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Interview with HoneyHoney’s Suzanne Santo

I got to catch up with HoneyHoney’s Suzanne Santo as she is just starting her solo tour for her debut album entitled Ruby Red. Suzanne’s soulful voice coupled with her raw lyrics have made her a powerful force in music. Want more of a reason to fall in love with her music? How about she is an Ohio native & a whiskey drinker. I fell in love with her voice the first time I heard it and love to introduce her music whenever I have the chance. This solo album was a great introduction of what this amazing artist is capable of when all the decisions are left to her and not the usual 50/50 split of her band. I strongly encourage you to get out to Southgate House Revival on Tuesday, October 17th and see this show.

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CincyMusic:  I interviewed you for CincyMusic the last time you came to town with HoneyHoney.  That was a great show over at Taft Theatre.

Suzanne Santo:  Thank you. Were we headlining or were we opening for somebody?

CincyMusic:  You guys were headlining down in the ballroom part of Taft.

Suzanne Santo:  Oh yeah! My parents were there. 

CincyMusic:  That’s a great little place, the ballroom. I had never been to that part before your show. I didn’t even know it existed before that night.

Suzanne Santo:  Yeah, that was so cool.  It was so fun. I think Cicada Rhythm opened for us. They are a really fantastic band. 

CincyMusic:  Yes they are! I’ve been following them since that show. I like them a lot.

Suzanne Santo:  Oh, good, I’m so glad. Me too! Well, thanks for having me back!

CincyMusic:  The place you are having your show next month is at The Southgate House Revival. I’ve seen HoneyHoney there before as well. That place is a great venue for you. It’s one of the coolest concert places around here, in my opinion. The atmosphere is really nice.

Suzanne Santo:  Oh, awesome. I believe I remember playing there. Sometimes it’s hard to remember where we’ve been. But it’s all pretty neat.

CincyMusic:  My first question is after all these years performing with HoneyHoney, how excited are you to have released this solo album?

Suzanne Santo:  I’m so elated and surprised by how well it has been received and the way it forces me to work in a different way.  It has been really eye opening from having been in a partnership for so long.  We’re still in a partnership! HoneyHoney is still going strong! It has been amazing to step away for a second to see what I am capable of as an artist and a businesswoman. I’ve been really grateful that I have been able to pull it off.  It’s been really cool.  It’s been really wonderful. I am so glad that people love the record and it’s fun watching it grow. There is so much love and energy put into making it and then to see it be received the way that it is has been a really wonderful feeling.

CincyMusic:  I’ve listened to it a couple times and it is amazing. I mean this.

Suzanne Santo:  Thank you so much.

CincyMusic:  Of course, no problem. Ben is very talented and you guys work so well together in HoneyHoney, how did you go about choosing the members to work with for this solo project?

Suzanne Santo:  Butch Walker produced it and I met him last year, last January. Ben and I, HoneyHoney, were opening for JD McPherson and after the show, Butch came up and was saying, “I love your fiddle playing and I love your voice. I’m doing a record, would you like to play on my record?”  I said sure and I ended up playing a bunch of violin and signing. We just really hit it off as friends and working with him was pretty much the most fun I’ve ever had working in the studio. It took me a minute to muster up the confidence to ask him if he would be willing to do a record with me and my songs. It just really came together. It’s been something that I have really wanted to do for a long time and it was like all of a sudden this incredible person is so talented was like, “yeah, let’s do a record together.” I’m so lucky that I got to do a record with Rich Walker.

CincyMusic:  That really does sound amazing. Is there anything that stands out with recording Ruby Red that differs from a HoneyHoney album you created with Ben?

Suzanne Santo:  Yeah, I think first and foremost in HoneyHoney we both write songs. Some of them are co-writes, some I write, and some he writes. We like to keep it a little nebulous in terms of “all songs are written by HoneyHoney” because we are a team. We like to have this flow together. With this solo record, I can’t really hide behind anyone else. I wrote the song and I have to stand by it.  Some of these songs are pretty raw and sexual and it was really interesting. I have to say this because it continues to surprise me with how many people say, “oh wow, this is a bold record” or “you’re singing about sex, and drugs, and alcohol.” Honest to god, nobody has ever said anything to me like that about HoneyHoney and all of our songs are about sex, and drugs, and alcohol. I think it’s because I’m a woman. If I were a man and I were singing these songs, I don’t think anybody would think twice about it. It’s been a really interesting social experiment to see people reacting in this way like it’s any different from my other music. I’m kind of entertained by it to be honest with you. 

