Suzanne Santo chatted with us about what she has been up to during lockdown, live-streaming concerts, and her upcoming album.
Suzanne Santo is a busy individual. Over the last couple of years she toured as one half of honeyhoney, released her first solo album, and then went on to tour the world as a member of Hozier’s band. More recently she has been working on her second solo album from which she recently released the first song, “Bad Beast,” and also recently showcased “Fall For That”, which features a guest appearance from Gary Clark Jr., on Joe Rogan’s podcast.
Suzanne talked with Loud Hailer about what’s she’s been doing during this extended time at home, the upcoming album, and traded some good old fashioned Dad Jokes to close out the interview!
LH: I’m starting all interviews with this at the moment, but how are you doing?
Suzanne: I’m up and down. I’m having some writer’s block. I have a whole record in the can and I’m ready to write more but the thing is it’s like, a couple of things. This whole thing is exhausting, and I’m on my phone all day. I’m doing Zooms, and this is awesome by the way, it’s so great to talk! But like with family members, I’m FaceTiming them and you get to these moments of just exhaustion and then I’m like I should be writing something! And I’m not quite there right now and I’m trying to go easy with myself with it but you know, things aren’t so bad. I really miss touring and I’m really sad for how long this is probably going to take. That parts a little bit of a punch in the dick for lack of a better word [laughs].
LH: That’s the part that really gets to me, and the fact that we know someone who got really sick, who is thankfully recovering now. But listening to what all the experts say, this isn’t going to be gone anytime soon. Nothing is going to change this until the middle of next year maybe. That’s what gets me down, thinking that we are stuck in here. They’re talking about opening restaurant patios here soon and I don’t know if its too soon, though I totally recognize the need to allow businesses to re-open. I fly a lot with my job and the first time I go on a plane again I’m going to be a little freaked out honestly.
Suzanne: I know. That part, I don’t know. Here’s the other factor, I definitely think we’re being lied to about a lot of things and that’s really difficult too. To be like where does my sanity reside within that reality, how do I cope with that, what should I do? The thing is, over here [in LA], I have a couple of friends in New York that got the virus, no one went to ventilator status but nobody has it here. I haven’t met one person in LA that knows someone in LA that has gotten the virus. I have a friend that was like “I swear I had it back in January,” I’m like “Maybe you did, I don’t know?” but either way it’s hard to want to abide by the rules, if I’m honest with you, because it feels so confusing. It’s not a tangible thing here. Even though I know it exists, I’m not denying, I’m not one of those, but I’m just, you know, for some of the failing businesses here and things. I wonder if there’s another way to do this so that people don’t lose everything. We can take out from restaurants but it’s a little more than that.
LH: Yeah, they’ve got to work out a way to reopen things but they’ve got to be able to test people, for one thing. We need to test everyone so that people who have been exposed to it can shut themselves away for a couple of weeks.
Suzanne: So then, check this out. Not that we need to get this far deep into it. On your phone, did you see the automatic update thing that’s happening? Coinciding with getting tested, then you’re in their system and they’re actually passing bills under our noses right now where once you’re in the system and you’re tested, they can start mapping, tracking you with your phone, and tracking where you go and what other phones you are in proximity to. It’s actually happening. So look at the settings on your phone where it says the 13.5 update. Basically, if you don’t turn off your automatic updates, they’re going to start tracking you. It’s so crazy!
LH: It really is like some kind of futuristic dystopian movie.
Suzanne: Yeah! Day by day, I’m like this is a f*cking simulation, joke’s on us. What a riot!
LH: When my office was closed and I was told I had to work from home and not travel I thought, you know what – this is a bad situation but maybe it’ll be a great opportunity to do stuff I don’t usually have time to do. Normally I travel every week, so I’ll be home more and I’ll play some more music and do some more reading and stuff. And then I don’t do it. There are days where I’ve not managed to do anything at all. It’s really frustrating to me in that sense because I’m not doing anything else with this time I wouldn’t normally have… Why am I not using this time to do something a bit more productive -you know?
