The electronic beats pump fast, the bass rumbles, the chorus sounds like a battle cry. “GO!,” the opening song on Santigold’s new album, “Master of My Make-Believe,” is a bundle of raw energy, a firework. According to Jay-Z, the Brooklynite is making music for the revolution.
“A lot of the new songs were written before the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements happened,” she explains, “but that’s their prevailing mood. The seething, the unrest that we’re seeing all over the world. People want to hear the truth. And this demand, this energy, is reflected in my music.”
Strong stuff, indeed, but the 35-year-old says it with a smile. When Santigold talks, she gesticulates; her eyes light up and words come tumbling out. You could argue that Philadelphia-born Santi White is one of the most important musicians right now. Not many can get across difficult ideas with the elegant levity she manages.
She first made the pop world take notice in 2007, with her song “L.E.S. Artistes,” which was a bit of New Wave, punk, and a little smattering of pop. Most importantly, it sounded fresh. When her self-titled debut album was released the following year, Santigold was readily brandishing all the tools in pop’s toolbox: writing songs, choreographing routines, designing outfits, devising videos.
For a while, she had neither a manager nor a record company, and found it hard to write lyrics.
She toured for the next two years, accepting invitations to appear alongside a disparate roster of artists including Björk, Beastie Boys, Coldplay, and Jay-Z (for whose management company she signed in 2011). She also wrote hits for Lily Allen and Christina Aguilera and sang for Mark Ronson and Kanye West. Santigold was everyone’s darling. Everyone wanted a piece of her cool.
She moved to New York, and what with all the hype, for a while there was little time for her to take care of her second album. “I only realize that now, when people ask me why I took so long,” she says, and bursts out laughing. “I withdrew and worked on it until I was satisfied, and I am my own harshest critic.”
There were further distractions. She initially found it difficult to settle on the album’s direction. There were bursts of anger to deal with, unleashed by her father’s death. For a while, she had neither a manager nor a record company, and found it hard to write lyrics. It was during this dark time that Dave Sitek, a music producer and guitarist in the band TV On The Radio, was tapped for advice.
“‘Dave, you’re always so level-headed. How do you do it?’ And he said, ‘Transcendental meditation.’ So I went to California to meet this 89-year-old woman who went to India with The Beatles in the 1960s. She helped me to become calm and relaxed. She advised me to write songs on the subject of, ‘You’re the best.’ And I did. Mind you, they’re called ‘Look At These Hoes’ and ‘Big Mouth.’ ”
And so it was that, using an old lady’s mantra and the advice of one of indie rock’s finest, Santigold went on to make an album of energetic, exciting, anthemic pop. She’s learning fast how good her best can be.
Check out the June 2012 issue of Red Bulletin magazine (on newsstands May 15) for more articles. To read the magazine on your iPad, download the Red Bulletin iPad app.