Hit the Lip: Santigold

The badass genre-wrangler jams in Jamaica on long-awaited sophomore album.

Tuneage // Cristina Black // 03/01/12
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"The most important thing I learned was to trust myself in a way I never had before." —Santigold
Sean Thomas
"The most important thing I learned was to trust myself in a way I never had before." —Santigold

Your first album came out almost four years ago! Why has it taken so long to squeeze another one out of you?
So many artists nowadays bang ‘em out, but my music isn’t the kind of music you can make really fast. I toured for two years, 2008 and 2009, so I didn’t really get started until 2010. So it took me a year and a half to make this record, which doesn’t seem that crazy.

I guess it isn’t that long, but now we’re used to getting music, and everything else, fast.
It’s just a new era. The big pop stars can do it faster, but they don’t have that much of a creative process. People hand them songs that are already written and they sing them.

Do you do everything yourself?
I am involved with every detail, much to the annoyance of everyone who works with me! For this album, I worked with a lot of different people, but I was the one, at the end of the day, who had to walk away and piece everything together. It was hard, but I think I grew a lot as an artist. The most important thing was I learned to trust myself in a way I never had before.

Is that why you called the album Master of My Make Believe?
Yeah. It’s about me taking ownership of my creative reality.

You recorded part of it in Jamaica, right?
I went to this studio called Geejam. It’s really secluded and just beautiful. The Blue Lagoon was shot there. There are all these places on the beach where the ocean meets freshwater springs. It was just so inspiring. Like, one day, I went out on this boat, and we were just flying over the waves. It was kind of dangerous. I was holding onto the rail and my whole body was just flying up and down. There was this little radio on the boat playing an old reggae song, like so distorted. It was so blown out and all I could hear was that and the sound of the waves. It stuck with me. I went back there to shoot the video for “Disparate Youth.”

Your music mixes up an insane range of genres, but am I hearing a lot of ska?
Ska, not so much. Punk and reggae, yes. I grew up listening to Jamaican music. I love the vocal delivery. It’s similar to the African stuff I like, especially the women who sing with, like, Fela Kuti. It’s very rhythmic. The vocals go with the drums. So all my melodies come from the drums and bass. You can hear that especially on my chatty songs, like “Big Mouth.” Even on the ballads I have these crazy drums!

You worked with West Coast producer Greg Kurstin on a couple songs. I heard he played bottles as percussion.
Yeah, yeah! On “The Riot’s Gone.”

Whose idea was that?
I think it was mine! I said something about the song needing a bottle sound, and he said, “Well, I just so happen to be the best bottle player in L.A.!” We had weird good chemistry like that.

You must have a massive music collection. Do you go through phases?
Not really. Nowadays, you can get so crazy listening to music on the Internet for hours. It used to be, like in the ‘90s, you’d go to a record store and get a record and listen to the whole thing and read all the lyrics and it was amazing. Top to bottom! You don’t see that happening much anymore. And it takes the joy out of it. So I’m still trying to make music that you can listen to that way and maybe that’s why it takes me so long, because I’m trying to make a record. Not that I don’t want a hit single, but I want more than that, you know?

Master of My Make Believe is out April 24 on Atlantic Records
Santigold plays Coachella April 15 and 22

Originally published in April/May 2012

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