Santigold/ interview by black dog bone

Santigold/ interview by black dog bone photo by craig wetherby

A LOT of times you are compared to M.I.A. You are very different from each other, but both are female artists that are doing something different. Both are doing music that’s related to Hip Hop, and you’re not coming across as sex objects like a lot of female artists out there.


There are not enough female artists, especially women of color, that are pushing boundaries and trying to do something new and musical and artistic and creative. So there’s a camaraderie among those of us who are.


It’s exciting to see this new movement of women artists. You have a unique sound and incorporate many different styles. I love the CD you did with Diplo “Top Rankin Dub”.


And Bad Brains, Punk Rock…I grew up listening to all that music. I grew up listening to Rock and Hip Hop and Reggae and all kinds of stuff. My Dad was a real music collector and he listened to mostly Jazz and Reggae and Soul, or like Fela and World music. So I listened to that. He took me to see James Brown and Fela Kuti when I was really little. I grew up in a house where music was really appreciated. Then my older sister listened to a lot of Rock. She was into Bad Brains and Punk Rock, and she listened to classic Rock like Jimi Hendrix and the Doors or Led Zeppelin and Joni Mitchell. And at school, I went to a mostly White school, a private school. People were listening to The Cure and Slits and Talking Heads and stuff like that. So I knew all that music. And then I knew Hip Hop cause everybody in my neighborhood was into Hip Hop. I was listening to Salt-N-Pepa and LL Cool J and all that stuff. As a child I had the opportunity to get exposed to a lot of different music; I grew up really appreciating different kinds of music.


now people are more willing to take risks. Hip Hop for a long time has been dying because nobody takes risks, everybody does the same thing, wears the same clothes, says the same thing, uses the same producers. It’s just dead. It doesn’t help music grow at all. Finally now some of these artists that are in the forefront are pushing forward and saying, “This shit is cool,” and reaching out and trying to introduce new things into their music. I think that’s gonna help the music overall.


That’s what I like about your music. It’s so broad. I was surprised when I first heard you used to be in a Punk band called Stiffed and worked closely with Bad Brains.


Yeah. They were like my heroes, so it was amazing for me too.

When did you start doing Punk music?


I didn’t even start singing my own stuff until later. As a kid I didn’t really want to be a singer or an artist. I wanted to be an artist, but not in that way. I wanted to make music. I bought some production equipment when I was 15. But it was a hobby. Then I wanted to have my own record label, so when I went to college I started working at Sony at Epic Records. I tried to do that, like I wanted to be a music executive, but then I realized I didn’t like the business side. Then I started songwriting for other artists. I did that for a while, and then finally I started my band Stiffed. That wasn’t until like 8 years ago.


As a songwriter did you play instruments or write lyrics?


I can do a little bit of both. I play a little guitar and bass and keyboards, just enough to write. I’m not good at it, but I can write songs on instrument—I write lyrics and I write melody, I write everything. So I was writing for other artists. I wrote a record for a girl named Res that came out on MCA in 2001. That was the first professional songwriting I did. Since then I’ve written for Lily Allen, Ashlee Simpson and some other artists. That lead me to say actually I want to write songs for myself.


I’m glad you did. I was talking to Diplo earlier and he was talking about you. Are you working with him on the project he and Switch are doing with the Dancehall Reggae artists?


The “Major Lazer” record? I did a song on there with Lexus, it’s called “Hold the Line”. I think it’s going to have two titles, “I’ll Make Ya” and “Hold the Line”. It’s so sick, it’s one my favorite songs that I’ve done recently. I love it, it’s really good. Originally when they started working on that project I went down to Kingston with them. I was in the studio with a bunch of Dancehall artists. As they were putting it together I went there and it was really cool to be able to get on one of the songs.


and Bad Brains, Punk Rock…I grew up listening to all that music. I grew up listening to Rock and Hip Hop and Reggae and all kinds of stuff. My Dad was a real music collector and he listened to mostly Jazz and Reggae and Soul, or like Fela and World music. So I listened to that. He took me to see James Brown and Fela Kuti when I was really little. I grew up in a house where music was really appreciated. Then my older sister listened to a lot of Rock. She was into Bad Brains and Punk Rock, and she listened to classic Rock like Jimi Hendrix and the Doors or Led Zeppelin and Joni Mitchell.



Do you think you’ll work with M.I.A. or Rye Rye in the future?


I’m sure. We all come out of the same crew. We’re all very supportive of each other and involved with each other. Maya and I actually did a song together about a year and a half ago called “Get It Up”; that’s also on the mixtape that I did with Diplo, the “Top Rankin” mixtape.


How did you start working with Diplo? Was it a Philadelphia connection?

No, we have a lot of mutual friends. I met him through my friend Spank Rock. He’s a really good friend of mine, and he introduced me to Diplo.


Also my friend Amanda Blank. It’s just a family of progressive artists who are interested in pioneering some new territory and breaking doing boundaries. Diplo, me, Spank Rock, Amanda Blank, Trouble Andrew, M.I.A., a whole bunch of people.


Where is most of the music going on in Philadelphia?


It’s weird, cause I live in Brooklyn but I’m from Philadelphia. Philadelphia is cheaper to live in than New York so more artists can live there and actually sustain themselves while they’re trying to figure out what it is they want to do. You’re more free to just create and not be all stressed out about how you’re gonna pay your bills in the meantime.

