the backstory: honeyhoney’s Billy Jack

honey honey - Ben Jaffe and Suzanne Santo

Last month, Los Angeles-based honeyhoney, a duo led by Suzanne Santo and Ben Jaffe, released their second album called Billy Jack (AmazonMP3 & Spotify). The album was named after a comedy sketch by Jim Turner, but Turner pulled the name from the 1971 cult classic film of that starred Tom Laughlin (who sported badass moves like this and THIS). In the movie, Billy Jack must defend a hippie-themed Freedom School and its students from Arizona townspeople who do not understand or like its counterculture students.

In the band’s bio, Santo says that Billy Jack, the album, has a similar theme to the movie. “We’re very different, but those differences are what makes it. I’ve had a lot of different times in my personal life that kinda leveled me as a person.”

On Friday, I chatted with Santo by phone for a little bit more about this as she made herself a late breakfast and listened to the Sufjan Stevens Christmas album (which I sometimes listen to outside of the months of November and December). The interview was not short on sarcasm or hilarious off the record stories (which will stay off the record). Santo told me her story of growing up outside of Cleveland, becoming a catalog model and moving to NYC to model and bartend at the age of 17 (yep). She gave up modeling as her “body started to change” and the headed to LA, where she has been for the last eight years. It was there that she started performing solo and met Jaffe after being introduced at a Halloween party by a mutual friend, Todd “The Double,” who thought they should date. That didn’t work out, but the two bonded and quickly found that they were able to write really well together. “The second song we wrote, “Come On Home,” is one that we still close every show with,” she said.

I asked about the connection to Billy Jack. “We’ve taken the long road,” she said. “We looked at attractive record deals, but they wouldn’t let us do what we want to do. Now we’ve worked our asses off and the last few months have been amazing.” The band, which previously released an album their fan Kiefer Sutherland’s Ironworks label, released Billy Jack on Lost Highway Records, the label behind the O Brother soundtrack, Lyle Lovett, Lucinda Williams and a number of other top country artists.

I couldn’t help but ask about the name honeyhoney, which Santo says Jaffe came up with, but once it was set, he said it “sounded like a 60’s girls group and that people were going to think he was a pansy.” Santo liked it because it reminded her of the South (an appropriate setting for their music) and the way she talked to folks while she waitressed at an LA BBQ joint.

Last week the band put out a new video for the song “Turn That Finger Around” (see that below). “It’s a song about the difficulty of living with someone who points the finger, but forgets their own past.” The song great…it’s not my favorite on the album, but I like the authenticity of it. It’s a song that a lot of girls I know could have written.

Billy Jack has been my morning commute album for the last week or so. It’s strong both lyrically and musically and one that both my bluegrass friends and indie rock friends could get into. There’s quite a bit of diversity, from rockout honkytonks like “I Don’t Mind” to darker mellow Americana tracks like “Thin Line” and “Don’t Know How.” As Santo noted, “we don’t really have an audience. I saw two guys at one of our shows that were 6’5” with neck tattoos.”

honeyhoney recently wrapped up tours with Christina Perri and Xavier Rudd and will hit the road again in 2012.