Suzanne Santo
Photo: Cameron McCool / Courtesy of IVPR

Suzanne Santo Gets Happy with Songs Sung Blue As Dreams Come True (premiere + interview)

Suzanne Santo is putting her bittersweet past in the rearview mirror. With her upcoming album, Yard Sale, she steers toward a better future.

Yard Sale
Suzanne Santo
Soundly Music
27 August 2021

July 2020: HoneyHoney Returns … Briefly 

HoneyHoney did emerge during the pandemic, if only for one livestream show and a series of entertaining Patreon podcasts that began one year ago. None of them matched Rogan’s three-hour-plus marathon chats, but they usually performed at least three songs, including covers by a wide range of artists from Valerie June: (“Astral Plane”) and My Morning Jacket (“Golden”) to Tenacious D (“The Government Totally Sucks”).  

Their animated discussions also offered juicy tidbits, including how, at the age of 22, they got their first record deal, signing with Kiefer Sutherland’s Ironworks label in 2007 after “winning” a radio contest and $25k under “sketchy circumstances”. The podcasts, one featuring their shared affinity for Dad Grass, continued on a semi-regular basis until September, then a livestream show (discounted for their Patreon customers) followed on 24 October. They went dark the rest of the year, but Santo kept busy. 

That December while thinking, “I’ve been inside all year; I really need to do this for myself,” she visited Austin, where “all my dreams started coming true.” Stating “I had no intention of moving here,” Santo wanted to check out Chappelle and Rogan shows at Stubb’s Waller Creek Amphitheater, join Austin native Gary Clark Jr. on another “JRE” podcast and see the dazzling blues guitarist perform at Antone’s Nightclub, where he asked her to sit in on his set.

Rogan, who does his Spotify shows from his new Austin studio, suggested that she should consider making a permanent move (“he’s a helluva salesman, that guy,” Santo says with a laugh). While acknowledging its beauty, Santo believed Los Angeles had become “suffocating” and there were fewer things to offer her — “Hollywood doesn’t have an address anymore,” she reflects — other than some good friends and a few nice memories.

Struck by the convergence of events, Santo recollects thinking to herself, “Oh my God, what is happening? This is like real life. This is a true story and it’s honestly one of the craziest things that’s ever happened to me.” 

The clincher might have been a drive on previously undiscovered side streets to collect her thoughts and get a better feel for Austin’s attributes. Santo suddenly slammed on the brakes of her rental car and spotted a familiar face. “One of the four people I knew here at the time,” she exclaims, was Shakey Graves. He was on a walk with his mother. “I started crying. I was like, ‘What the fuck!’ ‘Cause I asked the universe, ‘Should I move here?’ It answered me. Then my life just started falling into place.” 

Suzanne Santo
Photo: Michael Bialas

2021, Part 1: Living the Dream

Despite a tough renter’s market, Santo found “kind of a hand-me-down” house in Austin rather quickly though a friend of a friend and was living there by mid-February. But first she had to witness and survive severe — and sometimes deadly — weather of “biblical” proportions that caused power outages, highway hang-ups, and left people without electricity, water, or gas. “I’ve seen a lot of shit on the road, but I’ve never seen anything like that,” declares Santo, who calmed herself by thinking, “It was just like the darkest before the dawn kind of thing.” 

Then during the first week of March, there was a personal awakening, her eyes wide open like someone watching a glowing sunrise for the first time. Santo went into a longtime friend’s dinner party in Austin looking to meet new acquaintances, but with no hidden objectives in mind. 

“I was specifically not dating,” she discloses. “I had this nine-month plan where I was like, ‘I’m gonna be focusing on my record, I don’t want any men in my life, not a one, it is just about me and that’s it.’ When I made that decision, one, I never felt more powerful in my life when I decided that love and relationship wasn’t a goal, that it wasn’t a priority, and … something shifted drastically.

“I was literally telling my friend how I wasn’t dating, I was so happy. I had never been this happy and free and so excited to be in Austin.” 

Then Nic Pizzolatto, arriving later for drinks, walked through the door, shook Santo’s hand, saying, “Hi, I’m Nic,” and all bets were off, along with her nine-month plan. Had she finally met the man of her dreams, this 45-year-old novelist (Galveston, which was turned into a film) and screenwriter (HBO’s True Detective, which he created; The Magnificent Seven remake) who grew up in southwest Louisiana?

