Honeyhoney: An Insightful Q & A
Fresh off an eye-opening European tour and āsmack in the middle of the processā of recording a new album, Americana duo Honeyhoney took time off from their busy schedule to have an insightful discussion about their music.
The band, consisting of guitarist/percussionist Ben Jaffe and vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Suzanne Santo, was first covered in our āOutside the Linesā column last June. This interview, however, serves to paint a more complete picture of a very talented, honest, hard working, and humble roots rock band.
After briefly discussing Jaffeās self-proclaimed mystification with the Texas/Red-Dirt music scene and swapping a few stories about a certain strip-club surrounded music venue near my hometown, Jaffe and Santo opened up about some intriguing recent touring experiences, the formation of the band, music philosophies, and their highly anticipated new album.
Touring in Texas vs. Touring in Europe
Dallas Terry: Last year, you toured with Ryan Bingham. What was that tour like?
Suzanne Santo: It was incredible for us. We really developed some very loyal fans from that tour. And just touring with such an incredibly humble, kind soul like Ryan was great. I mean, he brought us on stage every night for a jam and always sang our praises and was truly supportive. You know, he doesnāt have to do thatā¦
Ben Jaffe: Itās pretty unique. We tour with a lot of great people and heās one of the only ones who has really done that. We kind of felt like we were part of the crewā¦
Suzanne: But the thing thatās really cool is just meeting somebody like that whoās just totally selfless and has their ego in check. And it was just so much fun, ya know, it was summertime, we were just having a ball.
Ben: Thatās kind of where we discovered Corona. I mean I was aware of it, it just wasnāt really a part of my life. Itās a big part of my life nowā¦
DT: Coming from outside of the Texas/Red-Dirt scene, what was it like playing in Texas and Oklahoma with such a prominent Texas figure like Ryan Bingham?
Suzanne: Well the whole tour was a great response. The crowds were in it. They liked our vibe, they bought our merch, it was a really fruitful tour across the board.
Ben: It was a really warm crowd, too. Thatās a difference. Weāve opened for a lot of different groups but this was a group of people who just seemed like they were going out to have fun and let loose, like a catharsis experience for people. It seems like thereās no qualms about expressing themselves and just enjoying themselves too. You know, thereās a lot of live music audiences out there. Thereās a lot of insecurity that you have to get over just by the merit of fact that theyāre in a performing venue and kind of judgmentalā¦ we actually kind of experienced that in Englandā¦
Suzanne: England was a kick in the nuts.
DT: Yes, I was going to ask you about your recent tour in Englandā¦
Suzanne: It was interesting. It was rough. It was the first time in our touring lives where we consistently felt a true indifference from the crowd. They didnāt want to see usā¦
Ben: We failed to connect.
Suzanne: Nobody booed us off stage thank God, but the response was truly underwhelming. And it was really humbling because it was a consistent vibe for about a month of just feeling like shit. And then the minute we got to Europe, our first show was in Stockholm, Sweden, the European crowds were the best crowds weāve probably ever played in front of. They were so grateful to see us. You could hear a pin drop during every set, and they bought our merch like crazy. And they actually saved our asses.
DT: Thatās very interestingā¦
Ben: Yeah the British shows are very reserved. You go to a concert, youāre sort of reserved, and if someone can rattle you out of your mind then maybe you kind of get-down a little bit. But for the Bingham shows, the people were already out of their minds, so that kind of felt easy.
DT: Do you have any stories from that tour through Texas with Bingham?
Ben: Gruene Hall is one of the greatest places in the world. I had the best fish taco that Iāve ever had in my life there. Yeah, it felt like Lonesome Dove or something, we were down on the Rio Grandeā¦ I could spend my life there.
Formation of the Band
DT: How important is a band name?
Suzanne: Itās important.
Ben: It just represents the work weāve done. This is who we are, and weāve put seven years into this. Whatever Suzanne and I have done for the last seven years, thatās called Honeyhoney. Thatās what it is at this point. To be honest I donāt really evaluate the name very much anymore.
DT: Can you bring me through the beginning of the band, how did you get together in the beginning, and what happened?
