Just before her seriously rockin' Americana showcase at 12th & Porter in Nashville, Honey Honey's Suzanne Santo stopped by the Epiphone showroom to talk about her new solo album, Ruby Red, and also pick up an Epiphone Masterbilt Century De Luxe. Ruby Red was produced by Butch Walker and it's Santo's first LP away from her longtime musical partner Benjamin Jaffe. The album will delight longtime fans who will immediately recognize Santo's "swaggering star power" (American Songwriter) along with new sounds and colors that amplify her sensitive, insightful, and often fiery songwriting. Ruby Red is just the kind of album Americana has been waiting. Don't miss seeing the album live on the road this fall. Visit Santo's Facebook page for touring details and Honey Honey's site for more info.
Thanks so much for speaking with Epiphone.com, Suzanne. Why did you want to make Ruby Red now?
I love Honey Honey and we really worked hard for the past 11 years. It was just that we needed a break. The past three years specifically have been non-stop with touring and with just not having a home kind-of-thing so we really needed a break. It's pretty incredible to step away from something and get outside of your comfort zone. Both of us have solo records. His is coming out in November and it's absolutely incredible. We both had very different experiences of learning what we're capable of without the other in a way was really nice and gives us a lot of respect for one another.
What kind of musical environment did you want to create for this album?
First of all, I got really lucky because I got Butch Walker to produce it and he is an exceptionally confident man. More often than not, I'm the only gal in the room and usually pushed to the back of the room. But not in an aggressive way--that's just what usually happens.This was not the case.This was an incredibly safe environment that gave me all this room to do what I wanted. He truly said: you have the floor. What do you want to do? And I said: 'well, I want to do a string arrangement here! And I want to do vocal arrangements here'
And I did. That was stuff I never really did before because there was always someone in front of me doing it (laughs)! And I didn't want to feel like I had to elbow my way in make it happen. It was a very natural and opened up the door for more engineering, things I really wanted to do, production wise. It was the most fun the studio that I've ever had.
It's funny because in my younger years, I used to want do things because everybody else was rather than in a natural, passionate way. I think that's how a lot of things should be if you can help it. I think you make better music that way. It changed a lot of things. And my confidence, too. I've never felt like this before.
What's different for you on stage now when you perform these songs?
There are definitely things that are different. Not having my best buddy who I've had beside me so long is different. He's a phone call away which is great. But at the same time, there's a liberty of having the floor. Another noticeable difference is if shit breaks, I don't have someone to cover for me. I have to tell the jokes and fix things while I'm talkin' to people. It's been interesting. I really enjoy both. I've had enough time away that I miss Honey Honey but I also have enough time with my own project to realize how special it is. I got this great band I'm playing with. I hit the jackpot.
How has the reception been so far?
Everything has been great. I keep popping on different playlists and getting great exposure. I've done some radio here and there. It's all DIY. I didn't want to release this with a record company. I've done that a lot over the years and I wanted to see what it was like to own my own record and handpick a team. I have a great PR company and distribution company. To see the nuts and bolts of it has been really liberating and eye opening. There is so much you can do.
I don't want to poo poo
the record companies but it's amazing how much you think you need them for when you don't (laughs). There are some diamonds out there but for the most part, it's a floundering industry. If they don't start to reinvent things, I don't know what they're going to do. I have a lot of friends in the industry so it's hard to say that. I'm all ears. I'm all open to ideas of getting music out there and making a living from it and so far what I've learned is if you get to own it, you're in a much better position (laughs!)
Also, besides playing more guitar, one of the things I had to reconcile when I was first listening to the recording was the material itself. With Honey Honey, we have this nebulous thing where we both write or write together but we say 'all songs by Honey Honey.' We prefer it that way. I can have this safety blanket. This record in particular is pretty raw and there's a lot of sex and drugs and booze on this record. It's a piece of art. But as a woman sometimes, that's not necessarily well received so I had to really find my legs with that as well and stand behind it. And I do, and I love it. But once I listened to the record I thought: "Oh God! (Laugh) This is racy."
And I have to be ok with that. I guess I'm a person who wants to be comfortable with themselves and a lot of societal stands with a woman saying certain things isn't always well received. But so far it's being well received and I'm really grateful for it.