santigold sounds off on a decade making magical music

We speak to the artist ahead of her Australian tour about music, fashion, collaboration and motherhood.

by Briony Wright
09 June 2016, 4:40am

Santigold is one of those rare, magnificent artists with that magical mix of talent, intelligence and innate style that has seen her push musical boundaries album after album. Since the 2008 release of her first landmark LP, Santogold, the artist born Santi White has continued to release era-defining music and video brimming with joy, social message and regular famous collaborators.

Her latest album 99¢ is no exception. It delivers a slew of catchy tracks exploring our current, increasingly problematic relationship with consumerism as well as issues inherent in art and commerce. With the birth of her first child six months before commencing work on the album, Santi is balancing recording and touring with motherhood like a total champ.

With an Australian tour planned, we spoke to Santi about her loves and the changes she's seen in the music industry over almost a decade at its centre.

Congrats on the birth of your boy. How has it been?
I love it. It's obviously challenging in a lot of ways but it's so rewarding and fun. I'm really enjoying him. He's the funniest little guy. Having him on the road during the tour was amazing too. I lost my voice in the beginning of the American shows, which was bad, but he was like the shining light at the centre of the experience.

That's awesome. I wanted to discuss some of the people you've worked with - from the Beastie Boys to Jay-Z and Bad Brains, you've collaborated with so many great, diverse musicians.
There are so many artists I love and I'm really grateful to have had opportunities to work with so many people who've been my heroes for so long. From producing for Devo to working with Darryl Jenifer from Bad Brains, it's just been great. I love collaborating because it allows me to experiment outside of my comfort zone and come up with something I wouldn't on my own. For me it's one of the most exciting parts of the creative process.

Who else have you enjoyed working with?
I loved working with Amadou & Mariam, a blind couple from Mali who make this beautiful, amazing music. I worked on it with Nick Zinner from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and I sang in the language of Bambara. It was just so much fun. Collaboration has always been a huge part of what my sound is. I work with a lot of producers, sometimes even on one song, and I think it's really cool that everybody brings something special to the table.

You've been making music and working in the industry for a relatively long time. What are the main changes you've seen?
I've been working in music in some capacity since the 90s and it's drastically different now; it's like a whole different industry. Technology has probably had the most impact as it's changed the way people find, listen to and share music. It's also changed the way that artists make music with programs like Garage Band making it possible for everyone to create albums from their home studios. Everything is digital which means people hardly play instruments any more. Records sound different because people don't take the time to create whole, cohesive albums, instead they put out singles as fast as they can. The time frames we work within are different. Basically everything has changed. Except for the fact that people still like music. That bit hasn't changed.

Can you see a positive side to it?
It's hard to because there's so much nostalgia involved. I mean, having grown up in an era where there were so many amazing strong, powerful female artists: everything from the Riot Grrl movement to people like Queen Latifah and Salt and Pepper and all these great strong, influencers, it was really exciting. I compare it to now where it's mainly about being the sexiest person. To have that insight is sad too.

So you think we've gone backwards in that regard? What do you think is driving it?
I think it's society as a whole and where our cultural values are at around the world. We're living in such a celebrity-driven culture. Everything's about money and luxury and lifestyle and façades of perfection and consumers are buying into that. On the marketing side it's more about what sells than it is about talent. Sex has always been a seller and now it's about social media followers which means you can have artists come out of nowhere. People might not know a single song but if they take lots of sexy pictures and they're hot, suddenly they're a star. Our culture has changed to support that. Back in the day, that wouldn't have happened. It would have been like, "what the fuck, their music sucks." Often now what the music sounds like is an afterthought.

There are definitely negative side effects to our social media driven culture. Let's hope there's a backlash, which starts to see a shift back again. Changing topics, your outfits are always incredible in your music videos. I know you've worked with Alexander Wang before but is there a designer you're particularly feeling right now?
I'm really into Gucci right now, for a couple of reasons. They brought on Alessandro Michele as Creative Director and it's just unbelievable. I hadn't really even looked at Gucci for a long time but then all of a sudden, in the last couple of months, I happened to see some stuff and I was like, "what is this, what's going on? It's so beautiful!" I think their clothes are so creative in a kind of collaged way, there's so many different elements involved at once. It reminds me of the way I approach my music. It's beautiful and risky and fancy and perfect.

It's out of this world. What is the second reason?
Oh yeah, it's an interesting story. My husband is an artist named Trevor Andrew. For ages he was just painting Gucci all over everything - like trash objects in the street and on clothes and canvases. One day they called him on the phone and we immediately thought he was in trouble. Luckily it turned out they loved what he was doing and asked him to fly to Rome and do it officially. Beyoncé has even been wearing his stuff, it's just been really cool.

That's amazing.
Yeah, so now he's designing lots of things for their next collections and I have a personal connection. I feel like it's the universe trying to tell me something. 

Santigold plays Melbourne 20th July, Sydney 22nd July and Splendour in the Grass. Tickets available here.


Text Briony Wright

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santi white