Fresh off a world tour with Hozier in 2019, Suzanne Santo returned to Los Angeles feeling emptied. Heartbroken from a recent breakup with a longtime partner, and her band Honeyhoney still on hiatus, Santo began questioning her sense of place. Then at the behest of Austin friends Joe Rogan, Gary Clark Jr., and Shakey Graves, she left behind what she no longer needed and uprooted to Texas.
Purging the old to make room for the new—including finding love again—Santo revisited an album worth of songs she wrote on the road. Yard Sale is a collection of singer-songwriter and actress’s reflections of moving, shedding the baggage of her past, and finding contentment in her present. “This record is about the things I’ve left behind and the things I’ve been holding onto,” shares Santo. “I was broken up while writing the record. I fell in love again while writing this record, and I learned to fearlessly follow my gut in all places of my life while making this record.”
Working throughout the year, playing the supporting act, and as part of Hozier’s band was something that not only stepped up Santo’s musicianship but forced her to write in some of the most atypical of spaces. Itching to release something new—four years had already passed since Santo’s Butch Walker-helmed debut Ruby Red and more time since Honeyhoney’s third album, 3, in 2015—Santo began chipping away at Yard Sale using battery-operated cigarette amps to plug in guitars backstage, on buses, hotels, and even during a temporary stay in a farmhouse on the Irish coast. By the end of the tour, which culminated with a milestone performance to 60,000 at Glastonbury, Santo had a full record.
“Looking back, I recognize how much of a game-changer that was,” says Santo of the Hozier tour. “It raised my musicianship to a new level and reshaped my career. My guitar playing went up another level and I became a much better musician.”
Yard Sale seizes reflections of hot and cold love, magnetic memories, and making peace with the past. Working off her brooding haze of heartbreak, “Over and Over Again” begins Santo’s story, hitting on the nostalgic folk of “Mercy,” and the pitfalls of getting rich too quickly on “Gold Rush.” Santo drifts through more Americana roots on “Save for Love,” and “To No End” with heavier guitar and strings bringing a smokier rock element into the harder triad of “Bad Beast,” “Since I Had Your Love” and the soul crunching “Afraid of Heights”—featuring Shakey Graves—and on through the punchy “Fall For That,” punctuated by Gary Clark Jr.’s guitar playing.
Filled with various metaphors around the physicality of trying to get a record together when Santo was never in one place for too long, Yard Sale encapsulates that timeline of her relationship and finding her footing once again. “The common thread is my vulnerability,” reveals Santo.
For the Cleveland-born artist, now 36, changing places and spaces have always been standard, but music always remained the constant, making her pause from a nearly 20-year acting career, with roles on the TBS series The Guest Book, and in the 2004 film Imaginary Heroes, starring Sigourney Weaver and Jeff Daniels, as well as roles on TV series Judging Amy and Medium. Scouted as a model at 14, Santo went on to attend the Professional Children’s School in New York City with classmates like Scarlett Johansson and Jack Antonoff, before moving to Los Angeles, where she formed Honeyhoney with Ben Jaffe in her late teens.
Reflecting on her most recent past, Santo says she’s already lived a few lifetimes in the past two years. “I went through a serious relationship, breaking up and falling in love, in conjunction with being in the Hozier band, so there were a lot of lives that I lived during that time,” shares Santo. “I find that as we get older, we go through those things a little bit faster, because you have wisdom and experience, and life just feels like it’s moving faster. There are a lot of versions of my life on that record.”
Still working through the nuances of her new city—the people, namely building her musical community, the places, and spaces she now calls home—Santo is also trying to work out her new writing routine in Austin.
“I write because I have to,” she says. “Once you put in the effort, the muse shows up. When I was on tour, the muse was beating me upside the head and waking me up in the middle of the night. It was isolating too because everybody’s partying and hanging out afterward while I was going to bed, so I could get up early.”
Santo adds, “Writing is a relationship with yourself and God, the universe or spirit or however you want to slice it.”
Listen to Suzanne Santo’s Yard Sale below.
Photo by Cameron McCool