During a global pandemic that adversely affected practically everyone in some way, sensational singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Suzanne Santo took drastic measures to change her life for the better. Known primarily as one-half of HoneyHoney, the Los Angeles-based alternative roots rockers who never receive the full attention they deserve, Santo rallied to overcome a devastating personal breakup and a brutal battle with insomnia to find creative energy, a new home, and the love of her life in Austin, Texas.
Coinciding with this in-depth PopMatters interview, Santo also presents the premiere of her alternate “kitchen tapes” music video for “Bad Beast”, and discusses the characteristics of a condition that for victims will “dictate your life in ways that you’ll feel powerless.” Watch it now, then follow Santo as she reveals her inner thoughts and outward emotions on the way to finding a pot of golden opportunities at the end of the rainbow.
The music video shot by friend Ty Clancey with HoneyHoney creative partner Ben Jaffe on sound at her Silver Lake apartment in Los Angeles last year was simple compared to the “Bad Beast” that Santo addresses in her first single (released in April 2020) for Yard Sale, her second full-length solo album.
As an insomniac, she felt “haunted by my own brain. And I wouldn’t shut off. My heart goes out to anyone that has to deal with insomnia. It is a vicious beast. … I wouldn’t sleep for weeks at a time. I was at a point where I could count on one hand how many nights I’d slept in a month.” Santo is “in a much better place with it now” since the disorder “for the most part” is gone, improving her health through exercise and other programs.
Now basking in happiness almost four months after renting a three-bedroom home in the Texas capital city where they still keep things weird, Santo is enjoying a beehive-like swarm of activity before Yard Sale’s 27 August release. Preparing for some solo shows and festivals, along with a three-date HoneyHoney tour and a friend’s wedding in August while promoting her album, Santo consistently expresses exuberance, excitement, and extroversion during our phone interview.
The conversation begins from Santo’s home and continues in her 2017 GLC 300 Mercedes. She apologizes to herself for not being able to rescue an injured bird on her way to pick up Jaffe, HoneyHoney’s co-founder/guitarist extraordinaire (and part-time drummer) who’s in town for a family reunion and rehearsals for their “Montana Moment” gigs this summer. It’s the first time they’ve seen each other since she left L.A. in February, and Santo’s squeals of delight prove how sincerely thrilled she is to see him again.
Regarding the hectic series of events, Santo states at the outset, “It’s a lot but it’s good. It’s better than waiting for the world to change. So I can’t complain. It’s funny. Sometimes I’m just out of shape with this kind of schedule (laughs) and I’m hungry for it. I got a little energetically chubby.” (laughs) Santo is a bundle of positivity when discussing the feelings that pour out of her, even reserving opinion on an expected sizzling summer in Austin by saying, “I’m trying to go in with an open heart.” (laughs)
Direct, talkative, and gregarious during interviews, she’ll tackle almost any subject, whether it involves: the sounds of cathartic relationship songs and a beautiful chorus on the new album; a prescient encounter with Austin native and Americana musician Shakey Graves on the streets of an unfamiliar Austin neighborhood; or the effects of an acid trip during a visit to her parents’ South Carolina residence.
“A lot of people that meet me are like, ‘Man, you’re so happy!’ I never would have guessed,’ because I write a lot of sad songs,” Santo shares with a laugh. Before reaching that emotional high and declaring “I want to make records until I die,” Santo starts reeling in the years to give the lowdown on what’s leading her to conduct a Yard Sale.
2017-18: Beginning of the End?
On 3 August 2017, Santo and Jaffe emailed a newsletter to subscribing fans that stated HoneyHoney had left Rounder Records, which released their third full-length album in 2015 denoted by the numeral (some may call it 3 and Out). The missive also covers their new full-length solo projects. Santo’s Butch Walker-produced Ruby Red was set to drop, and Jaffe’s Oh, Wild Ocean of Love followed on 11 May 2018.
“We still love to party but the parties will be different for some time, solo parties,” they wrote, signing off as Ben and Sooze.
Her tour included headlining dates with a backing band. His was accompanied by guitars as a supporting act for Dead Horses. After a sparsely attended November 2018 set at Denver’s Lost Lake Lounge, a casual Jaffe told me not to anticipate a HoneyHoney return for “a long, long time.”
It’s wasn’t exactly an obituary notice for this class act known for dark lyrics (“Angel of Death”, “L.A. River”) and frenetic foot-stompers (“Thin Line”, “Let’s Get Wrecked”, “Come on Home”), but signs of life were fading. That was sad news for fans like myself, who followed and wrote about them from their developing years as an opening act for James Morrison and Trampled by Turtles to top-notch headliners in ritzy Beaver Creek, Colorado.
On an early “Unmanageable” podcast they created in July 2020 for Patreon subscribers, the musical couple finally revealed that their onetime romantic relationship “crash-landed several times,” according to Jaffe. They went through what Santo called some “very painful shit” and “now we’re friends again … like our friendship is standing the test of time,” she added. Their working relationship seemed to be saved from irreparable damage when she contributed violin, guitar, and backing vocals (also opening some shows) on a worldwide tour with Hozier in 2018-19.
HoneyHoney’s onstage swan song with drummer Conor Meehan came at a free outdoors show at Levitt Pavilion in Denver on 5 August 2018, though they also played recurring characters who performed to conclude each episode of The Guest Book, a zany but short-lived TBS series in 2017-18. That afternoon freebie in Denver was a rare break from the hiatus they later referred to as “the Great Darkness.” If saying goodbye wasn’t taxing enough emotionally, Santo was physically ill that day, trying to hide her distress “between bouts of puking” while also shedding a few tears.
“It was a very intense show,” Santo recalls during our interview. “… I was about to join Hozier’s band with no end date in sight. So it was very emotional for both of us, I think it’s safe to say. There were a lot of question marks of what the future looked like for HoneyHoney. So it was very special, very emotional.”
Regardless, they were still my favorite roots singer-songwriter duo, an act that exhibited musical versatility and incredible chemistry that topped my list of Music’s Fantastic 15 of 2015 for the Huffington Post.
If the show must go on, it doesn’t necessarily take two to do so.