Suzanne Santo proudly embraces her adopted Texan status.
By Kaitlyn Wilkes, photos courtesy of Suzanna Santo
Growing up in Ohio in the ’90s meant Santo listened to a lot of grunge. She also listened to artists like Lauryn Hill, Jay-Z and Radiohead. This amalgamation of musical genres has actually posed problems when defining her own musical stylings.
“You can’t really fit me into a box,” she says. “I think it works! You know, I don’t think it’s to confuse people. Why I call [my latest album]Yard Sale is because there’s something for everybody. Oh, you want a tennis racket or a crockpot? Or an antique photo? You got it! Everything is in there in a way that it does tell a story.”
Though Suzanna Santo grew up in Ohio and spent more than 15 years in Los Angeles, when she came to Austin for the first time in 2020, all the signs pointed to Santo moving to the Live Music Capital.
“It was such a pivotal experience in my life,” Santo recalls. “It’s almost too much to get into all the weird synchronistic things that happened to me that week. But every answer pointed to, ‘Get here as soon as you can.’ And I did. I’m blown away by the musicians here and how they care for each other. And I’m honored to be part of the city.”
Santo displays her love for her adopted hometown when making a tongue-and-cheek reference to the recent influx of people looking to call Austin home. “I actually just made these T-shirts; it says, ‘I live in Austin now,’” she laughs. “I say that with the utmost respect for what this city has brought to my life.”
Santo got her start in music from an early age. She listened to the music in her parents’ restaurant, played the violin at school and sang in the school choir. When one of her choir teachers pulled her aside to help her with her singing, Santo found one of her first mentors.
“It’s really great if you find your way with the proper guide,” Santo says. “Not everybody gets that opportunity, and it is a blessing.”
The beginning of Santo’s professional career started when she teamed up with musician Benjamin Jafee to form Honeyhoney. After a decade working in a duo, Santo is now working on her solo music. She takes the experiences of Honeyhoney with her in her new music.
“I feel like [with]Honeyhoney, we always kind of went against the grain,” Santo says. “Not intentionally, but we always sounded like us, you know. Instead of trying to assimilate with all the other popular bands. I think that’s a good way to come by it honestly.”
For Santo, sticking true to herself and her sound is more important than trying to make a certain type of music. “I’ve never made music to sound like anybody else. I just make music that comes from my soul and [that]I’m really excited to make.”
Santo even did a stint with Irish folk-blues musician Hozier as part of his band for the better part of a year. “I really credit him to me leveling up as a guitar player,” she reveals. “I played a lot of his guitar parts for his last record live, which were really challenging. You know, I have to show up to performances, so I had to get really good at it.”
Using the energy of the crowd, she recalls the coalesced synergy the band would feed on to make the best show possible. “When you’re playing someone else’s music, that’s a job. When I’m playing my own music, it’s still a job, but it’s my soul. So if anything, I was mostly making sure I was doing the best job I possibly could for him.”
Despite playing to crowds of 60,000 at major music festivals like Glastonbury, Santo enjoys small, more intimate shows. “I actually prefer my Tiny Texas Tour because it’s my own music,” she says. “I really appreciate the intimacy of music, and I do feel like it’s difficult to access that intimacy with such large crowds. It’s something different. We are a mass collective, which is very powerful.”
As a Texas transplant, Santo is able to use an outside perspective to show how unique the Austin and Texas music scenes are. “I feel that [community]when I play in all the different cities here, and everybody’s got a different vibe,” she says. “There’s a real appreciation for music. You cannot deny the things that were born here.”
Texas’ deep music history and the fact that the local scenes are so large, makes her appreciate how the focus is on the music and not the music business. “Like Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and the Highwaymen. What that brought to the state in this area of the country and what it represents. They represented that camaraderie and that togetherness and [that the]rising tide lifts all boats.”
The Lone Star State also caters to a host of powerhouse female musicians. Now part of that scene, Santo expresses how happy she is to be a part of such a lively culture. “You can’t swing a dead cat and not get inspired around here,” she says. “There’s so many great musicians, and they’re playing all the time. I do think there’s a hell of a female music scene here as well that is really cool to see. You know, I really admire that, and I’m excited to be part of it.”
If one word fully encapsulated Santo’s feelings toward the Texas music scene it would be appreciation. “[It’s a] great honor. I feel so held here in ways that I guess I just didn’t fit in other places. But I feel appreciated here in ways I can’t compare to other places.”
This feeling of belonging carries over into her newest music. For Yard Sale, Santo used her experience playing the violin to make her own string arrangements. With a bit of music theory and the right computer programs, she’s able to flex new skills and fully express her ever-growing adoration for the musician she is in this moment. “I don’t know if it’s the time in my life or my music at this level, but I’m making the best music I’ve ever made. I’m gonna keep doing that if I can help it, and I feel it coming back to me here in Texas.”