Between Suzanne Santo’s smoky, punch-to-the-gut vocals and Ben Jaffe’s scorching guitar licks, Los Angeles-based folk-rock duo HoneyHoney boasts a unique sound that doesn’t quite fit into any one category. Their music has been associated with folk, Americana, alternative and a whole other mix of genres. And while it’s clear that the two share an easy rapport and a carefree sense of humor, they’re absolute perfectionists when it comes to their genre-defying music. They recorded their latest album, “3,” three times with three different producers before they got it to where they wanted it to be. It’s this attention to detail and willingness to experiment that makes HoneyHoney masters of their craft.
Read on to learn more about Suzanne and Ben’s story—from how they met to their favorite pre-performance rituals to what they want their fans to take away from their music.
Q: How did you two first meet?
Jaffe: If you’ve ever seen the film “Eyes Wide Shut,” our first encounter was kind of like that. It was sort of a “cloak your true identity” party. We had an instant, lightning-quick connection. It only made sense that we’d start writing songs and making music together.
Q: What’s the story behind your original band name “Zanzibar Lewis”?
Santo: Zanzibar Lewis was a childhood nickname that Ben developed into a short story years ago. We both loved our separate connections to the name, but often wonder where we would be if we hadn't made the switch to HoneyHoney. That mystery will never be solved!
Q: What influences your music?
Santo: I think for the most part (and I can probably speak for Ben as well), our lives and all of the experiences we’ve had are huge components of our songs. We almost always write about our own stories. In terms of other musicians that we crush on, Led Zeppelin, Radiohead, Hank Williams, Elliot Smith, and Gilliam Welch and Dave Rawlings really butter our scones.
Q: Do you have a go-to spot for writing songs?
Jaffe: We’re always looking for them! I love to be in peaceful rooms with plenty of natural light. I think both of us benefit from secluded spots, but with friends close by. It’s nice to have people around to keep you relatively sane.
Q: You both play multiple instruments. Which are your favorites to play?
Santo: Ben loves guitar and is really good at it—that much is clear. However, I did see him jump in on a dive bar jam last night in West Virginia where he played drums for about 20 minutes and looked like the happiest boy on the playground.
For myself, I think I’m going to have to say that as much as I love my banjo and fiddle, my true love is singing. My voice is my favorite instrument.
Q: Any all-time favorite music venues?
Jaffe: It’s hard to say. We’ve been playing so many of the same venues for years, but up until recently, we’ve been the supporting act. It’s very exciting transitioning to headlining and having a new appreciation for those stages. On this last tour, we had beautiful shows at The Hamilton in Washington, D.C., and the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland. They felt like milestone moments.
Q: Are there any rituals that you like to do before a live performance?
Jaffe: Well, we now have a mantra that we pump over the loudspeakers before we go on. It’s like very gentle brainwashing. Maybe brain cleansing? We also have a team cheer that varies from night to night.
Q: What personal advice would you give to others trying to pursue a career in music?
Jaffe: I think openness and patience are essential. I suppose that applies to any pursuit. Loving yourself is key as well. That’s the only way to find happiness.
Q: How do you balance your music career with other obligations?
Santo: By the skin of our teeth—and also by taking good care of our bodies as much as we can by eating well, exercising and, above all things, sleeping.
Q: What do you want your fans to take away from your music?
Santo: It’s really important to us that our fans have their own personal relationship with our music. We want you to feel whatever moves you. Sometimes, I think mainstream music lacks depth and force-feeds a feeling that you don’t necessarily conjure up naturally. Our feelings and emotions are powerful tools to our individual expressions. I can only hope that the people who listen to our music are able to have a personalized “freeway of feelings” that’s just for them and isn’t road-blocked by intentional manipulation.
Q: We love that your third album “3” was produced to sound like a live and raw recording. How do you get that “live” sound quality?
Santo: Thank you! We’re so glad you like it. We pretty much tracked every song live with an awesome studio band. We added some overdubs, but really wanted to be able to emulate the sound of this record while performing on tour.
Q: As an artist, what’s your take on High-Res Audio? How do you see it impacting the music industry?
Jaffe: Superior audio quality enhances some very important aspects of recorded music, but putting out music that is emotionally resonant will always be our first priority. Of course, that’s not to say that clear audio quality isn’t important. It seems like technology is moving in that direction as High-Resolution Audio becomes more accessible across platforms. As long as it’s affordable, people will prefer it. As far as the industry goes, we all want to make records that sound as great as they possibly can. It's important to do our best to not let that be an obstruction to people who don't have the tools to make recordings on that level though.