Home Entertainment Dirty Honey’s John Notto Talks Bikes, Books, Inspiration, Music, and More

Dirty Honey’s John Notto Talks Bikes, Books, Inspiration, Music, and More

Thirty Minutes with Arch City Media

by Carrie Zukoski

Arch City Media caught up with John Notto, guitarist for L.A.-based Dirty Honey a few days after their Oct. 1 St. Louis concert at Red Flag. At this point, they’d made their way back to California and were gearing up for the final two nights of their 6-week 28-city California Dreamin’ headliner tour in support of their newest album of the same name. 


If you’re not yet familiar with Dirty Honey, they have an updated sweet twist on the ’70s classic rock sound. And if you’ve missed seeing them in St. Louis, you most likely won’t have to wait too long to catch them in the future. They’ve come through town five times since forming in 2017, headlining twice. 


ACM: How’s the tour been so far?

Notto: It’s been great. It’s been really well attended with a lot of enthusiasm and it’s been really fun to be out with the new baby band Max Saturn. We share the same management with them, so we have like a nice brotherhood with them. And they’re really fun guys. And Dorothy’s with us. She is such an incredible singer. It’s kind of crazy. She’s a powerhouse. Everybody really gets along in the bands so it’s been a good time.


ACM: You’ve been headlining this tour but just before that you were an opener. What do you like about each?

Notto: With headlining, it’s getting more time to stretch out and play all your songs and loosen up. But opening also has its perks. Especially, for example, in Europe, where we find ourselves playing stadiums for the first time to see and hear what it’s like to play your guitar in a stadium with all that reverberation and size and production. It’s pretty incredible. Of course, you only play for 30 minutes at 4:30.


ACM: There’s that, yeah.

Notto: That part’s tough. But in terms of playing music and playing our show and getting into it? I’ll always love headlining more, especially now that we draw upwards of 1,000 people a night. it’s always a good time.


ACM: How do you all get along on tour being with each other so much?

Notto: Since we weren’t super young when we formed, we already had an understanding of who each of us was and had responsibilities. We came together organically playing in cover bands and had mutual interests so we already meshed that way. 


We got together to write periodically and then we just poured gas on at the right time and it blew up so quickly. There was no oh, we’re gonna have to really get to know each other on the road. But you know, we give each other space and it’s cool.


Dirty Honey photo by Carrie Zukoski

ACM: What are you going to do after this tour? Can you take a breather?

Notto: I’m gonna go do some family stuff and the band’s gonna do some demoing and finish all these ideas that we’ve had on tour. We do a lot of writing — as much as we could — and play it in soundcheck because we’re the headliners who get the longest soundcheck. 

I just did another interview. And I was saying to the guy that this is the third tour in a row. That kind of fatigue is a little different.

We’re starting to develop our perspective of what these huge bands go through if they make it and go on legendary tours for six months at a time.

They probably play less times a week, but still. 


ACM: It’s a lot of travel. It’s a lot of wait time. It’s a lot of not having a home base. And then when you have time …

Notto:  Yeah. I brought two books. I started reading at the beginning of the tour and then I haven’t read them at all. Whenever I have downtime I want to rest my eyes or just veg.


ACM: Are you going to tell your fans what kind of books you read?

Notto: The last book I read, was Dostoyevsky’s classic Crime and Punishment. Wow. It was riveting. Incredible. But now I’ve got this kind of philosophy book going by Alan Watts called The Book.

It’s kind of dense and dry. And then I’m also reading, which is more fun, a book called A Journey Through America [A Journey Through America with the Rolling Stones by Robert Greenfield]. It’s basically about the 1970s Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St. tour. And it’s pretty rad. It’s written by a guy who was on tour with them and was a journalist. So it’s been … actually I’m so tired, I stopped reading them.

I’ve got my rock and roll inspiration book and I’ve got my meaning of life philosophy book. You need a balance.


ACM: What’s been the best or one of the best memories on this tour?

Notto (after thinking a bit): The best memory for me was performing in Montreal. I mean, every city has been really, really great. And well sold and exciting and great enthusiasm from the fans. But that audience was above and beyond. I mean, twice, they broke into a super loud chant like the kind you hear in a soccer or football stadium. Like [Notto did a singsongy impression with his voice going up and down octaves] ole, ole ole, ole ole ole. And I crowd-surfed while playing “Rolling 7s.” So that was insane. 


