Santigold On The Art Of Getting Shrink Wrapped
Ever since her debut album, Santogold, dropped in 2008, Santigold has served as the gold standard for eclectic artists. The famously stylish musician has never stuck to any one genre, moving from ska to new wave to reggae with ease. Philly-born and Brooklyn-based, the artist is a poster girl for cool, an icon in the making. She’s too cool. Scarily cool. Even her baby is cool!
Santigold, born Santi White, is beloved by fans and critics alike—her newest LP, 99¢ (out February 26th) is one of the most highly anticipated albums of 2016. So we were thrilled to find out that she was a headlining performer at the Milk Makeup launch. We met up in advance of her killer performance, Santi decked out in a fantastic Vision Streetwear sweatshirt.
I was nervous. I did not tell Santi (pronounced like aunt, not ant) that I was once kicked out of a high school parking lot for blaring “My Superman” too loudly. It seemed too gauche. I kept worrying that I would mispronounce her name or spill on her sweatshirt or knock something over. But despite my clearly frazzled nerves, Santi was as warm as could be. She hugged me. I will treasure it.
Read on to hear her thoughts about Botox, music streaming, and our mutually favorite Southern restaurant.
I loved the fake infomercial that you released for “Chasing Shadows.” What do you think of products that are designed to “improve people,” to “make them beautiful just like you,” as you say in the video?
Well I think “beautiful just like me” is weird, you know what I mean? I have a problem with a fixed idea of what beautiful looks like. Right now, we have a certain idea of what beauty is that’s been shoved down our throats for so long. People just buy into it so much that you literally can’t make it that big without getting a certain nose. There used to be such diversity in what beauty looks like—I mean not necessarily in Hollywood or anything, but at least on the street! But now there’s not. Somebody was telling me that in their 16-year-old’s class, almost everyone had a nose job. That’s scary information. I do have a problem with pushing one ideal beauty look on people.
“People just buy into [beauty standards] so much that you literally can’t make it that big without getting a certain nose.”
But as far as beauty products, I’m all for something that gets rid of dark circles, or wrinkles, or lines, or something. I’m not into Botox and all that stuff. I know other people swear by it and I’m not against it necessarily, but I haven’t done it. I’m not thinking I will, just because I’m a healthy person and I don’t like the idea of putting poison in my face. Something that’s like a paralyzing negative reaction, I don’t think long-term that’s a good thing. And I just wonder what the long-term effect of all the beauty work is that everyone’s doing. Sometimes even the short-term isn’t good. I like when someone’s face looks like a real face, as you see this is how I roll.
HD is the real problem. I don’t think we should be using that. I think it’s a disservice to everyone, and I think it makes people feel bad about themselves where they don’t need to. I think if we got some camera and some lighting, I don’t think people would be doing all this crazy shit to themselves. I’ll have a photo shoot and think I look great and then I’ll see the harsh white light, LED lights, HD, and be like, “Oh my God I look terrible!” and they’re like, “Don’t worry, we’ll Photoshop it!” But if you just got some good lights and a different camera we really wouldn’t need Photoshop as much. But at the same time, it’s technology that really helps sometimes and so everything in moderation. I really do believe in sleep and hydration as the main beauty ingredient. I heard that meditation takes years and years off. I haven’t had enough time to meditate lately, but I do believe in stuff like that as the forever beauty product.
What was it like to work with [photographer] Haruhiko Kawaguchi on the 99¢ cover? What was it like to be sealed up in a plastic bag?
Awesome. First of all, it was his first trip to New York and he was just so professional, you can tell he has really just mastered that technique. And you know it’s kind of scary to climb into a bag and shrink-wrap yourself literally, but I’m all for it. I was like, “What do I do?!” and he’s like, “Don’t worry, I count to ten, and by the number ten, the air is back in the bag.” And he literally takes one shot every time so it’s very much like set up, pose, take the air out of the bag, count to ten, hold your breath, he’s like “boop,” and the air is back in the bag. It was really really fun. For a photo shoot it’s a new and fresh approach, and I loved it.
There’s so many types of producers on the album, like Dave Sitek and Rostam Batmanglij, and so many different styles. What type of music can we expect from you? You’ve always played with a lot of genres.
Yeah, I think that’s what the Santigold sound is. It’s kind of like a collage sound of all different genres within a song, and I think this album holds true to that. I got some new elements in there, like there’s more African influence than there’s ever been in a couple songs. A little bit of R&B, which I’ve never done, and a little hip-hop and punk-rock. It’s nothing that you wouldn’t expect, but everything that you wouldn’t expect at the same time.
You directed the “Who Be Lovin’ Me” video with iLoveMakonnen. What was that experience like?
I’ve directed videos before. It’s great because ultimately you know what you’re getting, and it’s really hard because there are so many things to focus on, especially in a festival where you’re performing. Because it was a festival there were so many things that were spontaneous, which ended up being the most fascinating and wonderful thing because we got stuff that I couldn’t even imagine.
The beginnings of your career were in A&R [talent scouting and overseeing musician development]. What was it like going from A&R to being a performer? Was it a natural transition?
No, not really. Well kind of sort of natural, because I didn’t really plan it and it just happened. So in that way it was natural, but it’s a completely different tool set. But I think that’s one of the things that I look for. I really am one of those people who would just get really bored doing the same thing all the time, and I think I was feeling really stifled by working in the record industry. It was totally wrong for me. And I realized it very fast, and then I started songwriting for other people, and then I just wanted to hear my songs exactly the way that I wanted to hear them, which knowing myself now as a songwriter makes perfect sense.
Writing songs for other people is fine, but that’s as long as I can write for myself too, because then you get to make the art that you’re actually dreaming of. So that’s what it was. It wasn’t like, “Oh I want to be a performer,” it was the need for the art to be exactly what I was hearing. Singing has lead me all over the place, from being a performer, a musician, and a recording artist, to directing my videos, to doing the artwork to doing choreography to styling. It’s all driven by this vision that I want to see [things] exactly as I imagine [them], and it’s not like, “Oh I want to be this now or I want to be that now.” I just want to get the art the way I want it to be.
You’ve commented on streaming controversies, basically saying that you understand why it appeals to the consumer, but that it hurts the artist. What is the ideal way that you would want to distribute your music?
I mean honestly, I just want to be compensated for it. If we can dream a new future-based way to do it, that could work. I mean, I’m not mad at new technology. I’m not one of those people who’s like, “We must stick to the old way.” I’m all for forward thinking, but it just has to be realistic and compensate the artist for their work. I think it’s crazy to have an insane full-time job making products that you are then forced to give away. And then you have to hustle up money on the side, and do all these brand things to even exist as an artist. You know, it’s weird.
“I think it’s crazy to have an insane full-time job making products that you are then forced to give away.”
And to spend so much time on marketing and on the business side of it and trying to make ends meet, you don’t get to spend that much time on the art, and I really think that the art is suffering. I just want it to be fair. Think of it this way: what if you’re a designer, and you’re full-time designing clothes, and then it’s not your choice and someone’s like, “Ok we’re giving it out for free, now go find some money so you can keep making these clothes because we need more clothes for next season.”
That’s a perfect analogy. To finish on a lighter note, I read that you like Pies n’ Thighs [a southern restaurant in New York]. I also love Pies n’ Thighs! What do you like to get there?
[Laughs] I like the catfish sandwich, the fish n’ grits with the hot sauce, and the biscuits with the pepper jelly.
99¢ will be released February 26th. It’s available for preorder here.
Stay tuned to Milk for more music coverage.