Fresh off an eye-opening European tour and “smack in the middle of the process” 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 “Outside the Lines” 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 Jaffe’s 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 doesn’t have to do that…
Ben Jaffe: It’s pretty unique. We tour with a lot of great people and he’s one of the only ones who has really done that. We kind of felt like we were part of the crew…
Suzanne: But the thing that’s really cool is just meeting somebody like that who’s 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: That’s kind of where we discovered Corona. I mean I was aware of it, it just wasn’t really a part of my life. It’s a big part of my life now…
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. That’s a difference. We’ve 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 there’s no qualms about expressing themselves and just enjoying themselves too. You know, there’s a lot of live music audiences out there. There’s a lot of insecurity that you have to get over just by the merit of fact that they’re in a performing venue and kind of judgmental… we actually kind of experienced that in England…
Suzanne: England was a kick in the nuts.
DT: Yes, I was going to ask you about your recent tour in England…
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 didn’t want to see us…
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 we’ve 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: That’s very interesting…
Ben: Yeah the British shows are very reserved. You go to a concert, you’re 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 I’ve ever had in my life there. Yeah, it felt like Lonesome Dove or something, we were down on the Rio Grande… I could spend my life there.
Formation of the Band
DT: How important is a band name?
Suzanne: It’s important.
Ben: It just represents the work we’ve done. This is who we are, and we’ve put seven years into this. Whatever Suzanne and I have done for the last seven years, that’s called Honeyhoney. That’s what it is at this point. To be honest I don’t 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 Ben’s 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 “Come On Home,” which is a song that we’ve closed every set with for the past seven years, and it was this powerful moment…
Ben: It was in a weed shop, I remember that. That’s 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 Sutherland’s 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 didn’t do anything professionally until I was 18.
Ben: I’ve played instruments from a pretty young age. I got really into the band “thing.” When I was twelve I started a band with my “bros,” and then that never changed. Throughout high school I performed pretty regularly. That’s been my job since I’ve had jobs really. So I’ve spent a lot of time playing restaurants and in random jazz bands and some club in Connecticut or something. I’d 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: “Hey this is what I listen to, this is what you listen to. Wow, I like that stuff.” 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: “The 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 let’s figure out how to do that.”
DT: Since you didn’t 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 there’s incredible songwriting. Any voice of truth, I’m going to be drawn to it… 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 we’re not country artists, you know?
Ben: What drew me to it is the lyrics. I’ve always been lyrically minded and driven. I have a natural connection with lyrics. In folk music it’s 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 couldn’t 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 we’re an Americana rock band. Our new record has a lot more rock ‘n’ roll on it then we’ve had yet, and yet it still has all the elements of the rootsy stuff that we’ve 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, we’re never going to make music that we’re not proud of.
Ben: I don’t know if there is an easy path with any of this stuff. I don’t know if there is any other choice for us than what we’re 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: We’re 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 it’s working and thousands and thousands of people come and see him at every show, and to me that’s big time. The kind of music pocket that we’re in has that kind of potential. I definitely think that people want to hear it. I’m seeing more and more popular music in the wheelhouse of what we’re doing and it’s exciting.
DT: Right. It’s not about the popularity; it’s about the music itself. But because the music is so great, it should be heard by the popular masses…
Suzanne: Well I think there’s a moment where people start to become less interested in a lot of pop music because a lot of pop music is like a microwave… it’s very quick and easy access to emotions. Like “when you listen to this, you’re going to feel this.” But I think more and more people are resonating with deeper music and with deeper meaning. I’m seeing more and more unlikely listeners gravitating towards our music and it’s cool. That’s what it’s 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, there’s no consistency to it… Especially now when we have all this access… 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. I’ve 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 there’s a response?
Suzanne: I think everyone has their own relationship with whatever music that they’re listening to. Personally, of course Mozart’s going to move my soul and Justin Bieber’s going to kill my boner. I honestly don’t know if it’s our place to judge what kind of music would move someone on a deeper level, I think that’s such a personal thing. Statistically, obviously, there’s so much more energy on a beautiful, multifarious level of spiritual dimension put into Mozart, as opposed to Justin Bieber saying “get in my ride, girl” or whatever. But again, who are we to tell you that you’re going to feel better about one or the other.
New Album and Future Plans
DT: You’re in the middle of recording a new album. Are you almost finished with it?
Ben: We’re smack in the middle of the process.
DT: What do you know about it so far?
Suzanne: It’s definitely our best songs that we have yet to date. When it comes to songwriting and composing and structuring the record, we feel like we’ve grown. It’s exciting and it’s 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 it’s just the two of us. Those songs are so much about that. It’s probably the most naturally written record we’ve had yet. This one is probably the most personal we’ve gotten yet. We’re ready to expose ourselves in that way.
DT: Is the song “Numb It” going to be on there?
Both: We’re 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 that’s something that happens, you know. It’s like if we didn’t capture the magic the bottle, you gotta get another bottle.
DT: What about “Yours to Bare” will that be on the new album?
Suzanne: Definitely. “Yours to Bare” has people freaking out and getting excited about it, which is cool because we’re excited about it too. It’s a really great song.
DT: Are there any other new plans in the near future?
Ben: We’re going to throw a concert and feature the 40-piece high school band from the high school that I went to. We’re 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 that’s always looking for resource, and a huge student population that’s always looking for access to arts education. There’s 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 that’s going to be happening in April.
Live Music and Desert Island Albums
DT: How important is live music to you guys?
Suzanne: It’s the most important thing. That’s the point where you get to connect with everybody in real life. It’s almost magical. It’s like having these unspoken conversations with people… 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 doesn’t exist anywhere else. Concert venues reserve a place for music. It’s like a sanctuary. We’re going to hang in this space and listen and play music together. It really is like an interchange that’s not available anywhere else.
DT: If you had three albums to take with you to a desert island. Which albums would you take?
Suzanne: O’ Brother Where Art Thou Soundtrack, Radiohead – Amnesiac, Ella Fitzgerald – Pure Ella
Ben: Nirvana – Nevermind, The Notorious B.I.G. – Ready to Die, and something by Django Reinhardt.