Suzanne Santo: Throwing down sweet jams with honeyhoney
Since forming in 2006, the duo honeyhoney — musician Benjamin Jaffe and musician/model/actress Suzanne Santo — has released two albums, the second of which established the group as a major act in the Americana/alt-country scene. Now the group is in Nashville in the midst of recording its new album and Santo recently phoned us from the studio to talk about the progress the group was making on what will be its third album. “It’s the best work we have done yet,” says Santo about the recording sessions. “It’s been a blast.”
How long have you been recording?
We started on December 8. We’ll take off for Christmas and then we have until the end of the month but we are moving so quickly that I don’t think we’ll need all that time. We do two tracks a day and drink a bunch of whiskey. We’re having so much fun and throwing down some sweet jams. We’re doing our record with Dave Cobb who does Jason Isbell and Shooter Jennings’ stuff. He also just produced this record from Sturgill Simpson who won a bunch of Americana awards. It’s been the best recording experience I ever had. You only do this once and it’s done so we’re having a really good time.
Talk about the band’s formation. Did you two really meet at a costume party?
We did. We met in Los Angeles at a costume party and I was dressed as a Cheetah and he was dressed as Ralph Macchio from Karate Kid. We were both working with an engineer friend on respective solo projects and our friend said we should write together. We did and hit it off.
How did you end up connecting with Kiefer Sutherland, whose label you recorded for?
That was such a funny time. We weren’t even a band for a year. We were entered into a radio contest. It was sort of rigged. If Kiefer and the other owner didn’t like us, they didn’t have to pick us. We signed a deal after that. It was really cool to hang out with Jack Bauer for a couple of years. They weren’t a well-oiled machine, though. It was tough. We sat around and waited a lot.
That first album, First Rodeo, features such a wide range of instrumentation that it sounds like it was an expensive record to make. Was it?
The way that stuff works is that there’s all this stuff you don’t know. They bring in all these players and then at the end of the day they’re like, “You guys are down $600,000.” I had a side job. I’m like, “How the hell did that happen? I still work in a bar.” It’s such a weird dynamic the way they operate. It was an expensive record but we love it. It’s part of the journey. You figure it out as you go on. We were both 21 and had a record deal. We thought we could just sit around and make music all day and that everyone else was going to do the work. That is not the case. You have to work twice as hard. Sometimes, those contracts can ruin your life. Fortunately, we were able to get out of a royally screwed situation.
Talk about your approach on Billy Jack. Did you try to do anything differently?
We funded it ourselves and played with our friends. The guy who we produced it with played pedal steel so it has pedal steel all over it. It has this Americana-country thing. It’s funny because we were never in that category until Billy Jack came out. It’s kinda cool. We were able to prove that we can do it ourselves and then we switched management and we were booking our own tours successfully. When you get to that point and bring 500 people to a show in Chicago, then they want to work with you and you get the right managers. We started working with Lost Highway. The label is no longer but it was such a cool couple of years. The label was home to Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. Who doesn’t want to be hanging out with those guys?
And Lucinda Williams.
She’s one of my heroes. I haven’t met her but I’ll probably act like a big old loser when I do.
I love that you have a song called “Ohio.” Talk about that track.
People really respond to that and it’s such a nice feeling. I moved out of Ohio when I was 16. I go back as often as I can. My family is still there. I was, for lack of a better word, chasing a dream. I had to go. I lived in New York and L.A. and Nashville. My relationship to Ohio is like a golden orb in my heart. I love where I’m from. When I’m home, I go downtown and hang out downtown. I love the restaurants and bars. I love the sports teams. When the Browns lose, I take it really hard. The song is specifically about my relationship to where I’m from. It’s a big part of who you are. When you leave, you move out of the house but the town has a hold on me in this way I love. I would love to have a studio in Cleveland but also a facility for kids to rehearse and play drums or whatever. I would love to have a really well-designed rehearsal space in a warehouse or something.
The line “you still have the coldest cold I know” certainly rings true.
It’s true. I used to go Catholic school and had to use a lighter to get my car key into the door because it was frozen.
When will the new album be out?
It’ll be out in the springtime. We’re signed to Rounder via Concord. It’s pretty cool because we get the intimacy of both of them. We have really cool teams. When they put a record out, they don’t just plop it out. They put some foreplay into it. I think there’s some radio songs on this one and they’re really good radio songs.