“We just stared at each other and held hands and stared at each other. Awkwardly in front of my friends. It was just like we were together the minute we shook hands,” Santo swoons. “It was bizarre.” 

Tempted to abandon this sudden attraction, those thoughts quickly vanished. 

“He’s such a beautiful soul and we’re connected at the soul,” she continues. “We’re enjoying every second of what this feels like because we’ve both had long lives in the romance department and difficult ones as such. It’s been really, really great.” (laughs) 

With failed relationships in common, they recently had a conversation about that constant theme running through Yard Sale. “He was like, ‘Man, you’ve got a lot of breakup songs,’” Santo divulges with a strong laugh. I do but … just for the comfort of my partner, they take on so many different shapes [during the writing process]. … It can mean something much different to me now [than when it was written]. I’m really grateful for that because … pick up the same emotion every time you sing a song, it’s gonna get weird.” 

Clarifying that her cutting lyrics might take on a composite concept or other relatable subject rather than focus on a specific person in her life, Santo explains that in some cases, “What sounds like a breakup song is really like ‘I’m tired of touring in a van.’ But it sounds like I’m talking about a man. (laughs) So I feel really good about the metaphor.” 

Still, some episodes of her life are more painful to forget than others.  She goes back to the doomed 2019 relationship, deducing, “I think as you get older those breakups cut a little deeper. This one in particular was a really sad experience but [it] actually set me free. I know now that was probably the best thing that could have happened.” 

2021, Part 2: Pooling Her Resources

A revitalized Santo is ready for a brief tour in Colorado, starting 3 July at Denver’s Lost Lake Lounge, then 5-6 July at the Ride Festival‘s compact Ride Lounge in Telluride, where Pizzolatto will see her L.A.-based backing band for the first time. It includes Stark (guitars), his wife Izzy Ray (bass, keys and percussion) and Doyle (drums).  

Santo’s growing confidence on the Eastman electric guitars that I remember seeing her first play (“more like an acoustic”) at the 2016 Ride Festival will also be evident this time around. 

“I knew I had to step up for my own music and then when I played with Hozier, I really had to step up,” she reasons. “I feel like those couple of years with my music, and then Hozier, made me a real guitar player. Now I’m doing solos and stuff.

“There are great musicians in L.A. but the approach to music in Austin is another level of camaraderie and community that I haven’t experienced in a long time. Every time I go out and see people play, I can’t wait to get home and practice. I haven’t felt like that in a while.” 

She’ll be back in action with a record release show at Antone’s on 26 August and some September and October stops. Then she’ll support Murder By Death on East Coast dates for two weeks in November. 

“I’ve played locally in Austin, which has been really fun,” Santo proclaims. “But booking tours and travel and budgeting is back to the grind a little bit, which is … some of it is exciting and some of it is like, oh, I’m leaving my nest. And my cats.” 

As for HoneyHoney’s status after the three Montana dates (without Meehan, their very busy drummer), Santo won’t say anything definitive, only, “We don’t really have any new music or anything like that.” 

Jaffe, riding by then in her vehicle bought during quarantine (“I got a helluva deal on it!” she gleefully pronounces), jumps in with a funny idea that elicits shrieks of laughter from Santo as the interview winds down. 

“It’s currently fossilized,” he notes, regarding the state of HoneyHoney after their near-death experience. “You know how, in Jurassic Park, they unfroze the mosquito and created a whole new species? It could be like that, but who knows.” 

After only three albums — including 2008’s First Rodeo and 2011’s Billy Jack — since getting together in 2006, will there ever be a fourth? (Hint, hint: At least someone should broker a deal for the eclectic collection of covers they’ve played on their “Unmanageable” podcasts.) 

If the taste of HoneyHoney has become bittersweet, at least Santo can savor the flavor of a budding relationship. Especially since she considers the pool at her boyfriend’s place “an extra bonus.” Yet she promises it won’t be all play and no work. 

“I’m not a competitive person,” Santo claims regarding her musical skills. “I like to be like, ‘You gotta get back to work, dude. Quit drinking margaritas in the pool. Go play your instrument.’ And then [go] drink margaritas in the pool as a reward.” 

Among other things she’s reaped while heading toward happily ever after, Santo has swimmingly managed to think, drink, and be merry.