Interviews

Suzanne Santo Kicks Off Her Tour in Denver

Suzanne Santo performs at Globe Hall on Friday, January 28.
Suzanne Santo performs at Globe Hall on Friday, January 28. Cameron McCool
Suzanne Santo was working on the followup to her 2017 solo debut, Ruby Red, while she was on Hozier's 2019 world tour as a backup singer, guitarist and violinist. Santo, who had spent a decade in the Americana duo HoneyHoney, had gotten used to writing songs on her own schedule and in the quiet of her L.A. home. But on tour, she was at the mercy of someone else’s schedule. She found herself scribbling lyrics on cocktail napkins whenever and wherever she could between rehearsals — on the tour bus, backstage or in hotels.

“I was surprised at how much I was able to get done in slightly uncomfortable settings that weren't necessarily private,” Santo recalls. “I had to just get it done. I really enjoyed that. I was like, ‘Oh, man, it's great. You can pop out a song anytime you want.’”

But Santo left Hozier's tour after a gig at Glastonbury; she was eager to get back to work on her album, which she’d later dub Yard Sale. She says the songs “Mercy” and “Save for Love” set the tone for the album, which she released last August. The two songs came to her out of nowhere, nearly fully formed, she adds.

Her lyrics are personal and reflective. The folk-rock anthem “Mercy” contains the lines I learned about darkness and Yeah, it could be any one of us with a broken mind. “Save for Love,” with its gradual buildup, instructs listeners to Mend those busted bridges / Hold yourself accountable / Give that soul deep within you.

“I’ve had some really low times in my life, and things that I couldn't control at home or at work,” Santo says. “The best medicine I could give myself is sitting in my living room and singing and playing guitar.”

Writing songs for Yard Sale was not only something Santo wanted to do, but also needed to do.

“When I stop writing or playing or singing, I get depressed, and there's a part of me that's aware that I'm not fulfilling a purpose,” Santo says. “And for whatever reason, that's not really for me to decide. It’s something I have to do, and when I just kept at it, it was like training for a marathon or something.”
Santo is constantly flexing her songwriting muscle, and says she’s gotten better at it in recent years.

“A lot of times, we are our own resistance,” Santo says. “You make an excuse to not do something, and I’ve gotten a lot better at that over the years, I used to not be lazy but just existing. With social media and things like that, it got eventually harder over the years — [there are] distracting elements that keep you from doing things that are productive.

“It can be a slog just to focus, because you wake up, and before you get out of bed, you look at your phone, and you’re sitting there for twenty minutes and looking at nothing. I'm starting to get really hardcore with myself about how long that is for me and how unhealthy it is, and realizing that life is moving really fast," she continues. "But life’s moving extra fast because we're on machine time. I think that if I want to repossess my own agency, I have to enjoy my life in the natural way, like take a walk and read books. All of that grounds you back to your humanity.”

Santo knows her way around Americana and Southern-gothic soul, but she also knows how to rock out, and there’s evidence of that on Yard Sale. After living in Los Angeles for nearly two decades, Santo moved to Austin last year, and she enlisted Austin music icons Shakey Graves and Gary Clark Jr. to make guest appearances on Yard Sale.

Santo kicks off her American tour in Denver at Globe Hall on Friday, January 28, before heading to Utah, Montana and the West Coast. She says the pandemic makes booking shows a different experience than what she’s used to.

“I've never booked tours like this before, where everything's pretty last-minute,” Santo says. “Shows are coming in for March, which is crazy, because normally, it’s six to eight months in advance.”

Suzanne Santo with Izzy Ra, 9 p.m. Friday, January 28, Globe Hall, 4483 Logan Street, 9 p.m.; tickets are $20.
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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon