Justin Smolian talks Dirty Honey’s origins, rise to fame

Dirty Honey/Courtesy

Related Posts

Dirty Honey made history by being the first unsigned band to chart at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Mainstream Rock Songs, but the 1970s-inspired rock outfit isn’t stopping there. From covering Aerosmith songs to reviving classic rock with a modern twist, the band embraces bluesy riffs, nostalgic music videos and long hair, immersing listeners in the golden age of rock ’n’ roll.

In an interview with The Daily Californian, bassist Justin Smolian reflected on Dirty Honey’s sudden and surreal trip to the top. “Are we in ‘The Matrix’ or something?” Smolian said. “I think we just came along at the right time, and we really got a great team behind this.

He and his bandmates always hoped that the band would take off, and now that it finally has, the four members have hardly had time to celebrate. Considering Dirty Honey has plans for its first headlining tour after years of supporting big rock acts, the group has a new record in the works to share with fans.

“I think in, like, a year, we’ll all be looking back and reflecting on it,” Smolian said. “But right now, we’re all just looking forward, working on the next single right now — that’s climbing up the charts.” 

While Dirty Honey has so far released a self-titled EP, it plans on returning to Australia to work on another record. Smolian expressed that the group has been generating new tunes during longer sound checks, a luxury afforded from finally being a headlining band.

I think they’re going to be a little different,” Smolian said, “but there are still going to be awesome guitar riffs, clean drums and popping vocals and tight grooves … we’re all really excited.” 

Despite Dirty Honey’s current glamorous state, the band comes from a down-to-earth background. Smolian reminisced about how his father would drive him to school and test him on classic rock songs playing on the radio, cementing his love for the genre.

“We all grew up on our parents’ record collection, so we all kind of have a love from our parents,” Smolian said. “(My dad would) get mad at me if I didn’t know a Beatles song or Led Zeppelin song.” 

But to make Dirty Honey stand out from its legendary predecessors, the band members make sure to bring in a variety of musical influences, elevating the group’s naturally bluesy sound. With jazz, funk and R&B twangs, listeners get a little bit of many genres. Luckily, Dirty Honey has decades of great music to draw from, also citing 1990s alternative giants such as Soundgarden and Alice in Chains as influences. 

“We don’t just want to be a cover band and play exactly like it was,” Smolian said. “For me, good rock ’n’ roll stopped around the ’90s, and we’re trying to pick up where that left off and just veer it off in a different direction. When you got all these post-grunge and dark bands, we want to bring back up the fun and the sex and the bling to rock and roll.”

One of the band’s recent hits, “Rolling 7s,” is a medley of the signature sounds of classic rock bands such as Aerosmith, Bad Company and Led Zeppelin. The song is intended to be about a trifecta of rock ‘n’ roll culture — gambling, love and sex but it holds ambiguity in its lyrics, adding an air of well-crafted mystery.

Marc (Labelle) wrote the lyrics. We had the melody for the chorus, and he was trying a lot of things, and we came up with ‘When you need a little lovin’,’ ” Smolian said. “There were some terrible other things that I won’t repeat that were tossed around.” 

Dirty Honey also put out a gloriously nostalgic music video to accompany “Rolling 7s,” shot at a small, edgy club the band previously played at. “It was kind of like full-circle for us to come back to the club and shoot the video there,” Smolian said. “It was one long shot and that turned out really awesome.”

It’s clear that Dirty Honey is well on its way to becoming a household name in the rock universe. “The next thing you know, we’ll be in an arena rocking out, and you’ll be like, ‘Who are these guys?’ ” Smolian said. He shared an anecdote about an interaction he had with guitarist Pete Townshend of The Who, who believed Smolian to “look like a musician.”

“Just the fact that Pete Townshend thought I looked like a musician, I thought, ‘I’m winning, it doesn’t even matter if we sound good,’ ” he said.

If Townsend can affirm Dirty Honey’s prestige as a rock band, the opportunities are endless. The band clearly resonates with long-time classic rock fans and those who just now want to dip their feet into the vast world of modern rock ‘n’ roll. And while the group is still steadily rising up the charts and into listeners’ hearts, as Smolian said, they’ve already “made it.”

Pooja Bale covers music. Contact her at [email protected].