Suzanne: We had been introduced by a mutual friend of ours named Todd Miller. He was working on Benās solo project and he was working on my solo project, and he thought it would be a good idea for us to write together. And so I met Ben and we started writing, and the second song we wrote was āCome On Home,ā which is a song that weāve closed every set with for the past seven years, and it was this powerful momentā¦
Ben: It was in a weed shop, I remember that. Thatās the first time we ever messed around with that song.
Suzanne: Yeah, anyways, we had all these weird gigs around LA, like playing weed shops and stuff, and we put some music up on MySpace. And literally, within a month or two we were getting labels contacting us. This A & R rep from France contacted us, and the next thing we knew we were signed with Ironworks, Kiefer Sutherlandās label. We were very young, and still learning how the whole business works.
DT: How long have both of you been musicians? Have you always played instruments?
Suzanne: I started singing since birth. I played piano when I was younger, and then violin when I was 11. I was always in choir and stuff like that, but I didnāt do anything professionally until I was 18.
Ben: Iāve played instruments from a pretty young age. I got really into the band āthing.ā When I was twelve I started a band with my ābros,ā and then that never changed. Throughout high school I performed pretty regularly. Thatās been my job since Iāve had jobs really. So Iāve spent a lot of time playing restaurants and in random jazz bands and some club in Connecticut or something. Iād play weddings or bar mitzvahs and all that stuff.
DT: When you guys started playing together, what was it that caused you to know that you had so much symmetry together?
Suzanne: I think we just had chemistry as people and as friends. We just hit it off. When music and the creative side came in that was even better. We have this incredible creative bond. I can honestly say it started from just playing together, and then our writing skills really developed over the years.
Ben: Yeah it was like: āHey this is what I listen to, this is what you listen to. Wow, I like that stuff.ā I had never really played folk or roots music before we started playing together. It was less of a common ground and more of an open arena: āThe point of a band is that you get to do what you want to do, and I get to do what I want to do. So letās figure out how to do that.ā
DT: Since you didnāt really come from roots music backgrounds, what was it that made you decide that you wanted to play this type of music?
Suzanne: Good honest soul music has always resonated with me. In the Americana scene thereās incredible songwriting. Any voice of truth, Iām going to be drawn to itā¦ somebody who means it. And I found that a lot in country music and folk music, but not in the pop scene. At the time when I met Ben I was working at a BBQ restaurant in LA. It was magical there. I was really discovering blues music when I was working there. I remember hearing R.L. Burnside, Old Crow Medicine Show, The Black Keys (before they were really famous), Loretta Lynn, old beautiful country music. And then when I was learning and developing my music skills I would just start playing country songs a little bit and 1-4-5 stuff was really easy for me to write on. But weāre not country artists, you know?
Ben: What drew me to it is the lyrics. Iāve always been lyrically minded and driven. I have a natural connection with lyrics. In folk music itās an opportunity for lyrics. And I also just write slow music most of the time. I love rock music and I grew up listening to it and there are great lyricists in rock, but for some reason I couldnāt write fast songs. So I just wrote slower songs and they turn out to be folk-y.
DT: What would you call the style of music that you play?
Suzanne: I think weāre an Americana rock band. Our new record has a lot more rock ānā roll on it then weāve had yet, and yet it still has all the elements of the rootsy stuff that weāve been doing since the beginning. I think that I would feel comfortable in that pocket.
Philosophy of Music
DT: With your sound and your style, it would be very easy for you to go in a different direction with your music, and it would be very easy for a record label to take ahold of your band and market you to more of a pop audience. What made you choose to stay away from something like that?
Suzanne: First of all, our happiness and health are the first priority in the union of our band. And just deep down in our spirit, weāre never going to make music that weāre not proud of.
Ben: I donāt know if there is an easy path with any of this stuff. I donāt know if there is any other choice for us than what weāre doing. We have a band, and we never set out to be an Americana Rock band. We just set out to figure out how we can play music together and get to do what we want through that. And what it turns out to be is what it is.
Suzanne: Weāre not aiming to be famous by any stretch of the word, but I do think we are part of a movement. Jake Bugg is a folk-rock musician who has a very similar vibe to us on a bigger scale and itās working and thousands and thousands of people come and see him at every show, and to me thatās big time. The kind of music pocket that weāre in has that kind of potential. I definitely think that people want to hear it. Iām seeing more and more popular music in the wheelhouse of what weāre doing and itās exciting.
