Music » Interviews

Suzanne Santo takes a break to explore her more soulful side


Santo’s solo work is more sultry and soulful pop than Americana twang. - MARINA CHAVEZ
  • Marina Chavez
  • Santo’s solo work is more sultry and soulful pop than Americana twang.
The last time Suzanne Santo came through Colorado Springs, it was as the distaff half of alt-country duo HoneyHoney. Now, the multi-talented violinist, banjo player, singer-songwriter, actress and former model is rolling up tour T-shirts prior to hitting the road on behalf of Ruby Red, her first album as a solo artist.

Produced by Taylor Swift collaborator Butch Walker — who gave her the “bro rate,” Santo says, because she’d played in his band onstage and in the studio — the album drifts toward more sultry and soulful pop than her comparatively twangy collaboration with Ben Jaffe.

Fans of the duo shouldn’t worry, though. In a few months, they’ll be back to writing and recording songs together for the second season of The Guest Book, a TBS series from My Name Is Earl creator Greg Garcia that features Santo and Jaffe in both acting and musical roles. Working on a television comedy is a serous departure for the pair, whose music, over the course of three albums, hasn’t exactly been happy-go-lucky.

“Ben and I were literally just talking about this the other day,” she says. “We write these terribly sad, dark songs, but we’re actually a lot of fun, and we love people, and, you know, we like to be out-and-about. I love dark music, but I definitely want to find a happy medium, just a little bit, so that it’s not just like 100 percent bummer jams all the time.”

As yet, the she hasn’t moved very far in that direction with her solo work. The single “Ghost in My Room,” for instance, is a supremely melodic Southern Gothic rock track that lays a hypnotic backbeat behind Santo’s haunted vocals and gorgeous violin refrain. But then there are the lyrics: “There’s a ghost in my bed, screwin’ with my head / Stompin’ round my room, drinkin’ all my booze / He makes me toss and turn, my stomach churn / And he laughs at me, thinks it’s so funny.”

“This is definitely a breakup record,” says Santo, who wrote the songs about the end of her relationship with — well, not being Taylor Swift, she’d rather not say. The material is all original, with the exception of “Yours or Mine,” a collaboration with Nashville songwriter Lera Lynn that they started writing in person and finished up via Skype.
But for all its drama, the album still comes to a lyrical resolution on the disarming number “Bullets.”

“Yeah I am taking the bullets out of my gun,” she sings. “They fall out in the mud, I don’t wanna hurt no one.”

“Sometimes I think that we fight a lot of the same battles over and over in our lives, in different settings,” she says, expressing a sentiment that could as easily be applied to our society as our individual inclinations. “You kind of have to examine your cycles and your habits and your intentions — where you want to be and how you want to live. I really want to have a peaceful life, as much as I possibly can. You know, life can be really dramatic and intense, and I’m an Italian girl from Cleveland, so I’ve got a lot of spice and fire. Sometimes that comes in handy, but a lot of times you have to lay your weapons down and go from there.”
With a 14-date national tour ahead of her, Santo is hopeful that her new material will be well received, and is doing her best to make the shows more celebratory than sullen.

“I try to tell as many jokes as I can in between songs and also, you know, do some covers,” she says. “I have this great band I’m playing with who can take a sad song and make it feel happy. Like the Beach Boys, you know, Brian Wilson wrote the saddest songs and made them sound like the most beautiful fairy tales. And if you really listen to the words, it’s fucking depressing!”

Of course, Wilson was also channeling a great deal of trauma into his music, whereas Santo, like the rest of us, is living a happy and perfect life.

“Oh yeah, totally,” she responds with a laugh. “Every morning I wake up and piss excellence.”

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