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Santigold - Interview

03 MAY 2012 | Posted By: NickJ

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Santigold - Interview

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Quarter of an hour with Santi White just isn’t enough. Give her half a chance and she’ll be off on tangents that would take hours to work through, rather than a miserable 15-minute interview slot.

You would think it’s simply because the Brooklyn-based singer and producer has a lot to talk about. Almost four years to the day since her debut album, Santogold, burnt across the blogosphere before crash-landing onto many a 2008 best-of list, White has spent the time in-between chewing through passports and involving herself in a series of left-handed collaborations, before finally returning to the studio in 2010 to nut out a sophomore release.

Now, that new record is finally upon us. Master of My Make-Believe is a more measured and subdued effort than its predecessor, even if White has retained her penchant for catnip hooks, backyard beats and shout-along choruses. Featuring a raft of collaborators – including Q-Tip, Davie Sitek, Karen O and Switch – it’s a great listen, and comes swollen with details and aural treasures that make for excellent conversational grist.

But it turns out Santi White (pronounced Sahn'-tee, she’d kindly like Australians to know) is more interested in talking about the world around us. And even as she giggles and sighs her way through our conversation, it’s with an incredulity at the direction western society has taken over the last ten years, and how she and others choose to respond to it.

--

Matt Shea: Where are you talking to me from, Santi?
Santigold: I'm in London.

M: You've got a show there in a couple of nights, is that right?
S: Yes. And a lot of press.

M: We'll talk about Master of My Make-Believe in a second, but you were just at Coachella right? How was that?
S: It was really great, especially the first weekend. The second weekend it was, like, 106 degrees when I was performing [laughs]. So it was alright, but it was really hard. It was really hard.

M: Most importantly, of course: did you see the 2Pac Hologram?
S: Of course I did [laughs]! It was amazing, awesome.

M: An LA-based journalist I know relayed a colleague’s comment, which said that, along with the Three Stooges film reboot, the Pac hologram made him think America is becoming an idiocracy.
S: Oh my god! Have you seen that movie, Idiocracy?

M: I have, a little while ago.
S: It's not a very good movie but it's a brilliant concept, and it's so right on point about exactly what America's becoming.

M: Talking about Master of My Make-Believe: you came up on the back of a lot of blog exposure. It's a very hype-driven way to be broken. With that in mind, did you ever think it would take this long to record a second album? Was that the plan?
S: I didn't really think about it, to be honest. And it didn't really take me a long time. The thing is; I toured for two years. I guess it's longer than most people tour on their first record, or it's a long time to tour anyway. At the time, I didn't really know that. Not that I wouldn't have done it again. I would do it again, because I think that it's really important to really build a true fan base. As long as there was demand for the first record – that’s the first time people were seeing me and getting introduced to my show, and hearing the music live – so as long as there was a demand for it, I was really grateful that I could tour for a few years.

But then as soon as I was done, it was like people expected the [next] record immediately [laughs]. It was like, “No, I have to make it.” So it took me about a year and a half to make the record, which I don't think is [that bad] – I know nowadays some people make a record in five months, but I think that's crazy. It took me about a year and a half, which I think is pretty regular – maybe a half a year longer [than it should have] – and then I had to switch labels and get it set up. It ended up taking longer. Because everyone's reacted like it's an eternity, maybe I will try to do it quicker next time [laughs].

M: There were no artistic dramas or things like that slowing you down?
S: Not really. There's always something and there were moments where I thought, “Oh, I've got writer's block.” But it wasn't anything that really took me out of the game. When I say I had writer's block, it was maybe a month where I couldn't come up with lyrics, but at the same time I was writing melodies. So it wasn't like an actual hold up.

M: Because I have read that you thought that your second album would be easier than it was.
S: Don't get me wrong; it was really hard [laughs].

M: Do you remember the point where you suddenly knew it wasn't going to be so easy? Was there a point where you stepped back and thought, “Oh, shit”?
S: The very beginning [laughs]. It was in the beginning, because the problem was I went into it with expectations, whereas the first record I had no expectations. This record I expected that I knew how to do it. That was the problem. I expected that I knew how to do it, that I knew who I wanted to work with, and all this stuff. And in the very beginning it was clear that that was wrong.

This record is not going to start exactly where it left off because everyone has grown and everyone's at a different place. I had different things to say and the producers are at a different place, and everybody is bringing different baggage to the table. You can't start at the exact same place. You've got to let it be its own process. It wasn't until I sort of branched out and worked with different people and got that fresh energy that it started to actually take shape.

M: Second albums come with expectations, which we've already touched upon to a certain extent. When you've got those expectations – not your own, but fans' – are they hard to block out while you're working on an album? Is it hard to just block that stuff out and focus on what you're doing?
S: Not for me, honestly, because when I'm working I'm really in a bubble. I don't go on the internet that much, and I don't listen to music. I’m just kinda in my own little world.

M: You don't listen to music?
S: No, not that much when I'm working on music. Not like popular music that's out. I just really kind of go inward when I'm working on a record. Maybe because it's really important that I don't take on everything that's going on outside and try to hold myself up to what's trendy right then, or what people expect from me. I'm more worried about how I feel, what I'm thinking in my head, and what I expect from myself.