Suzanne: I think that’s where we just have to go easy on ourselves. We’re going to use the time wisely when we’re ready. I think processing this is ok. And by that I mean, you might just watch a shit load of Netflix or get really drunk. The first month I was with my parents, they’re big drinkers, they’re Italian and I can’t keep up with them. I was eating a bunch of food that I don’t normally eat, so I was gaining weight and I was lethargic and I was drinking so much and then I did a self-rescue mission and I rented an SUV and drove across the country in three days. And then I felt like my quarantine started from there once I was alone with my cats. I was talking to my manager about this, he was like “Sooz, you’re a little behind everybody else with this because you were with your parents” and now it’s ok to be at my own reconciliation with this thing. I was like Ok, alright. Now we’re getting to it. But either way, it could be so much worse than it is. I’m really lucky to live where I live, I’ve got great friends, everybody’s healthy, family’s healthy.
LH: Yeah, same here. It’s a bit weird for us being over here in the US when our families are back in the UK. But can you imagine if this happened 10-15 years ago when we didn’t have all of this technology? We would have been so isolated. Some good things have come out of it. I typically only get to see my friends back in the UK at Christmas, we’ve been doing a weekly Zoom call and taking turns to make movie and music quizzes so I’m actually getting to see them way more than I ever would have and it’s been totally lifting my mood.
Suzanne: I love that, I totally love that! I can say the same, it’s really nice. I’d like to think that we’ll have a different level of appreciation and gratitude for things that we’ve probably taken for granted. Quality time is one of them, hugging, physical contact, all that shit…
LH: Hugging one of your friends is going to be nice the first time that happens again.
Suzanne: I’ve had some hugs and it made me emotional. I had friends that were quarantined for two months straight and I’d been quarantining and they have a house in the mountains and I was like “Hey guys, I’ll tell you, here’s what I’ve done. I don’t know how you want to do this” because they were like please come visit. I got there and they both hugged me, and they were like “If you’re here, you’re here. So let’s have the best time.” We took mushrooms and played Monopoly and it was awesome [laughs]. It was great!
LH: We usually go to 3-4 shows a week minimum, and I miss so much the excitement of walking in the door and waiting for a band to come on and wondering whether its going to be one of those nights. One of the last shows I can think of that was absolutely crazy was a while back, when I found out I unexpectedly had to go to Salt Lake City. I was upset because we had tickets for Larkin Poe that week at Schubas in Chicago and it meant I couldn’t go. Then I found out that honeyhoney were going to be on at State Room and I managed to grab a ticket and came and saw you guys. I went in there and you could feel from walking in the door that there was just something in that room that night with the audience – its intangible but it just happens sometimes. Dead Horses opened for you and they were awesome that night and then you guys came on and lifted the roof off. It was the last tour before you guys went on hiatus I think and the place just went nuts.
Suzanne: That’s so crazy that you were at that show.
LH: I remember coming out of the venue and my hotel was like a twenty minute walk away but I had to walk around for an hour listening to Bill Withers, trying to calm down after the show.
Suzanne: [Laughs] That is awesome!
LH: That’s what I’m missing at the minute, that feeling of being in a venue with everyone else. The day that this is over and we’re all able to get in a room together again is going to be awesome.
Suzanne: It’s going to be so intense!
LH: It really is. I can imagine it would be for the performer as well.
Suzanne: I just hope to god we don’t lose too many of those favorite venues of ours. These independent venues. I’m sure you’re aware about NIVA and all of that stuff.
LH: We spoke to Frank Turner recently and he’s been doing live-streams to raise money for small venues in the UK. He was saying exactly that – where are musicians going to go if these places go away. It’s scary.
Suzanne: I was talking to my friends who own a BBQ restaurant up the road, and I was like, alright whenever we’re told its safe, I’m going to have a show at your restaurant. They’re like cool, great. It’s going to get a little punk-rock for a minute I think because one, there’s going to be a massive stampede for people to play and tour and I’m just not an elbow my way through kind of girl. That seems exhausting and so irritating to me.
