Like the characters in many of their songs, HoneyHoney lead singer/banjo player/violinist Suzanne Santo and vocalist/guitarist Ben Jaffe also experienced a profound period of searching and minor desperation in the quest to finish their forthcoming album, 3.
It isn’t uncommon for musicians to take years between album releases, but rarely does a band record an album three times with three different producers before finally getting it right. Yet such was the case with HoneyHoney’s 3.
The Los Angeles-based band already had two albums under its belt, and given that each of those underwent last-minute or unexpected transformations, it’s not surprising that the third would be any different.
“I wouldn’t call them failures,” Santo says of the first two attempts at 3.
Instead, she views the efforts as a learning process for getting the songs truly dialed in.
“We were able to record the songs and [each time] you do that, you can view them from a different lens. Then you can really see what you wanted to do to make it better.”
Though entirely optimistic with their first producer, the session only yielded “some really great demos.” These Americana/southern rock/alt-country tracks were good, “but we weren’t over the moon about it. It’s a worthy cause not to release something when you’re not feeling this is the greatest thing ever,” Santo says.
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The demos led to a new session with a new producer who left the project half-finished. By this time, the pair, who had relocated from L.A. to Nashville, decided that, despite all the effort, they would return to the West Coast. Santo went first, got settled, and then returned for Jaffe. Along the way, the pair got the call that would eventually bring to fruition.
“We were literally on Highway 40 moving with all his shit in the car, moving back to L.A., when our manager called and said, ‘Dave Cobb wants to do your record.’ I was like, ‘Oh, shit, should I turn around?’” Santos says with a laugh. “We really got jerked around by the gods or whoever, but we stuck with it.”
Like the producers who previously attempted to create , Cobb, who produced Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell, had his own ideas. Cobb wanted the songs to remain fresh and raw and shunned pre-production work. His goal was to “follow his first instinct,” Santo says. Cobb urged the pair to try songs in minor keys or turn rockers into ballads.
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“If you work too much on something, you have the tendency to lose that rawness. You don’t feel it anymore,” Santo says. “Half the songs on the record, we’ve been playing them for years and we’ve been playing them a certain way. We went in and Dave changed them. We trusted him to take the songs somewhere else.”
This time, the experimentation worked. There is a brooding intensity to as it follows a path through what seems like a haunted, dark wood interspersed with scattered rays of light. Through creepy ballads, R&B tearjerkers, alt-country loneliness, and the occasional moment of sheer joy, ’s characters and their wounded souls almost certainly follow the same torturous path taken to complete the album.
“It was a real motherfucker. It was hard to put our faith in one thing and have it keep changing,” Santo says. “But I’ll tell you what. It feels so good to have the record to be where it is now. It was a long time coming.”
HoneyHoney is scheduled to perform Saturday, May 30, at Valley Bar.