HoneyHoney, an L.A.-based duo, performs in Beaver Creek Sunday night
Through a twist of universal fate, a midwesterner turned television actress and a New York City-born musician both found themselves searching for something bigger and better in the City of Dreams. When they were introduced by a mutual friend and began informally songwriting together, Suzanne Santo and Ben Jaffe quickly realized they had found what they were searching for.
Honeyhoney and its uniquely fresh mix of folk, jazz, blues and rock was born during the duos first meeting.
“The second song we wrote together is one of our biggest songs that we pretty much close every show with,” Santo said during a recent phone interview. “When we wrote it, we were like ‘This is great, we actually have a cool little band here.’”
Santo found herself on the West Coast as a 19 year old chasing love, which ended shortly after her move. Jaffe was intending to move to New York City to go to college when a family friend offered him a room in Los Angeles for free. Both had never thought of living in L.A., but “it just opened itself up to me,” Jaffe said.
In order to make a living, Santo started working as a TV actress on shows such as Law & Order and Blind Justice while continuing to sing and play violin on the side. Jaffe was working writing music for TV and film. Their chance meeting at a party led to an instant connection, and honeyhoney’s star has been rising ever since.
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Their studio debut, the EP “Loose Boots,” was released in 2008 on Kiefer Sutherland’s Ironworks Music label, and shortly after they began a tour opening for the popular band Lifehouse. Since the release of their second album, “Billy Jack,” they have had songs used in commercials, played sets at SXSW and Coachella and their song “Thin Line” was featured on the CBS show Vegas.
They perform at the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek on Sunday evening as part of the Underground Sound series.
Honeyhoney’s sound is not easily classified into one specific genre of music. Santo’s voice is both bluesy and modern country, upbeat and sultry. Songs alternate between her fiddle weaving folk melodies and Jaffe’s rocking guitar solos. The band cites extremely diverse influences — from Hank Williams and Elton John to Erykah Badu.
“There’s so many influences, and you kind of see that in the music,” Santo said. “We’re not a folk band or an Americana band or a bluegrass band. We’ll slip in some rock ‘n’ roll with a side of jazz.”
But Jaffe and Santo disagree about whether their diversity is a blessing or a curse. Santo describes it as “a real luxury to do whatever songs we want” when other musicians are limited by their genre.
“I actually don’t think it’s a luxury,” he said. “We did this by choice, it’s a choice that’s available to anyone and we did it consciously and have sacrificed as a result of it.”
During the years, the duo has deepened their connection and even come to describe themselves as soul mates. This has resulted in intense writing sessions and songs with deeply personal lyrics.
“We’ve gotten to a point with each other where we can spontaneously create something from scratch that we’re happy with. That’s a rare thing, and it really feels like an accomplishment,” Jaffe said.
BUMPS IN THE ROAD
The rise of honeyhoney to their current status did not happen easily. They parted with Ironworks Music after their first album and created their own record label. After their second album, released in 2011, they changed directions again.
“After we released our second record, ‘Billy Jack,’ we had kind of like a slow shedding of our skin,” Jaffe said. “We ended, amicably, a bunch of our business relationships that had made up the first six years of the band.”
The band then set out on a tour they funded through a Kickstarter campaign, in which they raised just over $24,000. They also invested a lot of their own money into recording songs in different cities while they toured.
“By being on our own we got a real look at what we actually were,” Jaffe said. “Our strengths and weaknesses showed because we couldn’t lean back on anybody else like we had been doing for years.”
The band had to learn the ins and outs of the music industry. They booked and promoted their own shows and dealt with all the details of a tour, while still writing and recording songs. Eventually, the pressure got to them.
One time, their tour van broke down three times on the way to a show in New Mexico and they were literally towed into the venue parking lot.
“We’ve cried a lot in vans and cities randomly. That’s how dark times have been but also awesome,” Santo said.
It came down to a choice between focusing on the business side of things and focusing on their music.
“As a musician, you have this ultimate goal of being able to communicate with music at the highest possible level,” Jaffe said. “That’s something that can take every single hour of every single day. When you’re running your business, that’s something that can also take every single hour of every single day.”
Just last week, honeyhoney signed a new record deal with Rounder Records. They are set to start recording their third album in December with someone Jaffe describes as “a badass producer.”
“Obviously if they’re investing in us, they’re going to want to hook us up with the best people possible,” he said.
After learning a few lessons the hard way, a new door has opened for this sweet duo.