M: I’ve been listening to the album and it feels like maybe the music's darker on this album but conversely perhaps the lyrics were darker on Santogold. Would that be a fair comment?
S: I don't think in terms of darkness. I don't think of it as a dark record, but I know what you mean. As far as heaviness or gravity to the lyrics, I think that you're right, to be honest, because when I wrote that last record it was right after my father died and after going through a lot of crazy stuff. It just poured out in the lyrics.

This one is more thoughtful. Not as in I put more thought into the lyrics, but it's more like sorting through my own understanding of myself and my relationship to the world and all of our relationships and responsibilities to the world we live in. It's more navigating through that and figuring out my position, rather than just cathartically dumping everything I've been carrying around.
 
I definitely, honestly felt more emotion. I don't know; I had a lot to get out the last record. I guess I always have a lot to get out, that's why I write, but it was different [this time]. A lot of people say, "You sound kind of angry and frustrated in this record," but I didn't feel that way at all on this record.

M: The whole thing feels a lot more considered.
S: Yeah. And I felt honestly more in charge of my perspective.

M: You talk about the outside world influencing this second record. Does the outside world, what's going on around you, influence your song writing quite a lot?
S: Yeah, because it influences my life. It's what I live in, what I see, and what I experience and I guess as an artist that's what we draw from.

M: You've come to prominence a little later than most artists. Do you think this stuff would have influenced you so much, say, ten years ago, when you were ten years younger?
S: Yeah! I mean – yeah [laughs]. As a person living in the world on the earth, there are certain things that can't be ignored. When dead birds are falling from the sky or when there's a nuclear explosion, I don't see how you can't be affected. As a person who has a social conscience, there's no way that doesn't make you think what the fuck are we doing. You know what I mean? [laughs]

M: Do you feel like not enough artists tackle this sort of stuff these days?
S: I do think it's a little bit strange how – it’s not all artists, but in pop music – I don’t think there's enough lyrics that actually are about anything. Songs are written so quickly nowadays. There's nothing wrong with writing fast. But when it's written fast by someone for someone else, where it's just to fit the radio formula and this and that, and there's no thought put into the lyrics in those instances -- that's fine sometimes and it's nice to have fun songs, little silly songs or whatever, but it should be more balanced. I think there should be songs that are actually about something that's not like the same exact thing, like, "We in da club" [laughs].

M: Five years later: “We still in da club.”
S: Yeah [laughs], the BASS! The bum-ba-bum-bum-bum [laughs]!

M: You say these things would have bothered you ten years ago, but do you find yourself getting a little more frustrated or a little angrier as you get older?
S: No, but the world's changed a lot in the last ten years. A lot of it is in a way that's even more concerning than ten years ago. It was you that just said idiocracy, right?

M: Yeah.
S: Okay, well that's the direction that we're definitely going in [laughs], so ten years ago I might not have been as concerned. It seemed farther away, but so much has happened in ten years to move us further in that direction; you have to admit it.

M: That's it. I struggle to grasp how much the world's changed in the last ten years.
S: Yeah, it's baffling. Sometimes I just look at TV or listen to the songs that people love and my mouth just falls open [laughs]. And I'm confused. You know?

M: Being a little older when under the spotlight of the music business – coming to it a bit later – do you think that leaves you better equipped to deal with the pressures of making music?
S: Yes, I do, but there are times where I feel like I fail anyway [laughs]. It's hard; it's really hard right now in the music business. It's really gruelling because there's less money to be made so everyone has you scrambling. You have to do every interview because of the internet and you have to be in a hundred places at once, and you have to do so much more touring because it's the only place you make money. It's really difficult, and you see all these singers losing their voices, and all these people on drugs and dying. It's a lot of pressure. Obviously, coming to it from a place where I've had a chance to really figure out who I am and why I'm doing this and have a strong sense of purpose and a strong sense of self makes it a lot easier to navigate. But it's still really difficult.

M: Talking about all that touring, like you said earlier: you did a heap of it –
S: Yeah.

M: Did that change you much as an artist?
S: I really learned that you have to approach touring very seriously. It's almost like you're a professional athlete. You have to take care of your body that much. If I don't get enough sleep, if I don't hydrate, if I go out to dinner and talk too loud over the noise in the restaurant, if I talk on the airplane; little things that you don't think about you really start to have to pay attention to. What sucks is sometimes when you're touring and having voice trouble, you have to be a recluse, because if you're around people you talk. You can go through really long periods where you don’t get to talk to anyone. It can be hard, really hard.

But it's great, also, touring because it lets you get out and see the world. That's the upside. It's really wonderful to get to go everywhere and connect with people everywhere you go. That was really great.

M: Now, looking ahead to 2012: you're going to have a lot of touring but what else is on the cards for the rest of the year?
S: Mmmmm, I think touring [laughs]. A LOT of touring.

M: Do you feel like you're on top of the new material now? I caught you at Parklife in Australia six months ago and I think you dropped in a few of the new cuts then. Are you still going through that period of integrating the new stuff into the show, or are you on top of it?
S: I think the stuff I did at Parklife we're definitely on top of, but there were still about five or six new songs that I hadn't started playing yet. We know them now and we're slowly adding them in, one at a time.

Interview originally found on The Vine

WORDS: Matt Shea
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