When Santigold released her self-titled debut, Barack Obama was still trying to win the Democratic nomination, pop singers didn’t work with underground producers like Diplo, and the woman born Santi White was still calling herself Santogold. But just as Santigold didn’t seem to care about the barrier between the electro night at the dance hall and Blondie appreciation night at the punk dive, she let other people stress that she was out of the spotlight too long. It’s not like anyone could forget about her.
After a few years of touring, charity work and guest spots with the Beastie Boys , Major Lazer and the Lonely Island, Santigold recently released her sophomore album Master of My Make-Believe. It features a murder’s row — nay, a murder’s battalion — of boldfaced knob twiddlers (David Sitek, Diplo, Q-Tip, John Hill, Nick Zinner, Greg Kurstin) contributing colorful beats, but Santigold never sounds at risk of getting lost in the production gambit. Master is vibrant, often-defiant follow-up to her debut, but as she told Hive, it took her some time to get in to the right headspace to make Believe.
So it’s been a few years since your debut album. Did you ever worry that you had to hurry it up before people forgot about you?
Well the thing is I was actually on tour for two years. So even though everyone is saying that now, I wasn’t out of the public eye until the end of 2009. Then I started touring again at the beginning of 2011, so there was one year that I was out of the public eye. You know? So I wasn’t worried, but it seems like the press was. “Four years is an infinity!” But I don’t know, I had an opportunity to tour for two years, and it’s really important to me to develop a real fanbase, especially nowadays when people’s taste in music is so fickle, I’m really glad that I spent so much time on the road.
How long were you working on Master of My Make Believe?
I worked on it for about a year and a half. I started on it in January 2010, and most of the record was done by the end of 2010, but then there were label hold ups. I wasn’t sure what label it was coming out on, so I just started touring again. And maybe I added three more songs in 2011, and by the time I was done the record had been upstreamed to Atlantic, and it was time to go. And then of course there’s always set up. Once you hand in the record it takes about it takes about five months for it to come out.
You’ve talked a bit how it took you a while to get in to the right zone before you could make the album. Were you suffering from writer’s block or a lack of confidence before you went in to this?
Well, I was helming this project by myself, where last time I felt like John Hill was my partner. So even though I was working with so many producers, I didn’t have any one constant who was in it with me, not even an engineer who I was moving around with. It took a lot of confidence and it took a lot of trust in my own vision for what I wanted the record to be, and sometimes it would be hard, because you would be isolated as you tried to put it together. I started meditating, which I think is great, because I immediately felt calm and confident, and it helps you to connect with the source of your creativity. And even your dreams become more vivid, and I get so many ideas when I’m coming in to or out of sleep, so meditation really helped me. I had just been on the road for two years, and as soon as I was done I went off and climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise awareness for clean water initiatives and then went to Ethiopia to visit refuge camps for a documentary and then I went straight from Ethiopia straight to a studio in L.A. with [producer] Switch without a moment down, so there wasn’t any time to process any of what had been going for the past couple of years of how I had grown or what I had to say. I guess my expectations were, “Oh this will be easy, I’ll just jump right in to making the record.” But really I just needed a moment to hear what was inside my head, so me being impatient with myself, I called it writer’s block but really I just needed a moment to process what I had done and the experiences I’d had, so as soon as I relaxed in to that then it was easy to write.
When you’re working with a diverse group of producers on an album, how do you make sure it comes together as a coherent album and not just a mix of different stuff?
I work with many different people, but really I’m the orchestrator. I pull out of people whatever their talents are that I’m looking for, and I put it in to my own — I don’t know how to phrase it — but I tend to dig for something new. It’s not like I go in and work with a bunch of producers and get each producer’s specific sound on this song, I bring them in to my zone, and have them create something especially for me, and a lot of times I’ll have three different producers working on one track, and I’m the glue that puts it all together. It’s important to know where you’re headed and know what your vision is, so you can use them for their strengths while staying within the lines of what you had in mind.
So what’s with the dancing horse you’ve been bringing on stage?
[Laughs.] Well, I don’t know. Sometimes when I’m coming up with ideas for props, I’ll close my eyes and whatever I see I’ll say, “We need this!” And it just so happened that when we were trying to figure out what to do for “Hold The Line,” I closed my eyes and saw horses and lassos and said, “We need a horse” and everyone said, “What are you talking about?” So next thing I knew I was online looking for horse costumes. And I love horses anyway, they’re one of my favorite animals. So any way I can incorporate a horse, I’m for it.
Santigold’s Master of My Make-Believe Is Out Now Via Atlantic.