L.A. duo HoneyHoney returns to Belly Up
If You Go …
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Thursday, Oct. 16, 9:30 p.m.
Tickets and more info: www.bellyupaspen.com
Soon after they met in 2006 at a Halloween party in Los Angeles, Ben Jaffe and Suzanne Santo started playing music together and formed what would become their alt-country band, HoneyHoney.
Some of their inauspicious first gigs were at L.A.-area marijuana dispensaries, but they soon found themselves touring the country in a van with a record deal and a growing cult following.
Now working on a third album, HoneyHoney comes to Belly Up Aspen tonight.
When they met and formed HoneyHoney, Santo was working as an actress and Jaffe as a solo musician. Building off of a traditional folk style — with Jaffe on guitar and Santo singing and playing banjo and violin — they clicked and found a fresh fiddle-tinged sound that ranged at times into rock, blues and hip-hop territory. They were quickly signed to Kiefer Sutherland’s now-defunct Ironworks record label and, as Santo put it, “developed into the rock blossom that you’re sniffing now.”
The duo tours with a bassist and a drummer, but the band’s heart is in Jaffe and Santo’s creative synergy.
“We found we had a fluid chemistry that worked, and we got some fast attention from business types, and we were recording pretty early with recording engineers and producers and got a record deal with Ironworks,” Jaffe said. “And we got a ‘Happy Gilmore’-sized check, and we weren’t playing marijuana shops anymore.”
In 2008, they released an EP, “Loose Boots,” and then their first album, “First Rodeo,” and hit the road. Their first stops in Aspen at Belly Up — where they’ve become regulars — came in 2010.
More than any guy-girl acts, they looked to the comedic rock of Jack Black and Kyle Gass as their template.
“If we were modeling after anything, it was Tenacious D,” Jaffe said. “And by that I mean having fun and being friends. Early on we decided if our friendship isn’t there, our band can’t really be there. It has to be based on being a good time.”
Though their records are relatively earnest and straightforward, Jaffe and Santo have an infectious on-stage rapport and a silly running commentary that’s more Abbott and Costello than June and Johnny. In conversation, like on-stage, their banter includes some gems.
When Santo sneezed, Jaffe quickly derailed an interview for this story to explain the biological similarities between a sneeze and an orgasm. Asked what their average day on the road in their band van is like, Jaffe offered: “Have a morning cry, then some hugging, eat sh—y food — but we’re getting better. We’re moving toward a Denny’s moratorium.”
Their second album, 2011’s “Billy Jack,” showcased the band’s blend of clever wordplay, evocative storytelling and backwoods charm. It includes up-tempo electric country like “Turn That Finger Around” alongside foot-stomping honky-tonk drinking songs like “Let’s Get Wrecked” and the smoky piano ballad “L.A. River” — a bittersweet ode to their adopted home — and the country murder tale “Angel of Death.”
Jaffe and Santo said tonight’s show will include a mix of “Billy Jack” and “First Rodeo” songs along with some new material. They’ve been working on new songs this fall and expect to release a new record — with a new record company — next year.
“We’re in the producer sampling phase,” Jaffe said.
Writing new music takes the pair some time, they explained, as they mess around with bits and pieces of compositions — “fledgling song babies,” as Santo described them — and often scrap songs before finishing them. Like most everything else with HoneyHoney, finishing a song requires a meeting of the minds between its two principles.
“It’s not a process but a standard,” Jaffe said. “If we both think it’s cool, then it’s cool. It’s a HoneyHoney song.”
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