Ben Jaffe and Suzanne Santo from Honey Honey – Interview

Honey Honey’s sweet melodies and haunting tales will reach right into you and tear at your soul a little. Their latest record Billy Jack has been turning quite a few heads in media throughout the US and their exceptional live performances have earned them a place in some of the most prestigious festivals around.  I had the opportunity to sit down with Ben Jaffe and Suzanne Santo to talk about the star-studded duo’s rise to fame – but first…an icebreaker.

Ben Jaffe: We have a Canadian Joke. So…how do you get a group of Canadians to get the fuck out of the pool? Get out of the pool…they’re in the pool…they need to get out.

Vancouver Weekly: How do you do it?

Ben Jaffe: Would everyone please get out of the pool ‘Thank You’. 

Vancouver Weekly: Do you guys consider yourselves an Alt-Country band?

Ben Jaffe: We’ve kind of settled into that, and not in any sort of settling way.

I think we’ve allowed ourselves to just go for it.  To do whatever we want and not feel constricted and kind of see what comes out of it.  And we’ve kind of naturally headed in this country direction.  I definitely don’t think we are a country band.  Neither of us would claim that. We didn’t grow up playing that music.  It’s not like Alan Jackson

Suzanne Santo: …something that I feel like we really resonate with is that ‘our sound is American’.  It has all these influences of bluegrass and country, even jazz and rock n roll.  [For example], we really love Lucinda Williams.  It’s American. And the way that she writes is… I don’t know if that makes as much sense cause it is such a melting pot but…

Ben Jaffe: …and maybe we’re just trying to claim that but there is a simplicity of style that you see which I feel like Lucinda Williams and Larry McMurtry [have].

I don’t know if you know of Larry McMurtry but he is a novelist who just tells stories about the west.  It’s a spare [and simple form of] writing…kind of like Hemmingway.  It’s just like ‘boom’ and really straight forward.  I don’t know if you can call that American or not but it’s just like the subject matter, blended with that style that just feels like something that we really resonate with.

Vancouver Weekly: The storytelling is really important to you guys?

Suzanne Santo: Very important…

Ben Jaffe: I think that’s what we bonded most over initially anyways. We both had put so much priority into the lyrics.  To be able to work through those things together and have kind of like a partner…

Suzanne Santo: …its kind of like shorthand at this point you know…I’m sorry I interrupted you (giggle).

Ben Jaffe: …no it’s fine…

Suzanne Santo: …that…uhm…we’ve definitely…(do you wanna go?).

Ben Jaffe: …go on…(as they both start to laugh)

Suzanne Santo:  We’ve been a band for about seven years now and we’ve written with a number of other people. But at the end of the day, I love writing with Ben more than anyone because there’s this shorthand in which we speak the same language and we have the same goals essentially for the bar that we raise for our songs.  It’s really cool and refreshing.

Vancouver Weekly: Tell me a bit about the studio recording? How did that all come about?

Suzanne Santo: Well, it’s funny… it was an incredibly different experience from our first record to our second record. [During] our first record we were with a record label called Iron Works and they had this state of the art studio with incredible musicians that came in…some serious heavy hitters.  For us little freshmen it was like – holy shit, why are we here?

There were lot of bells and whistles and a lot of production that went into it.  Our second record we did independently which was a completely different experience and was literally recorded in our friend’s garage recording studio, which was really cool because we really honed in on what we sound like live.  We had friends come in and accompany us but for the most part it was us playing the songs the way that we play them – as opposed to these huge musicians that had played with people like Tom Petty and The Beatles.

Ben Jaffe: The first record was a band constructed around us and the second record, the band was constructed around ourselves and this third record…we now have a band that we’ve been playing with for a while and we want to make a record that is reflective of that as opposed to piecing it together.

Vancouver Weekly: So is Honey Honey just the two of you or are you guys a band?

Suzanne Santo: That’s what is sort of up for question.  We do all the writing and then we work with the guys for arrangements.  For a long time we had a pool we would sort of dip into and get different drummers and bass players but considering the commitment level that these dudes have put in.

We aren’t really sure if we should reconstruct our branding or what. Cause you want them to feel like they are a part of the band and they are.  But its also different cause Honey Honey is kind of the two of us.

Vancouver Weekly: Are you guys touring right now?

Ben Jaffe: Sort of…we started with SXSW, we went to Pennsylvania, we strung dates in between that and Coachella and then we came up here [to Sasquatch].  Now we have a few weeks off and then we’re going up to the Newport Folk Festival, which will kind of close it out for us.

Suzanne Santo: In between we opened up for a fella named James Morrison for a month, which was really fun.  He is an incredible British soul singer and then in July we are opening for Sheryl Crow for a few dates before we go to New Port.

It was so weird she tweeted at us yesterday.  We’ve really come to learn that it is a really valuable source of spreading music and getting new fans.  This morning I woke up in our motel which was like an hour away and I went downstairs to get some coffee and Sheryl Crow’s music was playing and it was just a really interesting feeling. I was like ‘Oh Yah, she tweeted us yesterday and we’re going to meet her in a couple of weeks’.  It is something of a real honor because we didn’t go through the business negotiations of agents pitching for tours.  She actually reached out to us cause she is a fan of the music.  I was like ‘holy shit’, that happens?

Photo by Randi Curby

Ricardo Khayatte

Ricardo Khayatte