HoneyHoney's Benjamin Jaffe Shares 'Susan the Cat,' Based on a 'Really Weird' Feline: Premiere

Andrew Douglas
Benjamin Jaffe

His HoneyHoney bandmate Suzanne Santo's decision to make a solo album (last year’s Ruby Red) led Benjamin Jaffe to do the same with the upcoming Oh, Wild Ocean Of Love -- whose video for "Susan The Cat" is premiering below.

"It was just kind of time," Jaffe, who releases his album on May 11, tells Billboard. "I love Suzanne very much but we were at each other's throats all the time. It was just rough. So it was time to break away and she took the first step and kind of forced my hand a little bit. I had all these songs that weren't appropriate for HoneyHoney, so I started going through those and found I had an album."

"Susan The Cat" and Oh, Wild Ocean Of Love's other tracks do indeed stray far afield from HoneyHoney's brand of Americana -- more textural and moody, with fuller (but not overwhelming) instrumentation and lusher aural brushstrokes. Jaffe recorded the album with Howard Feibusch, who encouraged Jaffe to do everything himself on the 10-song set, including all the instruments.

"I just thought, 'I'm gonna go in there and do whatever I can do,' so it's the result of me freaking out in the studio for a week," Jaffe says. "I kind of feel like a douche saying it's a jazz record; It's not a jazz record at all, but it kind of is at the time, to me. When I got in the studio there was so much improvisation it feels like jazz to me, at least the process."

Mostly Jaffe was happy to experiment in ways he wasn't able to in the band. "We've done that sometimes with HoneyHoney, but it's different when you're responsible for somebody else's output, too," he explains. "Except for hip-hop and R&B you don't really hear these 'journey' records. Obviously you have conceptual records in rock, but they're rare. On this one it was like, 'OK, I get to do this and kind of tell a story through the record, add some weight to it.' That was something I was really happy to do."

"Susan The Cat," meanwhile, comes to that story as a real character, a "really f***in' weird" feline who belonged to a friend in Los Angeles who Jaffe would stay with when he wasn't on the road. But the track is not exactly about the titular pet. "It's always been easier me as a writer to kind of access through proxy," Jaffe explains. "It's easier for me to get to the heart of something and express the emotions if I have a little touchstone. Even in HoneyHoney, songs like 'Angel Of Death' or 'Little Toy Gun,' I use these objects to access myself -- not on purpose, it just happens that way. I can take a true setting and the feelings just come out -- in this case, what it's like to live in somebody else's space and have kind of lifestyle that demanded that at the time, where I have to rely on other people."

In addition to the songs on Oh, Wild Ocean Of Love, Jaffe has also launched The Rearranger Series, which features videos of the songs set to versions of the songs that are markedly different than what appears on the album. He debuted the series with "Dominator" earlier this year and followed with a string quartet rendition of "Blooming," while the Rearranger incarnation of "Susan The Cat" (premiering above) is a more upbeat, 3/4 version of the song. "It's just opportunity to try even more stuff," Jaffe says. "I really love filmmaking, and I knew I wanted to make a lot of videos 'cause I can't afford to tour a lot."

That said, Jaffe hopes to play out "as much as anyone's going to let me play." HoneyHoney has some plans as well, including summer tour dates and a return to the TBS comedy series The Guest Book, on which it serves as the house band. Plans to follow-up 2015's 3, however, are up in the air.

"We're starting to move towards working on another record together," Jaffe says, "but we have to figure out how to make our records and HoneyHoney records at the same time, 'cause we both really enjoy the solo vibe. But I think now it's going to be easier. Because we're doing our own things, too, I don't have to get all my experimental ideas out in HoneyHoney and battle Suzanne over that stuff. We can make, I think, a real focused record in a relaxed way, which I'm really looking forward to."