CincyMusic:  I can definitely see that. Now, on this album, I noticed that you had an acoustic version of “Regrets” at the end, in addition to the other version. Is there a reason for that? 

Suzanne Santo:  You know, it’s funny, that’s how it started out originally. It was just sort of this sad ballad and Butch was like, “yeah, you have a lot of ballads on here. How about we take this one and give it a little bit of this and a little bit of that?” and I’m so glad we did. I love records that have multiple or alternate versions. I was thinking about this Yeah Yeah Yeahs record that I love called It’s Blitz!  They have these rock versions and then these utterly heartbreaking ballad versions of the same song and it’s crazy. I like seeing what other outfit you can put on some lyrics and what that looks like. 

CincyMusic:  You kind of did that on the last HoneyHoney album with “Big Man”. It seems like that song went through some changes as well before making it to the album.

Suzanne Santo:  Oh yeah, it did. It’s kind of funny, we actually had alternate lyrics to that one as well.  I did a podcast a couple weeks ago and they played this super old version of “Big Man” and I was just like, “oh my gosh!”  It was with the old lyrics that we had before we changed the song to what it is now.  We’re not afraid to play stuff and still work it out and then go back and rewrite it. That one definitely had a few makeovers before we put it on the runway. 

CincyMusic:  I’ll have to try and find that podcast to listen to that version. The first time that I heard you play it was on Joe Rogan’s podcast.  I loved it on the podcast and took me a minute to like the changes made to the song that ended up on the album. I now like both versions. Like I said before, I have listened to this album all the way through a couple of times now and I think that any fan of yours from HoneyHoney will love this album and I wish it the best of success. 

Suzanne Santo:  Thank you.

CincyMusic:  One of my favorite songs from this album, I’d have to say, is “Better Than That.”  I was curious as to how that song came together. Is there some story in regards to that song?

Suzanne Santo:  Every single one of them has some sort of story, for sure. I think love can be just as toxic as cocaine or any other drug. I definitely have gotten into a little trouble with the euphoria of love and have been misguided in that feeling. As I get older I have learned about what is more important to me than that feeling and it’s scary. It’s scary and exciting to search for real love in the way that is not so attractive all the time and isn’t so easy. I have a lot of respect for people that are married, and have been for a while, and have worked through all the stuff. I am fascinated by the evolution of themselves together with a partner. That’s sort of the basis of that song. It’s just my awareness of that and wanting something like that.

CincyMusic:  I love that song. Now for a little off topic question just out of curiosity. If you could record with any artist, dead or alive, who would that be?

Suzanne Santo:  Oh, god. I’m going to have to say David Bowie. That is so hard though! There are so many, but he is one of the artists that no matter how crazy and incredible the production is, his words are just so powerful to me. Obviously he worked with a team on that stuff, but he is just a magic person. I would just like to talk to him. I wish I could go back in time.

CincyMusic:  That’s a good choice and would be an interesting pairing. I would definitely buy that album. Now as you’re touring with this album, do you plan on mixing in anything else or strictly sticking with your album?

Suzanne Santo:  I feel so comfortable with this listening room environment with Willie Watson. I’ll play few off my new album, maybe mix in a bit from HoneyHoney, maybe a few songs that I haven’t even released yet. I feel like it will just be a nice, intimate way to hang out and play some Ruby Red and we’ll see what else happens. 

CincyMusic:  I look forward to seeing the show in October with my wife. We have seen you the past couple of times you have been in town. We look forward to it each time you come by. When I had the chance to speak to you again I jumped at the opportunity! Next year, if you come back through Cincinnati, maybe I’ll let someone else take the chance to interview you. 

Suzanne Santo:  No way, I am sticking with you! 

CincyMusic:  Suzanne, it has been great speaking with you again and I cannot wait for the show. Good luck to you on the tour. See you soon!

Suzanne Santo:  I am so glad you guys are coming to the show. Thank you so much for the great conversation and the support. It really means a lot. Take care, buddy!

CincyMusic:  You too! Bye.