Referencing reggae, electronica and pretty much most genres in-between, Santigold’s eponymous debut firmly established her as one of the most fascinating musical talents of 2008. Four years on, Santi White’s back with her sophomore effort, the intriguingly-titled Master Of My Make Believe.
Santi took the time to tell us all about the new album, what she makes of her competition and how David Byrne made her year. Read the full interview below.
Hey Santi, where are you right now?
I’m in Charlotte, North Carolina, on tour with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I’m actually on vocal rest today, because my voice is feeling a little run down already. It’s been such a whirlwind leading up to touring, that I started the tour a bit more exhausted than I would have liked.
It’s been four years since you released your debut – what have you been up to?
I actually spent all of 2008 and 2009 on the road. At the beginning of 2010, I climbed Kilimanjaro to raise awareness for the Clean Water Crisis, and then flew straight from Africa to LA to start working on my new record. I was mostly done recording by August 2011 and I started touring again through the fall. In the winter I finished mixing and mastering the record, shot videos, got the artwork done, and everything else necessary to gear up for the release.
For the benefit of those yet to hear it, can you explain what they can expect sonically from Master Of My Make-Believe please?
I think it’s an evolution of where I left off. It’s still what I like to call “collage music”: a cut-and-paste style of music-making, taking influences from all over and piecing them together in an artful way. But I was a bit more ambitious this time around: the songs are complex and multi-layered. I tried some new things, like my song ‘The Riot’s Gone’, which is my version of a ballad.
What were your key sources of musical inspiration for the album? Did your reference points differ to those of your debut?
I listened to some old pop songs that had a world music tinge, like Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, also some Malcolm McLaren. I was also listening to some African music, like Fela Kuti, Amadou and Mariam, old dancehall from the 90s, old new wave etc. A lot of the same stuff I always listen to.
I usually listen to old music when I’m making a record because I like the sound quality of the past better in some cases, and in many cases I'm listening mostly for specific sound inspiration rather than song ideas. But, to be honest, I don’t really listen to much music when I’m working on a record. Often, it just gets in the way of whatever’s going on in my own head.
Would you say there’s a cohesive lyrical theme on the record?
Well the title ‘Master Of My Make-Believe’ is pretty much the theme of the record, and its message is that each of us are the rulers of our own reality. We can decide what we see for ourselves and for our world, and make our vision a reality.
How long did the album take to write and record? And how was the experience?
It took about a year and a half. It was a really challenging experience because I was pretty much at the helm of the process by myself. I worked with so many different producers, but I was the only constant, trying to piece everything together in a way that made sense. It was really difficult at times, but I grew a lot through the process.
You worked with Switch and Diplo again on the record, but there are some new faces too – what attracted you to work with the likes of Dave Sitek and Greg Kurstin? And what do you think they brought to the record?
I worked a lot with new producers this time because it was really important for the project to have some fresh energy. I tried to start at the exact same place I left off and it wasn’t working, so I tried a different angle. It was great for me to work with new people (Dave Sitek, Greg Kurstin, Nick Zinner, Ricky Blaze etc.) because each relationship draws something different out of you.
I made some great new friendships working on this album as well. Dave Sitek has such a great sense of rhythm, I always love his drums! And he’s an amazing person on top of that! Greg Kurstin is a brilliant musician and writer. He writes so fast and always nails the part. He also has really good taste in sounds. Nick Zinner was also really great to write with. He’s like my musical brother or something; I don’t think he ever laid down one part I didn’t like.
Each person I worked with brought something very special to the record. These are some of the best players/producers out there and each of them have very unique talents. Without all of their contributions my record wouldn’t be what it is. The wonderful thing about the way my music is made, is that it’s a communal form of music: it is what it is, because of the communal effort.
If you had to pick out one track you’re most proud of, which would it be and why?
I don't know. Maybe ‘The Riot’s Gone’ because it pretty much came out of nowhere and was written in a different way than I usually write. I just sat down at the piano and played and sang. It was surprising to even me! I don't even really play piano.
Your debut was a big critical hit: did you feel under pressure when approaching your sophomore album?
No, I didn’t feel pressure because of that. The only pressure I felt was from myself. I wanted to push myself beyond where I left off. I wanted to be better; to always be better.
Female pop artists are dominating the charts at the moment, more so than ever before. Do you feel in a stronger position now, as a woman in the industry, than you did when you released your debut? And who do you view as your competition?!
No, I don’t feel in a stronger position because of the success of other female pop artists. When I look at a lot of them, I don't see myself necessarily. Most of them are usually half-naked. Not much has changed in that sense. I only compete with myself, comparing your success to others’ is pretty much a waste of time.
You collaborated with Amadou and Mariam recently – how did that come about? And how was the experience?
Their management just reached out and asked me if I would like to work on their record, and I said yes! I am a big fan. It was a great experience, especially because my friend Nick Zinner got to work on the same song, so we had fun together. Amadou and Mariam are so talented and the process seemed so organic to them.
You’ve teamed-up with so many great artists in your career – who was the most fun to work with? And is there anyone you’d particularly like to work with in the future?
I really had fun working with the Beastie Boys. They’re really great guys and really funny. And I LOVED the video they did with Spike Jonze for the song we did together. I don’t know. I’ve started working on a song with Earl Sweatshirt from Odd Future, so I’m excited to see how that turns out.
You started out in A&R – do you still keep your ear to the ground for new musical talent? And if so, who has impressed you recently
I don't have much time to keep “my ear to the streets” right now! I still love finding out about new music that’s good. But it takes a lot of time and effort that I don't have much of right now. I like that Azealia Banks song, ‘212’, 2 Chainz’s song ‘Spend It’, Blood Orange’s song ‘S'Cooled’...
What’s the plan for the rest of the year – will you be coming to Europe?
I plan to be on the road for the rest of this year. And I will definitely be in Europe at some point, probably as soon as this summer!
Finally, what’s been the highlight of your career so far?
Honestly, I think a highlight of my career was after my show in Brooklyn a few months back, when David Byrne emailed me after and said it was one of the best shows he’s ever seen. That pretty much made my year. I didn’t even know he had come!