Singer-songwriter Suzanne Santo is calling from her home in Los Angeles – but she’s thinking about early 2019, when she was in a very different place as she wrote her latest single, “Fall For That” (released on September 18 via her own Soozanto Records imprint). “I was on tour playing fiddle and guitar with the artist Hozier,” she says. “We were in Ireland, and we had five days off, so I drove out to Connemara, which is on the Atlantic coast. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world. It’s magical. It’d never seen anything like it. I got an Airbnb on a sheep farm, a beautiful cabin on a lake. I had gone with the full intention to write [songs].”
This songwriting-in-paradise plan soon hit a snag, however. “I realized that any time I looked at my phone, I’d go into a rabbit hole of toxic feelings,” Santo says. “I was really getting infected with the media. And I realized: ‘You’re in this gorgeous place, you came here to do something, so why don’t you do that instead of falling into this trap?’ I realized that I couldn’t tell which emotions were mine or which came in from an outside source, so this song is about not falling for that.
“Essentially, it’s a protest song against lower energies that don’t serve us,” Santo continues, “which is that feeling when you’re reading the news and you’re being inundated with all this stuff that is petrifying. Or that insecurity when you’re on Instagram and all the sudden you’re like, ‘Why am I sad? I was really happy just a minute ago.’ And then you’re like, ‘It’s because I looked at someone in their bathing suit and now I feel fat.’ Just constant waves of manipulation. All the stuff coming at you over and over.”
With the defiant, pulsating “Fall For That,” Santo hopes her message will help other people also take a more objective look at how the things happening in the world are affecting us emotionally. “I think now, especially because we have this huge election coming up, it’s important for us to stay grounded and find whatever vehicle to be informed that keeps you healthy but don’t drown in it,” she says.
“Fall For This” features a blistering solo by Gary Clark Jr., which is a dream come true for Santo. “That dude is magic, and it’s not just his playing – it’s him as a person,” she says. “His energy is so powerful and good. I’ve looked up to him for a long time, and when he acquiesced to play on this track, I couldn’t believe it.”
Santo sounds giddy as she recalls the day in the studio when Clark recorded his part. “It was one of those ‘pinch me’ moments of, ‘He’s here! He’s smoking a cigarette outside and then he’s coming in! He’s playing on my song, holy shit!’” She laughs. “It was surreal. I was just beside myself. It was so cool.”
“Fall For That” is the first single off Santo’s upcoming album (produced by John Spiker), which she hopes to release early next year. Right now, she’s using the title Yard Sale for it “because it’s sort of an amalgamation of the past couple of years and all these different things we’ve been going through,” she says. “I love yard sales, where you can get all kinds of different stuff in one place, which is kind of what this record is.” It will be her second solo album (after 2017’s Ruby Red, which was produced by Butch Walker).
Before her solo career, Santo was in the critically acclaimed roots duo honeyhoney with Ben Jaffe. They released three albums between 2008 and 2015, and although Santo has become a solo artist, she makes it clear that honeyhoney is still very special to her: “Collaborating with Ben Jaffe and honeyhoney is sacred territory.”
Still, Santo is glad to spread her wings on her own now. “It gave me the opportunity to cultivate my own confidence – to decide if I really love this song or not, or how it makes me feel. On my own, I had to really learn to fly. It was probably one of the scariest things I’ve done in a long time, just taking that leap and being like, ‘Oh my God, is this okay?’ But it always felt right, even when it was scary.”
Santo began mastering music when she was very young, learning to play the violin and the piano, as well as singing in her school choir in Ohio. An unexpected detour came when she was 14 years old, when she was scouted as a model and moved to New York City in 2001. After working as a model and actress, though, she realized that music is her true calling, so she began writing her own songs in 2003, when she moved to Los Angeles. “Originally, it was mostly just a cathartic place to put my sadness and pain and trauma – find clever ways to not bum everybody out but still express myself,” she says.
Judging by Santo’s success with honeyhoney, her solo career, and her work as a backing musician for Hozier and others, she made the right career decision. This success has not made her complacent, however: she says she’s still seeking to expand on her skills. “As I get better at guitar, I make different [songwriting] choices structurally,” she says. “As I get better at singing, I make different vocal choices.
“When you’re a musician for a living it’s really easy to roll with it,” Santo continues. “But now, I play almost every day. And if I don’t, I’m bummed about it. It is a lot of work, and it’s not always fun. But there is a lot of fun to be had when I feel rewarded by my hard work. I feel inspired and excited to release music now.”
WATCH SUZANNE SANTO & GARY CLARK JR. ON JOE ROGAN EXPERIENCE