Honeyhoney is an up-and-coming group out of Los Angeles that offers a soulful, folksy sound that has led to comparisons to The Avett Brothers and Mumford and Sons. A combination of Suzanne Santo's strong voice and banjo/fiddle playing and the voice and guitar of Ben Jaffe, honeyhoney's sound (despite the comparisons) is a unique hybrid that has been intriguing audiences since last October's release of Billy Jack and the subsequent relentless touring.
The pair spoke with CityBeat by phone to promote Saturday's performance in Cincinnati at Bogart's (in the club's "Front Room"). (Click here for more info.)
CityBeat: I picked up your latest album in the fall when Billy Jack was released and I love it. I saw you were also previewed in Country Weekly in the fall and I just wanted to ask if you consider yourself a Country band.
Ben Jaffe: We don’t but that is kind of a genre that has been thrown at us now, of course, not in a bad way. I should have said "tossed gently to us" and we caught it. It has been a kind of interesting opportunity because we have had a lot of trouble aligning ourselves with a specific group. Everyone says “It sounds like this” or “not enough this” or “not enough that.” I think we are really happy to be embraced by Country people and we love to play in front of them, but I don’t think we call ourselves a Country band.
CB: It’s actually a hard genre to break into. I cover all kinds of music and it’s one of the harder types of music to get the fans to rally around you.
BJ: Completely. And it’s such a citadel, there is a real industry around it so I think that explains why it is tough to make a wave and whatever little ripple we are making is cool and we like to pursue it. Actually, it is interesting, Jamey Johnson was at one of our shows the other day and he expressed some support for us and we might play some shows with him so it kind of seems like it is pulling us in, like in Godfather: Part II.
CB: Would you modify your sound or your songs to adapt to Country music?
BJ: No. How it works though is the more you listen, the more you can integrate subconsciously. This record that we released most recently, both of us got obsessed with Hank Williams. I don’t know if it is out of respect or out of interest, (but) there are songs on the record that are straight Hank Williams rip-offs. I don’t see it as adapting to fit in to a genre or section but the more you get exposed to it, you can’t help but integrate it because it is great music.
CB: Can you tell me a little about the song “Little Toy Gun”?
BJ: That came out a while ago. That was something that I actually recorded on my own separately before the band, and when we got together, eventually, it became part of our set. It was the one that the label believed in, so we made this crazy video which was an amazing experience. Kiefer Sutherland directed it and we had a trailer. We were like movie stars for 20 minutes. It is one of those songs that has stuck around. People still reach out to us to use the song.
CB: You guys are on the Coachella roster, correct?
BJ: Yes ma’am
CB: That is pretty exciting in itself. What else exciting do you guys have coming up this summer?
BJ: We are opening for a guy named James Morrison who is doing a tour in May. Then we are playing this thing called the Sasquatch Festival that Tenacious D is playing. So we are accomplishing some of our, highest, loftiest goals to play with Tenacious D. This could be our shot. Sheryl Crow has asked us to open up a few dates. All of this has been happening really recently. It has been really crazy. Then we are playing at the Newport Folk Festival and then hopefully after that we will become addicted to hard drugs and our careers will be over.
CB: We will find you in an alley somewhere in L.A.
BJ: (laughing) Yeah
CB: I have a couple funny questions. I have been playing this table game where you pick out questions to answer. Some of them are funny so I am going to try them out on you guys.
CB: What was the last thing you bought at a drive-thru window?
BJ: Oh, God. (asking someone else) Hey what was the last thing we bought at a drive-thru window? They don’t allow vans through the drive-thru a lot of times so I guess it was at the bank ATM.
CB: So money?
BJ: Yeah, cash.
CB: What is your favorite dirty movie?
BJ: My favorite dirty movie, like pornographic film?
CB: It doesn’t have to be, it can go either way.
BJ: Yeah, we are mainly streamers. You can say that. I would say either Dark Side of the Poon or Wild Things Part 3. At this point can I hand you over to Suzanne?
Suzanne Santo: Hello Amy.
CB: I ran him off with some of my questions I guess.
SS: No, I think he was more looking forward to me answering any more pornographic questions that you may have.
CB: No, I got a new table game so I have been trying out some of the questions.
SS: What is your table game called?
CB: It’s a cube of cards that you get and you put it on the table and you have people pick a card out and they have to answer a question.
SS: OK. Have you played Dirty Jenga, that’s fun too?
CB: No I haven’t. I have to look that up.
SS: It’s not dirty-dirty, like totally inappropriate. It’s like “Bite the ear of the person to your left” or “Make an orgasmic noise.” Each block has a dare written on it.
CB: You not only have to take the block out but you have to do what is written on it. Nice.
SS: It is kind of a “do it yourself” kind of game so it is at your discretion what you want the blocks to say. So if I were you, I would choose my company wisely.
CB: I wanted to specifically talk to you about growing up in Ohio. I know you are from Cleveland and the Midwest. How did growing up in Cleveland or the Midwest influence your music?
SS: Well, to be honest with you, I wouldn’t say that the Midwest has influenced my style tremendously. Well, that’s not true because there was a lot of music growing up. I grew up in Strongsville which is 25 minutes South of Cleveland and there is definitely adjacent farmland that is not very far, within a mile or two.
When I was in L.A. about a month ago, I met Drew Carey at a diner. I went, “Hello Drew, my name is Suzanne from Parma, Ohio, and I just want you to know that I love you.” I said, “I think you are the greatest and I love what you do for Cleveland.” I tweeted at him later in the day and he retweeted my tweet and I was, “That’s it. I’m done. I have achieved my goals.”
I guess there were Country elements I grew up listening to but my family owned an Italian restaurant and they played a lot of Jazz music like Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin and that kind of thing. There was definitely a Jazz influence from the get-go, I love Jazz with a true, infinite passion. It never ends, is what I meant to say. I grew up with a lot of that and Country music, it was mainly Pop Country that I was hearing here and there but I really got into Hank Williams, Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline and that kind of stuff later, after I had already left Ohio. When we started our band in L.A., we frequented Nashville and every time, we got a little bit deeper into classic Country like Johnny Cash.
CB: Do you have any fun Cincinnati memories from playing or being around town?
SS: We played Bogart's once and I remember being really excited.