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With an acclaimed new album and supportive friends, Suzanne Santo settles in Austin

Suzanne Santo performs Thursday at the Parish with Son Little.

Suzanne Santo had only recently released her first solo album, 2017’s “Ruby Red,” when she got an offer she couldn’t refuse: Multi-platinum-selling Irish musician Hozier asked her to be in his band for an extensive world tour.

She took the gig, but not without hesitation.

“At the time, it was presented as a two- or three-year tour,” she says. “I said yes, and then had this really conflicted year of trying to give ‘Ruby Red’ what it deserved, but also gearing up for this huge opportunity.”

Santo ended up touring with Hozier for a year, playing guitar and violin and singing backup vocals, as well as opening some of the shows.

“It was such an incredible experience,” she says. “It was life-changing; it was career-changing.” But, she adds: “It was painful to be away from my own music for so long. I definitely had those questions of, like, ‘Am I a hired gun now?’”

Judging from her second album “Yard Sale,” which came out in August, the recent Austin transplant was destined to be more than a hired gun. Its dozen songs, recorded in Los Angeles before she moved here in early 2021, reveal a remarkably talented singer-songwriter who can attract some impressive hired guns of her own: Prominent local artists Gary Clark Jr. and Shakey Graves make guest appearances on the record.

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Born and raised in the Cleveland area, Santo — who opens for Son Little on Thursday at the Parish — spent her mid-late teen years New York and then Los Angeles, pursuing careers in modeling and acting. In L.A., she scored bit parts in TV shows such as “Law & Order” and “Judging Amy.”

“I actually had no intention of playing music whatsoever,” she says.

But good friends were hard to come by in her first couple of years out west.

“I was very lonely, so I just started writing songs,” she says. “I really dug into the medicine of music. It was my best friend, and it still is. It’s like this untouchable thing that no one can take away from me. No one can take away singing in the shower.”

A roommate had friends connected to the music business, and one of them introduced her to guitarist Ben Jaffe, with whom she formed the Americana-oriented outfit Honeyhoney. The duo released three albums between 2008 and 2015, the last of which came out on Rounder and was produced by Nashville studio ace Dave Cobb (renowned for his work with Jason Isbell, Brandi Carlile and others).

After a decade, Santo said she felt Honeyhoney “had run its course.” She made “Ruby Red” with well-traveled producer Butch Walker (Fall Out Boy, Green Day, Weezer), working primarily with musicians Walker chose. On “Yard Sale,” she drew more from her own circle of friends, including Tenacious D producer John Spiker and Hozier drummer Rory Doyle.

The cameos from Austin stars Clark and Graves — on the mid-album tracks “Fall for That” and “Afraid of Heights,” respectively — grew in part from a chance meeting in Australia several years ago.

Suzanne Santo performs during Blues on the Green's first night at Zilker Park on July 27. That night celebrated 30 years of ACL Radio's summer tradition, with Gary Clark Jr.'s Handpicked Homegrown All-Star Revue.

Santo first met Clark a decade ago at a hotel in Hollywood. “We were all playing on a stage by the pool, and I was thinking, ‘Oh, man, this guy's got a great voice.’ I had no idea that he was a total guitar god until later. But we stayed in touch over the years, and when I was playing with Hozier, I ran into him in Australia — him and Shakey at the same time. We all had dinner together. And I was like, ‘Man, we should all stay in touch, it would be great to see you guys when we’re all stateside.’”

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Santo was finishing up “Yard Sale” in December 2020 when she saw that podcaster Joe Rogan, a longtime champion of her music who’d recently moved to Austin, was performing at Stubb’s with comedian Dave Chappelle. On a lark, she booked a trip to Austin.

“I had always wanted to see Dave,” she says. “One of my new songs, ‘Save for Love,’ is directly inspired by watching his Netflix special ‘Sticks & Stones.’ I remember just being so riveted that I had to go home and write immediately. I don’t agree with everything he talks about, but I really admire his philosophy.”

She called Rogan, who not only encouraged her to come but delivered “this spiel about how I should really move to Austin — 'There’s a lot of people who love you and support you, and your music would do so well here.'” Santo made the trip and ended up taping an episode of Rogan’s podcast with Clark as a special guest, joining her for an acoustic rendition of “Fall For That.”

Suzanne Santo onstage with Hozier at ACL Fest 2018.

Santo had visited Austin in the past during South by Southwest, and in 2018 for Hozier’s appearance at the Austin City Limits Music Festival. But her December 2020 visit afforded an opportunity to see the city in its more natural state.

“I decided to drive around and see what it felt like to be in Austin when it's not SXSW and it’s not ACL,” she says. “I was in my rental car and I didn't know what street I was on, or what neighborhood I was in. I was asking God or the universe, like, ‘Should I move to Austin?’”

RELATED:Did you move to Austin from California? We want to hear from you.

If she needed a divine sign, she got one. “I was driving down the street, and there were two people walking with a dog. I slowed down and I looked over, and it was Shakey Graves and his mother walking the dog. And I just freaked out.

“He was like, ‘What are you doing here?’ And I was like, ‘I just asked the universe if I should move to Austin, and then I ran into you!’ He was one of the four people I knew here. So I just took it. I was like, ‘All right, I'm going to do it.'”

Suzanne Santo moved to Austin in February and released her new album "Yard Sale" in August.

The adventure, as it turned out, was just beginning. Santo returned home, got ready to make the move in January, and headed east on Interstate 10 in mid-February — just as last winter’s major ice storm was descending on Texas.

In more than a decade of touring, Santo says, “I have seen a lot of stuff — I’ve driven through tornadoes, I've seen all kinds of car wrecks and atrocities. But I've never seen anything like that. I've never seen running out of gas and water. That was scary. It felt like ‘Mad Max.’ I got stranded in Fort Stockton at a Super 8. My sister and her boyfriend helped me move, and we had my two cats and a Penske truck, and my car. But we made it.

“There was some kind of force that really pushed me here, and it has been life-changing. It has been definitely where I'm supposed to be. I've never felt like that in my life — I've never felt so sure, and then so vindicated. I was just expecting to be lonely for a couple years, like when I moved to L.A. … and it was just like out of the gate, I was making friends, and I met the love of my life. It's just astounding, and so cool and beautiful.”

If you go

Suzanne Santo, opening for Son Little

When: 7 p.m. on Thursday

Where: The Parish, 214 E. Sixth St.

Cost: $15

More information: parishaustin.com