NISKAYUNA — Niskayuna native Marc LaBelle always wanted the rock 'n' roll life.
LaBelle turned up the volume as a kid at Iroquois Middle School, playing guitar during Iroquois' "Jam Day."
He picked up fans when his band, "Ground Zero," played the town's annual Niska-Day.
The gigs are bigger now, the crowds are louder. As lead singer for Los Angeles-based rockers Dirty Honey, LaBelle and his friends are building a reputation as a sexy and soulful quartet. The guys — John Notto is on guitars, Justin Smolian plays bass and Corey Coverstone handles the drums — this spring opened for legendary rock band The Who and, on another bill, guitar hero Slash.
LaBelle, a Niskayuna High School graduate who also received a degree from Manhattan College — where he studied broadcast communications and corporate communications — recently visited family in the Capital Region.
A resident of California for the past seven years, LaBelle answered questions about the rock lifestyle during an interview with The Daily Gazette.
Q: How did this fascination start?
A: I was always into Aerosmith. My first concert was Aerosmith at SPAC, 1997, the Nine Lives Tour. I actually met them at [radio station WPYX], they were doing a radio interview that day. We scooted over there, I met Steven and Joe, there was a group of people there and I was just like, "That's what I want to be doing, for sure."
Q: What other bands influenced you growing up?
A: Zeppelin, Stones, Petty, Audioslave, Chris Cornell, that covers a lot of them. Guns 'n' Roses, for sure.
Q: Quite a bit of classic rock for a young guy. What were your friends listening to at the time?
A: I had a lot of problems with that, they would be going to Dave Matthews at SPAC, in high school, that was the thing to do, go to Dave Matthews, get drunk at SPAC, get into some trouble. I went to one of the shows and said, "This is terrible." I've since grown to like Dave a lot. But when you're seeing AC/DC do a show vs. Dave Matthews, it's much different entertainment value.
Q: How long has been Dirty Honey been in the game, and how did the band come together?
A: This is year two of this lineup. I met the guitar player, John Notto, he sat in at one of my cover gigs in Santa Monica and he took my guitar player's guitar and played a song with us and I said, "This guy is the guy I should be doing this with for sure." He introduced me to the bass player, Justin, and a couple years later Justin introduced us to Corey, who's the drummer. It was sort of a domino effect from there, we got a lot of steam. Once that lineup was secured, we started getting a lot of momentum.
Q: How did you decide on the name?
A: 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.
Q: You must have developed some great contacts, opening for Slash and The Who.
A: I can directly correlate that to playing hockey in L.A. The first time I went and skated with this group of guys, I just wanted to skate, and got connected with these guys. The first person I met that was in the music business was my now-manager today, who I'd kind of been trying to get to manage me for like the last seven years. His name's Mark DiDia, he skates, huge hockey guy, Kings season ticket holder since the 1990s. He manages Counting Crows, 3 Doors Down, he was the head of Capitol Records back in the day, the head of Island Def Jam. He promoted records for Aerosmith, Guns 'n' Roses, Black Crows. We were looking for a manager.
Q: What was it like opening for The Who?
A: We couldn't believe how many people were there for the opener, that was insane. The Who were awesome. I wasn't actually that pumped for the gig. I was kind of anticipating a more empty arena, I was like, it's going to be cool but we just opened for Slash and we're in these smaller theaters that are packed, everybody standing, they're ready to go, eager for a rock band. And then we walked out to like a full arena. I think was like 9,000 or 10,000.
Q: Any reaction from The Who?
A: We met [guitarist Pete Townshend and vocalist Roger Daltrey] and their legendary manager Bill Curbishley. We got off stage and Bill Curbishley was right there, he said, "You guys are awesome, you have a bloody good rock band on your hands here." We met Pete beforehand and he said, "Thanks for coming out and helping us out." He was very gracious. We didn't expect to meet any of them, you never do, but it was the first night of the whole tour so I think everybody was in good spirits and weren't worn out yet and were excited.
Q: Is music a full-time job for you?
A: It definitely is now. I was working in television, doing everything from "Sons of Anarchy" to "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" to "New Girl." I was location scouting and moonlighting as a rock star — bars, Thursday, Friday, Saturday.
Q: For some bands, they develop a regional following. It looks like Dirty Honey is taking off, how would you describe the band's progress?
A: I would say we're where we want to be right now. The analogy I was given, it's almost like you're pushing a boulder up a hill and at some point, you're going to get to the top of the hill and its going to start rolling on its own and that's when you'll feel that sort of energy, just off your back or off your shoulders. It seems like it gets easier. It's going really well, I think. We're in like 60 cities on the radio now, we're getting ads all over the country, we're just starting to chart.
Q: How about New York?
A: We're in the Tri-State area, in like Connecticut and Jersey right now. Somebody texted me and said we're on the air in New York City. But eight hours after our music got released on April 22, we were on the biggest rock station in the country. We had a plan to sort of work it from the Midwest, Milwaukee, Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus, and it all went out the window when KLOS L.A. just organically found us on some playlist on Spotify. They threw the song on the air, it was like a "new music Friday," an introduction to this band nobody had heard of. Nobody in our camp knew this was happening. We were driving to a gig in Missouri and got this tweet from the biggest radio station you can be on and they were like, "We're gonna play your music today, give us a call if you can." I was like, "What the hell is happening?" It was crazy. They talked about us on the air for like 15 minutes, we heard it back the next day.
Q: Is it harder for a band to make an impact these days, with music streaming services, music available on YouTube and maybe some people just not buying music?
A: It's harder to break through for sure, there's so much noise, other bands doing not the same things, but there are so many choices. Do you like Netflix, HBO, do you watch Cinemax or Showtime, do you watch basic cable? I don't even have cable anymore. Do I watch Amazon Prime? I don't know. The same goes with music streaming platforms, you've got iTunes, you've got Amazon, you've got Spotify, you've got radio. I listen to Sirius XM all the time. If you do start to hit, it happens much more rapidly because you're instantly on YouTube and everybody on the planet can see what you're up to.
Q: Are you guys millionaires yet?
A: No — I wish. From everything I've heard from people, they're like it takes like four years to start making money.
Q: How do you like life on the road, something musicians have written and sung about in the past?
A: The first tour we did was 21 shows in 27 days, all over North America. It was a rigorous travel schedule, doing like eight-hour bus drives overnight to get to a gig the next day, do five gigs in a row. It it was a lot but you get home after being at that speed and you're like, "This is really boring." I needed like two days at home, then I was ready to go back out.