LH: At least with the technology at the minute, you can reach out in some way, right? I know you’re doing the live Zoom shows. It must be nice that you’re getting to connect with your audience a bit more.
Suzanne: Yeah, I hope so. I haven’t done one yet and I’m a little worried about the sound quality because I don’t have a lot of gear. I do have one phone mic that I’m going to test out later tonight and tomorrow. The live-streams are weird because I’m literally looking at myself and then all the weird shit people are texting and sometimes it’s really distracting, I’m actually trying not to read it because I’m in the middle of a song and then you’re reading these and then you’re going off to another thought. But you know the thought of actually playing and seeing people is really… I take what I can get as far as the goes!
LH: I think it’s a good way to do it. We spoke to Joe Pug and he’s doing those things and he said they’re really popular. he said he’ll chat with people in between and he said they’re pretty cool to do. He does a live-stream every Sunday as well, and it’s pretty interesting because it’s become a regular Sunday night thing for us. I like it because you can still give something back, you can tip artists with the virtual tip jar.
Suzanne: It’s so great. It’s nice to know that people appreciate it. That’s another thing, it feels a little ubiquitous after a while because I feel like I have to learn new songs every time. If you play the same songs over and over, it’s already being recorded and so there’s that element that’s a little exhausting because I’m also trying to write and I’m learning all these cover songs. It’s not like a regular tour, you play the same set every night give or take a few tunes, but you know, it’s a new day.
LH: So the new album, you’ve released “Bad Beast” from it, which is great. Then I watched your Joe Rogan episode when you played the track that Gary Clark Jr. guested on – “Fall For That.” Last time we spoke, you’d just finished Ruby Red and you were headed on the road to tour behind it. I remember talking to you about it and you said you weren’t in the best place when you were writing some of those songs and it was pretty cathartic to write, and that came out in the record. Since then, you’ve toured behind your record in the US, toured the world with Hozier and also were the opener for him in Europe, which must have been awesome. It was such a big change in your life. Has that experience come through in the new album?
Suzanne: Definitely! Yeah, I mean well it’s a real hodge-podge to be honest with you which is why I’m thinking about calling it Yard Sale because it’s a lot of experience I’ve accumulated! I was in love, I dated someone for almost a year and we broke up but there were some inspirational tunes there, there’s some aftermath tunes from that. I actually did a song with Shakey Graves the week after I went through this breakup. The thing is, it’s always been super cathartic from the sad angle. I have a tendency to write sadder songs in that regard. I’m really excited about this record! I’m really sad because I’m not sure how to release it because I keep getting warnings that it’s not a good time, people aren’t listening to new music and yada, yada, yada…. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.
LH: You’re self-releasing it, right?
Suzanne: Well, it’s looking like it. At this point, I don’t know what a label can offer that I can’t do for myself currently. I’m down to adapt. I’m ready to try it out, you know, and see what sticks. But the thing is you can’t release a record more than once, and if it doesn’t stick the first time, I don’t know what to do. And I don’t want to just throw it to the wind. So yeah, it’s a weird time. It’s super frustrating.
LH: I don’t think there’s a right answer, that’s the problem. What’s happening is unprecedented so it’s just not easy to judge whether this is the right time to release it or not. We talked to Ben from Biffy Clyro recently and he mentioned that they were scheduled to release their album in May but decided to push that date back to August. But on the other hand, I know other artists are releasing music… Is the record done, all mixed and ready?
Suzanne: Mostly, but we’re going back and changing some stuff around. But I had this theory at the onset of all this that there was this literal Great Depression happening and people were sticking with what was familiar, and myself included. A bunch of my favorite artists were releasing new albums, like Margaret Glaspy, who I love. It took me a while to bring myself to listen to it because I was just listening to other records that I know. I thought about it from a psychological standpoint and I was like wow, I am my own guinea pig for this conundrum I have which is I’m not even listening to new music and I love music. It’s what I eat, sleep and breathe. So I would like to think that as we have kind of gotten our footing with this a little bit and acclimated to the situation, maybe people are starting to get a little more hungry for things, for art, for content. The one thing that hasn’t faltered are podcasts. That’s just crushing it.
