After moving from Los Angeles to Nashville and living in the Music City for several years, singer-songwriter Suzanne Santo, a Northeast Ohio native who plays in the twangy alt-country duo HoneyHoney, moved back to Los Angeles.
She loosely documents the life changes she's recently experienced on her solo debut, Ruby Red
“I’ve been back in L.A. for over two years,” she says via phone from L.A. She performs at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 19, at the Music Box Supper Club
, where she opens for Willie Watson. “Nashville just wasn’t for me. Everyone is in the music industry, so it gets annoying after a little while. There’s not a lot of culture there. I like different people and food, and I was tormented by allergies there. It’s a moldy valley. I was always sick and getting bit by mosquitos. I was like, ‘Fuck this. I’m moving.’ So I moved back to Los Angeles.”
Since forming in 2006, HoneyHoney has released three albums. Those albums have established it as a major act in the Americana/alt-country scene. But Santo says the last HoneyHoney record really “burned” the band out, so she and bandmate Benjamin Jaffe decided to take some time away from the group. Since Santo had met producer Butch Walker (Taylor Swift, All Time Low) last year, she thought he could help her whip some songs she’d written into a solo album. Her instincts proved correct. Ruby Red
features a terrific collection of songs that veer from HoneyHoney's alt-country approach.
“It was such a blast working with [Walker],” says Santo. “It worked itself out. Ben and I had both been wanting to do solo projects for a while. It helped that Butch came into my world and wanted to make this album.”
Santo worked with Walker at his Santa Monica studio, a space she found particularly conducive to letting her explore her creativity.
“It was my favorite place to work,” she says. “It has natural light. It’s an old garage. We would work from noon to 8. It was perfect. You’re not super burnt out. I’m not into working all through the night. It was great. I named my record after his studio. There’s something to be said about the spaces we work in. A lot of studios are like caves and you get in there and it’s immediately dark. I get tired in settings like that. I can’t say I’ve done my best work in a cave. I loved working at Ruby Red.”
One of the album's many highlights, “Ghost in My Bed” recalls R.E.M.’s hit “Losing My Religion” with its moody vocals, folk-y acoustic guitars and chirping strings.
“There’s a journalist that totally came up with their own idea and wrote an article about it and said it’s about being in a relationship with an alcoholic,” she says. “That’s not true at all. I’ve never been in a relationship with an alcoholic. It’s about being destructive and then being accountable for it. It’s loosely inspired by the Stevie Nicks lyrics ‘Don't blame it on me/Blame it on my wild heart.’ Right when I moved back to L.A., I was recalibrating my life and I could feel the ghosts of my vices.”
The sparse piano ballad “Best Out of Me” represents one of the album’s lighter moments.
“Just about every song has this common thread of accountability and reconciliation and sifting through parts of ourselves that aren’t savory,” says Santo. “I’m always putting in an effort to examine my choices and make sure they’re the best ones or the right ones. When they’re not, I try to figure out the not-so-great parts of myself. I’m fascinated with psychology and where things come from. It’s fascinating to learn about common serial killer disorders, for example. I’m fascinated by almost-genetic hand-me-downs of anger or sadness or impulsiveness. I look at myself and realize it’s something that’s like my grandmother or my dad and having to be pissed about it and then get over it.”
With its pounding drums and gritty guitars, “Love Fucked Up” comes across as a rousing blues-based dirge.
“There’s a lot of sex and booze on this record,” says Santo. “That’s just a fun shit kicker song. It’s loosely inspired by dating. I’m trying to use my words carefully here. That one is just about lust at the nucleus.”
While HoneyHoney isn’t at work on a new album, guest appearances on the hit TBS show Guest Book
have kept it plenty busy.
“We perform at the end of every episode in the strip club,” she says of Guest Book
. “The music is great. We wrote the theme song, and we’re an interesting part of the show. We just found out it got picked up for a second season. I don’t know if we’ll still be on the show, but it did a lot for us.”
Santo says Jaffe’s forthcoming solo effort is “so good,” and she says she's happy to help promote the effort.
“He’s looking to release it later this year,” he says. “He likes to shoot from the hip. He’s releasing content through social media that’s worth checking out. Right now, giving each other out solo projects their due is important. We’re PR-ing for each other, which is cool.”
Santo says her live show at the Music Box won't be a tepid affair. Rather, it'll feature “a lot of rock n’ roll.”
“There’s a good split of mid-tempo songs and ballads,” she says. “There’s great guitar riffs, and I take my fiddle and put it through a fuzz pedal for ‘Blood on Your Knees.’ It’s one of the most fun things to play. It’s been great.”