“I won’t fade to the background, no I won’t back down cause that’s what I am, a dominator,” Ben Jaffe croons as he performs his single “Dominator” at Union Pool on the first day of this month. “Dominator” is one of two singles, along with “Blooming” that he has put out as a solo artist – a song about persistence and moving forward, something that seems to speak to how Ben has lived his life so far.
He moved to Los Angeles from Massachusetts when he was 18, originally as part of a gap year before possibly attending school at NYU, but Ben fell into the world of music and that gap year turned into 14. He was doing a lot of studio work and working on cartoons, such as Spongebob where he played a fish that was part of a boy band.
About 3 years in to his time out in LA, he met Suzanne Santos. Together they were the two halves of HoneyHoney – a bluesy folk rock duo with a hint of southern rock undertones – and that became his sole focus. “We kind of had a crazy chemistry personally which led us in to wonderful moments of joy and pain,” Ben says of his and Suzanne’s partnership. They would play everywhere and anywhere, including weed dispensaries that would actually pay them money – a hard gig to find for a band that was just starting out.
It wasn’t until a French record label executive, discovered them on MySpace that they really picked up momentum. “He would come to LA maybe 3 times a year and rent a blue Mustang convertible,” Ben remembers. “He would just pick us up and he introduced us to this stratosphere of LA music people we would never have had access to.”
The duo ended up signing with Keifer Sutherland’s now defunct indie record label, Ironworks, and gained a following. HoneyHoney was something that was really working and growing and, for a while, it was hard to think of focusing on anything else, until recently when Suzanne got an opportunity she couldn’t refuse.
“[Suzanne] got an opportunity, it just happened at the right time, to work with a producer name Butch Walker and was like, I’m going to make a solo record,” Ben says. “We put in 10, maybe 11 years, and things were going well, we just were not getting along.”
Ben realized he had to go off and do something on his own too to fill the void of not working on HoneyHoney. He had been working on a solo record before HoneyHoney became a thing and most of that turned into the first HoneyHoney album. He ended up picking up where he left off and started his career as a solo artist.
That night at Union Pool was Ben’s first solo headlining show in New York City and one that he curated filled with fellow talented musicians and friends of his including his former childhood band mate, Sonya Kitchell. Sonya had come out to LA to visit Ben while he was still just beginning to delve back into the realm of his solo music. On that particular trip, she brought along her then boyfriend, now new husband, Howard Feibusch. Howard is a part of a band called Howard whose song “Religion” struck a chord with Ben and drove him to want to work with the talented musician in some capacity. Howard had a studio in New York City that Ben would be able to record in and things all fell into place.
“That week we spent together was intense,” Ben remembers. “It was wonderful but we spent probably 60 hours together in 5 days.” All of the lyrics and melodies had been written prior to the recording process but the building the sound of the album took some work. “I played all the instruments so it wasn’t like we could go in and perform the song, we had to kind of build it piece by piece the whole time,” Ben says. “We were kind of making it as we went along.”
For this album, Ben drew a lot of inspiration from how it was to deal with the tumultuous last few years of HoneyHoney and a lot of recovery from where his and Suzanne’s relationship went. “We were kids when we started out and it really built into a business,” Ben says. “It was just this pressure that we always took out on each other.” He also had the opportunity to explore freely with the music he wanted to create, something that’s difficult to do in a collaboration.
“I come from that place musically of just kind of throwing shit at the wall,” Ben explains. “When I had the reign to, I was just like, let’s try some stuff.” He realized that he had become too comfortable in HoneyHoney because of their success and was glad that he had a reason to change pace a bit.
“It’s crazy to see the limits of what you’ll accept [as successful] because they shift,” Ben says. “Maybe I don’t like this aspect of it but I do like this and as the things shift it’s hard to stay grounded – it’s hard to be objective.”
Ben has started to find a rhythm with his solo career and is planning on a constant push of new music. Though his full album is going to come out sometime next year, he plans to keep releasing videos for the songs off the album as he makes them. “I’m kind of working myself into this constant production and release schedule,” Ben says. “I don’t want to do a year and a half on and then a year of just anxiety and waiting around – [creating] is good for the soul.”
Article: Merissa Blitz