A lot of the ideas that come up musically, you work on on the road. Just by not being out there, you’re somewhat stifled so we had to recreate that . . . urgency without obviously being able to go and do any of it in real life, which was definitely a challenge,” LaBelle said.
“Dirty Honey” was released in April, during a time when many were hopeful that the pandemic would subside, though exactly when was uncertain.
“When it came to releasing the record it was a lot of chaos and confusion. We were just hoping for the best and it worked out that way, fortunately,” LaBelle said. It’s been well-received so far from fans and music news outlets alike.
When the band was finally able to get on the road and play out earlier this summer, and while LaBelle said there was some initial fear about getting back out there, that dissipated as he played the first song. Over the last few months, he’s enjoying performing new songs like “Gypsy,” which the band typically opens with.
“We start out with one of the new ones, [a] super uptempo, fun song and has a lot of meaning for me personally and we have a new ballad out that’s called ‘Another Last Time’ that’s been super well-received,” LaBell said. “They’re all really fun to play and that’s why when you make a record live in the studio playing together you capture that energy on the record and then it’s a little easier to recreate it when you’re in a live setting. That makes it all worthwhile.”
They’ll be a lot of family and friends in the crowd on Tuesday when Dirty Honey takes the SPAC stage.
“It’s obviously really special to me, [performing] at the place I saw my first show at. It’s my first hometown show so it’ll be really fun. It’ll be a celebration of my career and the band’s career so far,” LaBelle said.
What’s in a name?
“I was listening to a Howard Stern interview with the great Robert Plant, he was talking about an old band he was in, The Honeydrippers. I said, ‘That’s such a great dirty connotation that comes with that name.’ Dirty Honey sort of spawned out of that. I had Dirty Honey on this list of like 150 names we were kicking around and that one definitely stood out,” LaBelle told The Gazette in 2019.
While the band is making plans for early next year and they hope to eventually tour internationally, there are still a lot of question marks.
“I don’t really know what the future holds but I do know that just getting vaccinated and being protected is the best thing to do. Obviously, if you want to go to concerts and gather literally by the thousands, it’s kind of an essential thing to do,” LaBelle said.
Dirty Honey opening for The Black Crowes
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
TICKETS: $29 and up
MORE INFO: livenation.com