honeyhoney singer and multi-instrumentalist Suzanne Santo agrees — it takes a strong person to take a long hard look at their life, hold themselves accountable for their own experiences and accept themselves as they are – flaws and all.
Santo is that strong person on her soul-baring solo debut Ruby Red.
Produced by Grammy nominee Butch Walker, the music offers bold storytelling and introspective reflection about dysfunctions that are inherited, mistakes made and the beauty of apologizing without crucifying one’s humanity. Masterfully crafted arrangements that touch on soul, blues and rock accompany Santo’s powerful vocals throughout the collection’s 11 songs.
“It’s not summer beach house music,” Santo joked during our CMT.com interview at Nashville’s Pinewood Social. “All of these songs [come from] a pretty raw place in my life. I was transitioning into my adulthood and some of that stuff can be really painful.
“There’s a lot of sex, some booze and some drugs on this record and when I listen to it, I kind of freaked out because I realized that I had to own it and I had to stand behind it, which is difficult because a lot of people don’t like that stuff.”
Santo says all of her songs are written viscerally, but when asked which track on Ruby Red was the most difficult to write, she named song four “Best Out of Me.” She says she is fascinated by the way the it explores how personality traits are passed down through the generations.
“Learning to navigate through the things that aren’t as savory about yourself, I think it’s really important,” she said. “In terms of our personalities, anger, processing anger or despondency, there are so many things that we get that we don’t even know where we got them from. And there is a reference in this song about my family tree. I have a great family and I love them, but they’re flawed. So I have to recognize that when I move forward and when I move forward, I make sure to love others and care for people.”
In “Ghost in My Bed,” she sings of a tragic relationship with an alcoholic. It’s a dead end deal, but the character is fully aware of that fact based on the first taste of her lover’s mouth. The official video is directed by William T. Bailey IV and stars Santo as the woman in the relationship.
Her family matters most to Santo, and they will forever be her biggest supporters. And they love the record for everything it is despite its explicitness.
“My dad left me with this voicemail, and he said, ‘Honey, I just got done listening to your filthy, raunchy, beautiful, incredible record and I’m so proud of you,'” she recalled. “He was crying on his voicemail. ‘Please, don’t ever stop writing and don’t ever stop telling your stories.'”
Ruby Red is named after Walker’s southern California studio where it was recorded (he appears on song 10 “Better Than That”). The instrumentals were captured live, with help from guests like pedal steel player Dr. Stephen Patt — Santo’s primary care physician and a former member of the Edgar Winter Group — and drummer Mark Stepro. Santo split the bulk of the performances with Walker.