Music Interviews
2:47 pm
Mon May 7, 2012

Santigold: Playing Around With A Top 40 Sound

Originally published on Thu May 10, 2012 1:14 pm

For the last decade, Santi White has worn many hats in the music industry: talent scout, songwriter for hire, producer. But ever since the release of her debut album four years ago, the singer known as Santigold has enjoyed the spotlight as an artist.

White says her time spent in other areas of the music industry helped her form her own sound.

"I think that the pop writing that I've done gives me a really solid structure," White says. "Also, the sensibility of making a hook that really is going to be something that's going to stay in your head, something that's accessible. But in my own music, within that structure, I really play around."

Santigold's music has pop leanings, but it doesn't exactly fit into current conventions for Top 40 radio; she's even been called a "pop icon in waiting." This poses a challenge for the singer, who says that expanding the pop canon is a priority in her music.

"I think it's a really strange time for music right now, because I feel like the lane has become so narrow for what we consider pop music, and what's playable on the radio and Top 40," White says. "I'm hoping to knock down the walls and broaden the lane a little bit more for music that's pop music at the heart of it. Because it's a lot more work and there are a lot less avenues, and you have to find creative ways to get your music heard."

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish and this is a new song off the latest album from pop artist Santigold.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DISPARATE YOUTH")

SANTIGOLD: (Singing) Don't look ahead. There's stormy weather, another roadblock in our way, but if we go, we go together.

CORNISH: In the last two decades, Santigold has worn a lot of hats in the music industry. College intern, talent scout, songwriter for hire, producer, but since her debut album four years ago, Santigold has enjoyed the spotlight as the artist, center stage.

Her latest album is called "Master of My Make-Believe." Recently, she explained to us why she got into the business behind the scenes.

SANTIGOLD: I was interested in it because I thought it was a creative job that, you know - in music, which is what - I always was so interested in music, but I never was interested at all in being a performer. It was such a hard process for me because, you know, I was writing songs the way that I wanted to hear them, but when another artist sings them, they come out obviously different.

That actually is what led me to start singing and doing my own music. But then, after that, I got some opportunities to write for other people and I think because I have my own music, I didn't feel a need for it to be exactly what I would do.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SANTIGOLD: (Singing) (Unintelligible).

It's interesting because it's almost like I think of it as going to the gym. You know what I mean? Or, like, practicing your instrument, especially nowadays because pop music is such a specific formula.

CORNISH: Is there a song on this album that you think sort of shows off your songwriting chops from those days, a kind of pop writing?

SANTIGOLD: Well, I think that the pop writing that I've done - it gives me a really solid structure. You know, there's like verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, you know. Also, the sensibility of, like, making a hook that really is going to be, you know, something that stays in your head, something that's accessible. But then, in my own music, within that structure, then I really play around.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THIS ISN'T OUR PARADE")

SANTIGOLD: (Singing) I hear you calling. I'm reaching you my hand. I can hear you now. I can hear you calling. And I say, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, won't you come down? Won't you come down? And I say, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey.

CORNISH: I find I walk away from this song with that little, hey, hey, hey stuck in my head for the rest of the day.

SANTIGOLD: That's good. That's good.

CORNISH: Tell me a little bit about this tune.

SANTIGOLD: There's two types of songs for me. It's like one that writes itself pretty much immediately, like I sang this melody out of my mouth exactly as it is first time. You know, and the lyrics came in, like, 10 minutes. It's just one of those songs that's so personal, it's just like cathartic - the process is. You know, so it's just kind of like a journal entry and it's really emotional.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

SANTIGOLD: (Singing) (Unintelligible).

CORNISH: What's the other type of song?

SANTIGOLD: The other type of song is a song that takes three months to get the lyrics down and then you piece it together and it's not right and you just work and work and work until finally, one day, it's finished, you know, which is a whole different process. It's more of a - you know, I don't know if you ever do any kind of artwork. It's like some things are just so...

CORNISH: I certainly get writer's block.

SANTIGOLD: Yeah.

CORNISH: I don't know if that's what you're talking about.

SANTIGOLD: You know, and it - well, it's writer's block and it's just maybe an idea that's forming as you're doing it, you know, and it keeps changing and you keep getting closer and then you rip away one layer and add something different, so, like, some things take a really long time and some things are just so immediate and so straight from the heart. And this song was the kind that's just like - it came out exactly as it was meant to be.

CORNISH: You talk about writing these songs and it being very personal to you and there are some lyrics that do sound very personal, and I'm thinking of the song "God From the Machine," where the lyrics sound like sort of the talk you give yourself in the mirror.

SANTIGOLD: Yeah. It's a total pep talk song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOD FROM THE MACHINE")

SANTIGOLD: (Singing) You can make alone if you try (unintelligible) come home. I know you sing it. You can make alone if you try (unintelligible) 'til you make it home.

You know, in literature, when the author just, like, puts himself in the story and talks to you and so - and I'm thinking of Kurt Vonnegut. I think it's "Breakfast of Champions" and he's the main character sitting in a bar and this guy is staring at him and it's actually Kurt Vonnegut and he's like, you're afraid you're going to end up like your mother.

You know, they're talking about his mother had committed suicide and it had nothing to do with the story, but I totally got where - he's like, where are you taking this story? You know, and so that just resonated with me and the first thing that came out of my head was like, you can make it alone. I was trying to change the lyrics forever, but I couldn't change it and I was like that's because that's what this song's supposed to be saying.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOD FROM THE MACHINE")

SANTIGOLD: (Singing) You can make it alone if you try. 'Til the day you come home, I know you sing it. You can make it alone if you try. (Unintelligible) 'til you make it out.

CORNISH: You talked about striving in the industry and I'm curious about what it's been like for you because you don't fit into the kind of R&B pop diva image that's out there now or even with all of the genre-hopping kind of disco queens that are out there, for lack of a better term. But big artists are using similar influences as you are, but you seem to take it in a different place.

SANTIGOLD: Yeah. It's a challenge because I think it's a really strange time for music right now because I feel like the lane has become so narrow for what we consider pop music and what's playable on the radio and what's, like, top 40. I'm hoping to sort of knock down the walls and broaden the lane a little bit more for music that is pop music, actually, at the heart of it and it's just kind of refreshing. It tries new things and talks about different things and it's a challenge.

Sometimes, I have to sing the song to myself. You know, keep going. Keep going. You're doing something important because - I don't know. It's a lot more work and it's a lot - sort of less avenues and you have to find creative ways to get your music heard.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE KEEPERS")

SANTIGOLD: (Singing) We're the keepers while we sleep in America. Our house is burning down. Our house is burning. We're the keepers while we sleep in America. Our house is burning down.

CORNISH: Santigold. Her latest album is called "Master of My Make-Believe." She joined us from the NPR studios in New York. Santigold, thank you for talking with us.

SANTIGOLD: Oh, thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE KEEPERS")

SANTIGOLD: (Singing) Our house is burning down. Our house is burning down. Down, down, it's burning down. Down, down, it's burning down. Down, down, it's burning down.

BLOCK: This is NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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