LH: They’re flying, right?
Suzanne: Listening to conversations I think it’s like we’re starving for contact in the way, so to hear other people having conversations is like thrilling. You know, I’m talking to my mom, bless her, she’s great. But I like listening to Rogan or Duncan Trussell’s podcasts or NPR or Fresh Air, it’s like oh wow, listen to that conversation between two people that aren’t in this room [laughs].
LH: When I first interviewed you, I didn’t know about Rogan’s podcast, but when I was getting ready to interview you and then I interviewed Ben (Jaffe) about his solo record, you guys had been on Rogan three times as honeyhoney. I watched all of those to prepare and it kind of hooked me. I’ve heard Rogan say before you know, when else, besides these podcasts, do you get to listen to people literally just shoot the shit for three hours or so. Was it three hours with you and Gary Clark Jr last time?
Suzanne: Yeah, it was a long one [laughs].
LH: I find it really settling. So when I’m walking Dave (our dog is called Dave) or walking to and from work, I’ll listen to podcasts. Sometimes to the exception of music.
Suzanne: That’s so nice. I mean, you’re also educating yourself. I love learning new words. If you listen to a conversation, you’re going to come up with words and phrases and have your own take on that in your own personalized version. I’m starving for knowledge at all times so a podcast with smart people or funny people is always going to stimulate my brain and I’m like yeah, give it to me! I could sit here and watch dumb TV if I’m not taking care of myself.
LH: I can definitely do that. I’d never listened to Duncan Trussell’s podcast either, he’s hilarious.
Suzanne: He’s hilarious. He’s really brilliant too. He’s just a brilliant, sweet dude. And so weird! [Laughs]
LH: But in a good way!
Suzanne: Yeah! Totally, totally!
LH: So for the new album, how did the writing process work? Were you writing while you were on the road with Hozier?
Suzanne: I was, yeah.
LH: What was that experience like? We saw you with Hozier a few times, and that group of musicians he’s put together on stage was phenomenal. Everyone was great.
Suzanne: Yeah, it was super fun.
LH: That must have been such a fantastic environment.
Suzanne: It was. It had its ups and downs but it was a great team, all in. Really incredible folks. If anything, when it was time for me to start writing my record, it was a little isolating because we liked to drink a lot and go big on that bus. I couldn’t really afford to be hungover the next day so it was a little isolating because I was starting to go to bed early and then make sure I had energy in the morning to do my work, but you know, if anything I kind of do that anyway. If I’m at a party, I want it to be worth it. If you party all the time, it’s no fun anymore, you know. But it was great. I remember I started this one song in Byron Bay in Australia, there’s just so many memories of the locations of where the ideas started and where they kept being formed and shaped and that was really cool. I’m really grateful for that. But it was hard because if anything, it was a challenge, and I’m having that challenge in the reverse way. Normally I like to be at home and have my environment but I was challenged to write in more uncomfortable settings where it wasn’t my home or someone can hear you. It was like trying to get the work done and as an exercise, that’s a really interesting thing. You have to power through your discomfort and then try to write something amazing [laughs].
LH: Did you take anything from being on tour with Hozier? I remember when we spoke about Ruby Red, you’d been touring with Butch Walker. I remember you saying that you took a lot away from the experience, watching him operate. Did you take anything from Hozier?
Suzanne: I learned a lot about diligence and the process. Professionalism was really big, they’re consistent. Touring with Hozier changed my life. It was something I really needed.
LH: I think I heard you say that it changed your approach and your diligence around practicing. Changed your perspective on that as well.
