White White noise

Whether it’s climb­ing a moun­tain to un­wind, or ditch­ing the la­bel be­hind her de­but al­bum, it’s best to ex­pect the un­ex­pected from Santigold, writes Jim Car­roll

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Music -

THERE ARE some great yarns told by mu­si­cians about what hap­pens when they come off tour and try to ad­just to nor­mal life again. Some go off the rails, some con­tinue to live in ho­tels and some swear they’ll never go on tour again. If you’re Santi White and you’ve just fin­ished a lengthy tour plug­ging your bril­liant Santigold de­but al­bum, how­ever, you go off to climb a moun­tain.

“I re­ally wanted a break af­ter two years’ tour­ing,” she says, “so I went off and climbed Kil­i­man­jaro. That was my break. A friend of mine or­gan­ised the climb to raise aware­ness for the clean water cam­paign. Then we vis­ited a Ma­sai vil­lage which had just got in clean water tech­nol­ogy and I went to Ethiopia to visit a UN refugee camp where a lot of refugees had come from So­ma­lia.” She sits back in her chair, folds her hands and smiles. She knows the in­ter­viewer wasn’t ex­pect­ing that. That could be thewhite mantra: you weren’t ex­pect­ing that. Her re­leases to date have been full of the un­ex­pected as she spins in­fec­tious pop mu­sic with strangely al­lur­ing and bril­liantly pitched odd hooks in the mix.

White is in London to­day to talk about her new al­bum Mas­ter of My Make-be­lieve. When she’s not talk­ing about it, she’s over­see­ing the nitty-gritty when it comes to the al­bum’s art­work, tour dates, mu­si­cians, re­lease sched­ules and all the rest.

White is a hands-on op­er­a­tor and learned the hard way that this is how it has to be. “I learned a lot with the first al­bum. I learned what kind of sup­port I needed from peo­ple aroundme and re­alised I didn’t have it. When I was record­ing the new al­bum, I was re­ally get­ting no sup­port from my la­bel. There was no­body at Down­town [her old la­bel], there was nomoney, it was just me. Peo­ple were re­ly­ing on me and I felt I was do­ing ev­ery­one’s job. So I switched man­age­ment and la­bels, which was a lot of stress. But those changes were de­lib­er­ate and nec­es­sary.”

That wasn’t the only stress in­volved with the new al­bum. White’s de­but al­bum was aided and abet­ted by pro­duc­ers Dave ‘Switch’ Tay­lor, John Hill and Di­plo and she thought she could get the old gang to­gether again.

“When we tried to do it that way, it just wasn’t hap­pen­ing,” she says. “Be­cause I’d all these ex­pec­ta­tions, I started to feel down on my­self about it and got in a rut. A friend of mine, Amanda Blank, sug­gested that I should work with Nick Zim­mer [Yeah Yeah Yeahs]. She said he was just home from tour­ing and we should get to­gether. I called Nick and we started writ­ing and that was when the sec­ond record started com­ing to­gether. It was light, it was fun, it was fresh, it was a new per­son.”

White be­lieves that too much had changed be­tween al­bums for her and the orig­i­nal pro­duc­ers for them to work to­gether again. “With the first al­bum, it was the only thing we had go­ing so ev­ery­one in­vested so much into it,” she says. “This time, I got the sense that ev­ery­one was re­ally scat­tered. I couldn’t get the fo­cus I wanted from peo­ple.

“I sup­pose they felt such a part of the first record as well so they had their own anx­i­ety about what was go­ing to hap­pen, which was too much. I’ve got my own anx­i­ety, I don’t want to deal with yours as well. I felt like I had three or four hus­bands to deal with and I have my own real hus­band any­way. I think it was good for me to step away from them and work with new peo­ple. Bar Switch, they weren’t as in­volved this time.”

It was a new ex­pe­ri­ence for White to be so anx­ious about her mu­sic. “I had noth­ing when I started and that pan­icked me. It’s quite paralysing and I ended up do­ing med­i­ta­tion to get rid of the anx­i­eties and get my con­fi­dence back.

“For the mu­sic to evolve, you have to evolve. It took me a while to re­alise that the rea­son why there was noth­ing there in the be­gin­ning was be­cause I was try­ing to start in the same place as be­fore. But that place doesn’t ex­ist any­more. You can’t go back, you can’t start from some place in your past.”

Be­tween al­bums, she’s seen oth­ers cog­ging that Santigold sound from the first al­bum. “In the be­gin­ning, I was: ‘hold on a minute here, that’s my sound,’” she says. “I re­mem­ber talk­ing to Phar­rell Wil­liams once about it and he was like ‘just keep on do­ing some­thing new’. He was right and I’ve never thought about it since. If you’re go­ing to do some­thing cool and orig­i­nal and creative, you want peo­ple to be in­flu­enced by it. If peo­ple want to copy it, so be it. The first record did in­flu­ence a lot of peo­ple and I’m proud of it now.

“With this one, I tried not to pay at­ten­tion to what was go­ing on out­side the bub­ble. The only way to make some­thing fresh is to go in­side and not look too much at what’s go­ing on. You’ll end up with a mess if you go ‘OK, all the hits right now sound like this so I should do the same.’”

What in­spires White is DJ cul­ture, es­pe­cially in the UK and Europe. “DJ cul­ture here is far more in­spir­ing than DJ cul­ture at home. Here, you have an un­der­ground scene which is five years ahead of ev­ery­where else. The scene in the States doesn’t have that and it feeds off what hap­pens over here.

“Five years ago, I re­mem­ber hear­ing all the dub­step in London and now, that’s come over to the States, where it’s not re­ally the same thing at all. It’s what do they call it? I know, brostep!”

She be­lieves that club cul­ture has also changed what au­di­ences want from an al­bum and live show. “The track-driven mar­ket means you don’t get al­bums which are worth lis­ten­ing to all the way through. Artists are not even artists – some­one else is writ­ing the songs – and some artists are just there be­cause they know how to look sexy. They don’t pro­duce shows which leave you shak­ing.

“We had peo­ple like Nina Si­mone and James Brown and Prince, but how many peo­ple are like that in the present? With a lot of mu­sic, there is a lack of that iconic per­for­mance and there’s no point in go­ing to the show. It’s just as much fun to watch a DJ and hear him play all the tunes you love than go­ing to a show by an artist who has only one song that you like. Why put up with a bor­ing show for just that one song?”

No such prob­lems with White’s shows. Any­one who caught her at last year’s Elec­tric Pic­nic will have been left shaken and breath­less by her colour­ful, en­er­getic per­for­mance.

“I can be the most out­go­ing per­son you’d ever meet but I can also be painfully shy,” she says. “The stage is the one place where I don’t have that. I get on and it’s like wow. I love cre­at­ing a show that feels like the mu­sic, that has that en­ergy and phys­i­cal­ity. The show needs to be worth com­ing to be­cause so many shows aren’t, which is why peo­ple go to watch DJS.

“When peo­ple come to my show, I want to leave them shaken.”

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