ACM:  This was supposed to be the icebreaker question but we dove right in. As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Notto: Man, it’s funny. I did want to be a rock star. I just practiced being a rock star once I discovered ’70s rock. I had a stringless ukulele and I was always practicing the moves I saw on the “Song Remains the Same” concert DVD, or from Zeppelin that they put out in the ’70s. But then, when I was idolizing my dad, I thought I wanted to be a trucker. At one point, I wanted to be a captain of a submarine. Fortunately, that went away. I think I’d just seen Crimson Tide or something and thought it was awesome. Then, once the teenage years kicked in, like 16, 17 then it was like I’m gonna play guitar. 


ACM: So you’re always playing air guitar around school?

photo by Carrie Zukoski

Notto: Totally. I was doing that in junior high. I was doing Angus Young [impressions] instead of actually dancing with the girls.


ACM: We’re closing in on our time together. What’s some good advice you’ve gotten?

Notto: Be careful who you’re mean to on the way up because you’ll meet them on the way back down. 

Another was from a teacher I had in college. He taught saxophone and basically said no matter what you’ve learned in terms of musical technique and theory it’s all crap if you’re not doing it from intuition. And, actually just paying attention to what you love and gives you goosebumps. That kind of thing. 

There’s another great bit from Phish’s Trey Anastasio which really influenced me as a teenager. The sentiment was to take what you can from your influences but at some point, you’ve got to move on from them and stop copying them. 

It’s sort of like you almost have to reject them after a while. Not stop liking them. But you have to make sure you don’t go so far and that you’re just a facsimile. He also said, if you’re up on stage, and you’re literally just copying your hero, he doesn’t know you. I thought it was really important. 

And, I was obsessed with him. So, I thought alright, I can’t sound like him. And that was my nature for a while. In junior high, I’d copy different guitarists. And he was the first one that I read who said you guys gotta grow past that. You can’t just keep moving to another guy.

I think he was just saying not to forget the next step [after copying] is you have to say fuck you to them in your mind. You have to start doing your own shit.


ACM:  I think that’s good advice for anything. So what material are you most proud of right now that you guys have done?

Notto:  I still think we’re uncovering it. But I’m pretty proud of some of the stuff we’re writing currently. And what we’ve done. I think we’re going to do stuff that people aren’t expecting but it’s not going to be some sort of abandonment of our style. And I’m just proud that we put out the material we have and it has such a succinct style. 

I’m proud that we were able to make a style that’s very cohesive. The songs, style, and image need to make sense enough to somebody who’s just coming up and watching it. You have to have the logo, the first song, and the name so people know who you are.

And I think we did that really well. And I’m very proud of that.


ACM: Speaking of style, your dress style. There’s a Ray Brown Fashions …

Notto: I love Ray. I love talking to him, too. He’s a very sarcastic old-school guy and I super enjoy it.


ACM: And it seems like you guys have changed a bit in the past 5 years. I think Mark’s always had more flair. But you were more in T-shirts and jeans and now it’s more. 

Notto: Yeah, I still, at heart, wish I had just cultivated my image to be a t-shirt and jeans. It’s who I am. But I also like to wear loud things, too, to play dress up.

It’s fun. I have these bright red flare pants and these bright green flare pants. I like to kind of go extra with it. Mark’s a bit more of a fashionista. I’m more concerned with, for stage, it doesn’t rip.


ACM: Last question. Do you have any tour rituals?

Notto: Now that we’re a bus tour, you get out of the bus and you kind of scatter and focus your personal time. Mark and I do a tequila shot before we go on stage. Everyone’s got their things that they do on tour. I’m probably the one that it changes the most. When I was first out, I had to hit every vinyl store in every city. This time, I brought my bike and it was a little fixer-upper. So now I have to hit every bike store. I’m becoming a bike nerd. I totally transformed my bike from the start is towards the end. It’s so awesome now. I’ve replaced the tires, the rims, the grips, and the brakes. I love it. It’s great. 


We then chatted about bikes for a few minutes and unfortunately, he did not hit up a bike store in St. Louis. Next time. 


photo by Carrie Zukoski

Credit: Carrie Zukoski | Open Road Communications

photo by Carrie Zukoski

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In my work life, I help nonprofits and small businesses with media and public relations. In my what I love to do life, you can typically find me photographing either wild horses or concerts.

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