Artists are broke most of the time, so it’s good to have a city that’s easier on you. I moved back to Philly when I started my band Stiffed. I lived there while I was trying to figure some stuff out. I had the space and there’s a lot of musicians, there’s a lot of great musicians in Philadelphia. I do find that Philadelphia’s a bit conservative though. You can come up with cool stuff while you’re there, but then once you have something cool you have to leave Philadelphia because there’s no music industry there. Also people are more open in New York. Even though we’re all from Philly I didn’t meet Diplo or anybody until I came to New York. New York is where everybody has to come to make something jump off. Then once you blow up in New York, then people in Philly start paying attention. It’s an interesting phenomena. Philly is a great place to cultivate new ideas, but if you want to make something with that you’ve got to leave.


and at school, I went to a mostly White school, a private school. People were listening to The Cure and Slits and Talking Heads and stuff like that. So I knew all that music. And then I knew Hip Hop cause everybody in my neighborhood was into Hip Hop. I was listening to Salt-N-Pepa and LL Cool J and all that stuff. As a child I had the opportunity to get exposed to a lot of different music; I grew up really appreciating different kinds of music.


What is the difference between the Baltimore sound and what you’re doing?


What I’m doing is very different from the Baltimore sound. There’s not much Baltimore sound in my music at all. Spank Rock is from Baltimore, so he’s got more of that influence. Him and Alex, that’s XXXchange the one he did the first record with. They’re from Baltimore, so there’s more of that Baltimore sound in their music. I like the Baltimore sound, and that’s in my music. As far as Bass music and Club music, there is some of that in my music. Baltimore music is way more specific, my music is more broad. My music actually blends so many different styles together that I don’t think it fits into any specific category. It’s got some Dub and it’s got some Electronic, some Punk Rock, some Reggae. I can’t really see it even being called Club music at all.


It would be cool if you did a whole album of cover songs, like of Post-Punk artists like The Slits, Fall, Gang of Four, Joy Division. And with Diplo producing it.


What’s interesting about Diplo is he comes more from a DJ background. So when he works with me it’s fun because he’s never actually worked with a real songwriter before. I write Pop songs, and I write with instruments. I wrote most of my record with a guy named John Hill. John and I both come from more of a Rock background. As far as how I approach the songwriting, it’s more Pop song structures. So with someone like Diplo, that was his first time working with artists that make songs like that. Diplo’s the type of producer that’s more track based, which is not what I do. He actually didn’t work on that much of my record, he worked on “Unstoppable” and he worked with John and I on a couple of other tracks. What I’m sayin is, I’d rather bring Diplo in once I’ve already written a song. Maybe I’d start with him, but I don‘t know about doing a whole Rock record with him cause he comes from a whole different sensibility. That’s what’s cool about him and about working with him or somebody like Switch, which comes from a House music background. He is all about crazy sounds, like comin up with sounds that you’ve never heard before. Or choppin up vocals and makin the vocals become sort of like instruments. What’s cool about those two workin together is that everybody’s got different strengths. The same thing when they came to work on my project with John and I—they brought some of that sensibility to what we were doing. It’s all of working together to step outside of our comfort zones that creates the new fresh sound. I don’t think that any of us inherently would come up with that same sound by ourselves.


I understand. You come from that Rock/Punk background where you use a guitar or bass to write a song, with chord structures. Then when Diplo or Switch come in they cut it up and make Techno/Tribal club records. What are you working on now?


I’m about to go on another US tour, then another Europe tour, and then I’m done touring for a while. Then I’m gonna start workin on my next record.


When you perform what type of audience do you get? Is it more of a Rap audience or a Rock audience?


It’s a really mixed audience because it’s a little bit of everything for all different people. I really have a diverse audience, which I like. A lot of people come from the Indie background. And then with these collaborations I’ve been doing like the song with Jay Z (“Brooklyn We Go Hard”), that opened up a whole new audience. Then the mix with Lil Wayne, and Three 6 Mafia did a mix of one of my songs—that really brought me into the Hip Hop world more. I’m doin a song with Ferrell and Julian Casablanca for the Converse thing. And I did the song with N.E.R.D. and that’s more Pop. I feel like over the course of the year my audience has been becoming more and more broad.


what I’m sayin is, I’d rather bring Diplo in once I’ve already written a song. Maybe I’d start with him, but I don‘t know about doing a whole Rock record with him cause he comes from a whole different sensibility. That’s what’s cool about him and about working with him or somebody like Switch, which comes from a House music background. He is all about crazy sounds, like comin up with sounds that you’ve never heard before. Or choppin up vocals and makin the vocals become sort of like instruments. What’s cool about those two workin together is that everybody’s got different strengths.


I feel like we need more people like you and M.I.A. in the Hip Hop world. As a woman and as an artist in general, you are an inspiration. You show that you don’t have to just sell sex to be a successful in music. It’s all about the music. We don’t have enough people who have a passion for music—it’s not just business for you.


Right. It’s interesting to watch what’s going on with Hip Hop right now. People like T.I. and Jay Z and Lil Wayne, people that are respected, are taking a risk in working with artists like us, people that are doing something different. That’s doing good things for the state of Hip Hop, cause now people are more willing to take risks. Hip Hop for a long time has been dying because nobody takes risks, everybody does the same thing, wears the same clothes, says the same thing, uses the same producers. It’s just dead. It doesn’t help music grow at all. Finally now some of these artists that are in the forefront are pushing forward and saying, “This shit is cool,” and reaching out and trying to introduce new things into their music. I think that’s gonna help the music overall.


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