Honeyhoney’s ‘First Rodeo’ is a wild ride


Honeyhoney are the buskers you’d bring to a bar brawl.

Sure, “First Rodeo” — the debut (out Tuesday) from the L.A. songwriting braintrust of Ben Jaffe and Suzanne Santo — rings with the pop-jazz-cabaret familiarity of your friendly neighborhood lounge act. But don’t mistake them for warm-and-fuzzy banjo-toters: Whether it’s Jaffe’s shadowy storylines or Santo’s punky lounge diva stylings, Honeyhoney is anything but saccharine.

Maybe it’s the music’s tiny serrated edges, or at least its sense of derring-do, that attracted the attention of Kiefer Sutherland’s label, Ironworks Music. It certainly didn’t take long after Honeyhoney’s initial foray onto MySpace for Jaffe and Santo to be signed. “We’ve had these moments where it’s like, ‘Holy —-‘” Santo says. “I don’t have to bartend or nanny or sell barbecue.”

Seems like only months later, they were starring in the video for “Little Toy Gun” (currently the iTunes free video of the week), Sutherland’s directorial debut.

“It was one of the coolest days I’ve ever had,” Santo says. “The idea that Kiefer had for that video, the things he made happen …” Adds Jaffe: “It felt like one of those classic Hollywood moments.”

honeyhoney1Santo, a native of northeastern Ohio, and Jaffe, who moved to L.A. from Massachusetts, started working together after being introduced by a mutual friend. You get the feeling from their senses of humor that writing songs is part collaboration, part jousting match. “Do we wrestle each other in a nonsexual way? Yes,” Santo says. “Ben’s the captain on the songwriting ship, but we put all egos aside when we’re working.”

“At the same time,” Jaffe says, “it’s not an environment where bull—- is allowed to fly.”

Same went for the “First Rodeo” recording sessions helmed by Jude Cole, the singer-songwriter/producer/manager who co-founded Ironworks with Sutherland. “Nobody pulled any punches,” Jaffe says.

The album doesn’t so much genre-hop as meander sonically based on each song’s story, the result, Jaffe says, of the duo’s freedom to resist anything “unnecessarily confining.” Santo’s voice, while dusky and alluring enough to make most men swoon, has a Midwestern frankness that’s liable to scare off any weaklings. Somehow her torch songs have torches.

Not that any of it is going to her head. “This rock thing is great,” she says, “but what I really want is to just be a local Cleveland celebrity.”

||| Live: Honeyhoney celebrates the release of “First Rodeo” with an Election Night show Tuesday at the Hotel Cafe.