Santi White is unflappable. Despite having just landed in Boston, the musician, known by her nom de stage Santigold, is relaxed and looking forward to her show in the evening. Even the last-minute arrival of her gear, shipped into from Denver via bus, and currently caught in the city’s signature traffic (“It spins everything into panic mode,” she cracks. “But it worked out.”) isn’t enough to throw off her perennial positivity.
The tour, cheekily named 10 Years Golder, is a victory lap for the musician. Last year, she released I Don’t Want: The Gold Fire Sessions, a buoyant collection dancehall-rooted songs. However, the majority of material she’s currently performing comes from her self-titled debut, released a decade ago. Despite the fact many musicians claim they don’t enjoy looking back on their work, White says she’s having fun with the process, noting that when you’re relearning songs, and revisiting album art featuring yourself vomiting a stream of glitter, there’s no room to dodge the nostalgia inherit in the process.
“There’s definitely that element, which is actually really fun,” she tells CR. “Kind of a nice experience for me because I am looking forward to what’s next and what else I can do. Keeping myself interested by switching it up all the time as a move forward. Just seeing what else I can do. What else can I get into? But for this tour to be forced to literally go back to the beginning and review everything from all the songs to the artwork.”
White’s willingness to enjoy the past without feeling defined by it has served her well. Before she was Santogold (and then Santigold, due to a copyright lawsuit), she served as the lead singer for Philadelphia-based punk band, Stiffed. As she explains, it was a time in her life when she fully embraced the power of performance.
“It was so much fun,” she recalls. “Honestly, performing anything with any element of punk rock is the most freeing, energetic, best thing in the world. [Once], we were rehearsing for a tour in Los Angeles, and the Misfits were there. My brain almost blew out of my skull! They’re so lucky they get to play that kind of music their whole life. It’s so unrestricted and so free, and as a performer that’s the best thing you can do, thrash your body around. It’s pure energy.”
While she has fond memories of her time in the mosh pits, curiosity eventually drove White to dip into work as a solo artist. Punk freed her body, but there were other sounds she wanted to explore, which directly fed into the genre-gobbling nature of her self-titled debut. While the release that led many critics labeling her as a rapper, it was at the expense of ignoring that the twelve tracks also had strong connections to rock, pop, dub, and new wave.
“I could incorporate every different kind of music that I like,” she continues to her shift to solo work. “It just felt more true to my musical palette. It’s different performing but as far as creating music, it’s amazing. In my world, in the world of Santigold, anything goes. I can do any kind of music and it’s like ‘Oh that’s it!’ I think people expect my music to be boundless in that way.”
Anchored by producer/Stiffed bandmate John Hill, Santigold’s eight-week recording reads like a roll call of the late 2000s New York scene, with Diplo, Switch and Disco D, contributing additional production and Trouble Andrew and Spank Rock (who joins White on tour under his new moniker Naeem), throwing in vocal assists. But at the center of the sonic crazy quilt was White, calling the shots and clarifying her vision, awash with the beats, guitars, chants, and that would go on to soundtrack moments in nearly every television show of the era, including Grey’s Anatomy and Gossip Girl.
“My music and my process has always been very collaborative and that’s the fun of it,” says White, noting that it’s an everyone-in production style she still embraces. “Also it’s the magic of it because that’s how you get so many different elements and styles and energy on one track. [I] bring in who brings the best of what they do and put it all together on one song. That’s my role, the person who says ‘this needs this and that.’ I make the collage.”
She can remember the details of the recording process, but nostalgia doesn’t quite extend as far as an encyclopedic knowledge of her own lyrics. White reveals with a laugh that she often forgets her lyrics after each tour, which means there’s always a cram session before returning to the road. When it came time to revisit Santigold, she was pleased to discover that for all the changes she’s experienced over the last ten years (including becoming a mother of three and relocating to Los Angeles), the songs of her debut still resonate with the person she is now.
“It’s really held up in a way that’s timeless and still relevant,” she says. “Through all the records, honestly. The keepers could be about right now. Creators is a forever song. A lot of pop songs are very trendy. Vocab. I’m not writing about being ‘lit’ in my lyrics. In a couple of years, it’s dated. When you write about things that are universal and matter and get to the heart of every issue I think it holds up and that’s pretty cool. I think this record does.”
It’s just another string of positivity in White’s story. While the musician admits that her journey has been usual—starting with the fact she made an album that sounded like nothing on the radio, only to have it find an audience. (And commercial success with singles “Creator,” “L.E.S. Artistes,” “Lights Out,” and “Say Aha.”) While she doesn’t fully dismiss the idea of fate, White does attribute her success to going with the flow, and learning to trust her instincts—even when they’re leading her somewhere she’s never been.
“I’m really grateful and understanding of the fact that the universe has its own plan for me,” she says. “I know that there are certain things that I want for my life that wouldn’t have been that way. Different things happen. I’m sure I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be ten years later. Do I know where that is and where I should be going? No I don’t. I’m just trying to remain open.”END
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