DT: Right. Itās not about the popularity; itās about the music itself. But because the music is so great, it should be heard by the popular massesā¦
Suzanne: Well I think thereās a moment where people start to become less interested in a lot of pop music because a lot of pop music is like a microwaveā¦ itās very quick and easy access to emotions. Like āwhen you listen to this, youāre going to feel this.ā But I think more and more people are resonating with deeper music and with deeper meaning. Iām seeing more and more unlikely listeners gravitating towards our music and itās cool. Thatās what itās for.
Ben: Whatever the mainstream music populace accepts is consistently surprising. When you look at the sound, if you try to evaluate the sound that people consider to be appealing on a mass level, thereās no consistency to itā¦ Especially now when we have all this accessā¦ That is busting everything wide open because I can listen to anything I want, any style, any time of day. Most kids have probably as much interest in Justin Bieber as a Mozart sonata that they heard in a cartoon that they like. Iāve seen that stuff impact kids in the same way. They get just as excited.
DT: Do you think that one finds a deeper connection or a deeper feeling of true artistic beauty with one versus the other? Or do you think that the responses are inevitably the same as long as thereās a response?
Suzanne: I think everyone has their own relationship with whatever music that theyāre listening to. Personally, of course Mozartās going to move my soul and Justin Bieberās going to kill my boner. I honestly donāt know if itās our place to judge what kind of music would move someone on a deeper level, I think thatās such a personal thing. Statistically, obviously, thereās so much more energy on a beautiful, multifarious level of spiritual dimension put into Mozart, as opposed to Justin Bieber saying āget in my ride, girlā or whatever. But again, who are we to tell you that youāre going to feel better about one or the other.
New Album and Future Plans
DT: Youāre in the middle of recording a new album. Are you almost finished with it?
Ben: Weāre smack in the middle of the process.
DT: What do you know about it so far?
Suzanne: Itās definitely our best songs that we have yet to date. When it comes to songwriting and composing and structuring the record, we feel like weāve grown. Itās exciting and itās like another level for us, definitely. This record is a product of our unity as partners and friends and creators together. At the end of the day itās just the two of us. Those songs are so much about that. Itās probably the most naturally written record weāve had yet. This one is probably the most personal weāve gotten yet. Weāre ready to expose ourselves in that way.
DT: Is the song āNumb Itā going to be on there?
Both: Weāre working on it.
Suzanne: We did a whole session in July and we recorded 14 songs and we had to scrap most of it and start over. But thatās something that happens, you know. Itās like if we didnāt capture the magic the bottle, you gotta get another bottle.
DT: What about āYours to Bareā will that be on the new album?
Suzanne: Definitely. āYours to Bareā has people freaking out and getting excited about it, which is cool because weāre excited about it too. Itās a really great song.
DT: Are there any other new plans in the near future?
Ben: Weāre going to throw a concert and feature the 40-piece high school band from the high school that I went to. Weāre going to use it as a platform to have a music education experience for the students. I see this opportunity for a huge artist community thatās always looking for resource, and a huge student population thatās always looking for access to arts education. Thereās a space in the middle there where both sides can get what they need. The more that artists are involved in their own communities, the more chance that they have to be able to keep being productive. So thatās going to be happening in April.
Live Music and Desert Island Albums
DT: How important is live music to you guys?
Suzanne: Itās the most important thing. Thatās the point where you get to connect with everybody in real life. Itās almost magical. Itās like having these unspoken conversations with peopleā¦ this connectivity that collectively you can create joy and positivity in a room full of mass amounts of people.
Ben: It puts the music in a context that doesnāt exist anywhere else. Concert venues reserve a place for music. Itās like a sanctuary. Weāre going to hang in this space and listen and play music together. It really is like an interchange thatās not available anywhere else.
DT: If you had three albums to take with you to a desert island. Which albums would you take?
Suzanne: Oā Brother Where Art Thou Soundtrack, Radiohead ā Amnesiac, Ella Fitzgerald ā Pure Ella
Ben: Nirvana ā Nevermind, The Notorious B.I.G. ā Ready to Die, and something by Django Reinhardt.