HONEYHONEY: “Keep making records you want to make, and not the ones you feel as if you’re supposed to make.” | Interview

Say “Hallelujah”
I never knew ya until now

HONEYHONEY will be releasing a new album on this Tuesday, June 9th, and it’s called 3 (you can pre-order it here). 3 was produced by Dave Cobb, who recently worked with Jason Isbell (SoutheasternSomething More Than Free) and Sturgill Simpson (Metamodern Sounds in Country Music).

Suzanne Santo and Ben Jaffe have created their best work to date, highlighted by songs such as “Big Man,” Yours To Bear,” and “You And I.” Let’s have a listen to “You And I” right now.

Tonight, HONEHONEY will perform in St. Louis at the Old Rock House with Ryan Joseph Anderson. Tickets are $15, and Doors open at 7pm. More information can be found here.

We recently had a chance to talk to Ben and Suzanne of HONEYHONEY about the new album, working with Dave Cobb, Alabama Shakes, and what makes a good show. Enjoy.

Well, I’ve been listening to the new album, 3, and I would like to talk to you about how you created it. I was reading a little bit about it, and I know you had Dave Cobb produce it, whose name rang a bell because I know he worked with Jason Isbell on Southeasten. How did you meet Dave, and what was it like working with him?

Ben: Well, to be honest, we’ve been working on the record for years. We recorded it once, in entirety, in L.A. Then we moved to Nashville to record the record, and then we would fly back to L.A., because that’s where we knew people. And eventually we moved back to L.A., and literally on the drive back to L.A. we got a call from Dave Cobb who said he was interested in doing the record. So then we went back to Nashville (laughing).

But he was the first person to really show interest and let us know how much he really wanted to work with us. And it came at a time…to hear that from someone was really important to us. We didn’t really know much about him, to be honest, and then we realized he had done the Sturgill (Simpson) record, which was great, and we had some mutual friends. And we just talked to him on the phone, and he’s fucking brilliant. You can ask him about pieces of gear to albums that were made in the last hundred years, and he can tell you anything. It’s insane.

Isn’t that amazing when someone has all that knowledge, and doesn’t have to Google it?

Suzanne: Oh my God, it’s an amazing thing, and lucky for us, we just learned so much from him. When you meet people like that, you can just talk for hours, and it’s like, “why go to school when you can sit down with somebody like Dave Cobb.” There aren’t very many people like him. We feel really lucky.

Suzanne, I think the song “Yours To Bear” — your voice is just beautiful. Do you remember recording that one, and how that one came about?

Suzanne: Oh, thank you so much. Well, it’s funny — I actually got pretty sick while recording, so some of them came back pretty snotty and nasally (laughs). But I came back and sang that one.

Ben: What I remember about that song — we’ve been writing songs together for a long time, and that was probably the purest collaboration we’ve ever head. In the sense that we came up with it together from scratch. That’s a really rare thing to happen, to work it out together on the spot.

How do you know when something like that is working?

Suzanne: Well, both lyrically and musically, when we’re writing together, the bar that we have raised…you just get that feeling, it gives you the tingles, you know? (laughs) Not to sound like a weirdo, but when I listened to out demos, sometimes I’ll listen to our harmonies, and I’ll just get goosebumps all over, and then I always feel like that’s a good sign.

Ben: Yeah, that’s how you tell. Because it’s so hard to tell with music, if you’re having a real emotional attachment to it, or if you’re feeling anything. But there is a physical response, and it’s hard to get, but when you get it it means you’re on the right path. And when it’s your own music, it can be hard to feel those things.

I’ve never thought of it that way.

Ben: I think that’s why record making is so difficult, but when you get it right, it’s rewarding, because you just know. You break through your bullshit and get all tingly.

Suzanne: And I want to say that when we worked with Dave Cobb, we did something that we have never done before. Dave kinda has a rule of thumb of asking for no pre-production. And when we went in there, we were like, “okay, we’re just going to shoot from the hip.” You know, he works really fast, and he brought in this drummer named Chris Powell and a bass player named Adam Gardner, and they were just incredible players. And a lot of the dynamics changed in the songs: the feel, the vibe, the tempo. So these songs changed, and vocally, it felt like we were singing them for the first time, which is a scary place to approach. I guess it was just a lot of fun.

Ben: Which is scary.

Suzanne: (laughing) Yeah.

Ben: It makes me think, too, that Dave Cobb is kind of an old school guy in terms of recording. He said something like, “You don’t want things to sound labored over.” No matter how much work you put into it, you don’t want it to sound that way,

Suzanne: You want it to sound cool! (laughing)

Ben: You want it to sound light and energetic, even if it’s bummer music. You don’t want to think about a dude laying over a hot oven, you want to think about someone expressing shit.

There’s a sense of focus, a clarity immediately from the first song, “Big Man.” I loved it right away, and I don’t get that feeling all the time. I get that feeling maybe three or four times a year.

Suzanne: It’s like that new Alabama Shakes record, it’s just amazing right away. I know what you mean. And I think that’s something we wanted to achieve in our own band: keep making records you want to make, and not the ones you feel as if you’re supposed to make.

Ben: We don’t even know what we’re supposed to make! (laughing)

Suzanne: (laughing) Yeah.

Ben: That Shakes record, though, it has that awesome feel, it’s kind of creates its own environment.

When you were recording 3, you mentioned that Dave Cobb didn’t want to do any pre-production. Did that put you on the spot, and how did you like working that way/

Suzanne: Oh yeah. We wanted a challenge. We wanted to work with somebody who was going to be a third wheel. We’ve never had that when we recorded; we’ve never had a real collaboration. You know, some days we got a little pushed around, and we had to check our ego, but that’s a great experience to have for anybody. At the end of the day, these songs are everybody’s songs, if I wrote it or Ben wrote it, we’re all working on it together. Some of the best albums are collective efforts. Obviously, there are these diamonds in the rough out there who are one-man bands, but I don’t even know if that is true.

Do you write lyrics together?

Suzanne: Sometimes. And that’s what “Yours To Bear” is, and “You and I,” two songs we’re really proud of. And then some songs I wrote myself or Ben wrote himself, or we’ve kind of Frankensteined things, but I feel like a lot of times you can’t really tell who wrote the song. And it’s fun that way.

Can you tell me about a situation where something just isn’t working in the studio, and how you handle that?

Suzanne: We’re definitely problem solvers. There’s a song on the record called “Big People,” and it was just too fast, and I just couldn’t sing it. So we ended up slowing it down digitally, and it was really…obviously if everyone is burned out, it’s time to walk away and get a fresh start the next day.

Ben: It’s such a weird balance. Hard work is a great thing, but you can’t try — you can’t try to do it. You have to have some sort of vibrancy of life to it.

Suzanne: And I think our radar for that is pretty acute. If one of us isn’t having fun or is in a foul mood, we’ll step back for a second.

When you’re out on tour, how do you know when you’re played a great show?

Ben: It’s the same thing — you just feel it. You can tell if people are happy afterwards. And it’s a kind of long and difficult to lesson to learn, to let go of how we feel about the show afterwards. I have had what I thought were to be some of the shittiest shows ever, and the crowd loved it. And the opposite, too. But we’ve never had a bra or panty thrown on stage. (laughs)

Suzanne: No. And we would like that. That’s a validation for rock ‘n’ roll right there.

HONEYHONEY tonight in St. Louis at The Old Rock House. Doors at 7, Show at 8. $15.

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