Suzanne: It absolutely did. My muscular strength alone because I had to play a lot of his guitar parts, and he’s got a really unique style. And he’s got really long fingers so sometimes I’d have to ice my hands when I would come home from rehearsals because it was such a lot of muscle strength that I didn’t have but that I had to develop and I’m really grateful for that.
LH: It had to help that you were already a multi-instrumentalist, and were already playing regularly.
Suzanne: Well, it’s nice to get outside your comfort zone. I had to learn all that stuff from scratch. I learned what I could in advance but they didn’t really give me much. That was a difficult thing, they were like “Here’s the record,” and I’m like am I playing fiddle on this, playing guitar, what am I singing? In the months leading up to me flying to Dublin, I was honestly terrified because I didn’t actually know what they wanted me to do. Sometimes a camp will send you the stems in advance so you know which parts you’re playing, but I’d be listening to a track with five guitar parts on it. I’d be like which one am I playing? I could learn them all but I’d rather spend my time wisely and make sure you’re getting exactly what you want. That stuff was challenging at times, but once we were working together as a band, that was when the real magic was happening and we’re all falling into our positions which was great. But yeah I learned so much. I learned so much about myself, who I am, what I want and what I need. It was great.
LH: Some of those arrangements are complex too. When you guys were playing live it was amazing to hear.
Suzanne: Yeah, it was some of the most challenging music I’ve ever played in my life, that’s for sure. If not the most challenging, hands down.
LH: When you were opening for Hozier in Europe, you played so many nights opening and then performing with Hozier, did it get tiring.
Suzanne: No I loved it, I was so into it. I loved it.
LH: I’m looking forward to hearing your new record. I’m glad to hear you talking about the process of writing it in a generally positive way. One of the things that jumped out to me recently, last week I was reading an interview with Jason Isbell. He’s released a new album and he did this searingly honest interview about when he was writing it, and his wife, Amanda Shires, actually moved out of the house for a few days. She said the atmosphere got so bad while he was writing the album. He was putting so much pressure on himself. She said she’s always his sounding board when he’s writing new music, he was playing her some of the songs and she was giving him feedback and there was a really negative vibe. He wasn’t taking it onboard. It was interesting to me because I have this romantic view of being a songwriter, sitting there, writing to get something off your chest, putting it down on the page to lift the burden and get the catharsis, which I can imagine does happen. Or sitting in the sunshine writing about something happy. People don’t talk much about that other side of it. He was talking about the pressure he felt. Everyone’s piling this on him now, saying he’s the great American songwriter. He was like, “How do I live up to that?” He sounded like he struggled so much with it that it really affected him deeply.
Suzanne: Pressure of any kind in the creative sense is never good, you know. It’s good to be driven and diligent with flexing that muscle but I’ve never felt, and I hope I never do, I’ve never felt like I need to be the best. I’m not competitive in that way and I’m so grateful because that’s not what music means to me. Now, I would imagine he probably felt similarly but had the additive of people praising you all the time when you’re successful then all of a sudden you get this skewed view of who you are, and then you feel like oh my god if they think I’m the greatest then I have to make sure everything I do is amazing! That sounds exhausting! Don’t get me wrong. I get a lot of nice compliments in my version and on my level but I think that… here’s the thing, I know when I hit the thing I’m supposed to hit when I’m writing. I get a physical reaction to it. It’s like a really odd wave of emotions. I get goosebumps, even when just the words come out and when I sing them sometimes it’s overwhelming and then I know that I did the thing. And I also know when I’m just trying to make something sound cool. That has it’s place too. But getting it out is the most important thing and honestly, it’s good to have your caliber that you keep your material at, but at the same time, I mean you obviously want people to like it, but it’s hard. It’s hard to differentiate between that sometimes. I have a lot of respect for somebody like Jason Isbell that has to carry that. It’s not a burden but it’s also like you want to keep making music and have people like it.
Suzanne: It’s always changing, to be honest with you. It takes on new shapes and new meanings and I really have gratitude for that. They’re all different, it’s the funniest thing. I don’t know how to describe it, I just feel them [laughs].