It’s been just over a decade since Santigold first introduced us to her eclectic, genre-blending sound with her debut album, Santogold.
Since then, the effortlessly cool musician has continued to blow minds (and speakers) with her innovative songwriting and soulful sampling of everything from dancehall to hip hop and funk. But before her career as a solo artist, Santigold was the lead singer of a Philly-based punk band called Stiffed. Earlier still, she was lending her hand-drumming expertise to a short-lived college band that shall remain nameless. Despite a mystical psychic telling her otherwise, Santigold never imagined she’d be touring the world as a solo performing artist. But when you see her light up the Amphitheatre stage tonight, you won’t be able to imagine it any other way.
Hey Santi! I just spent some time listening to some old Stiffed songs this morning, and I know it was a long time ago, but do you ever miss being in a punk band?
Oh god! Yeah, I do actually. It was so fun to perform in that band because it was just pure raw energy. There were no in-ears, no monitors—I would just jump around on stage and it was so raw. Times have changed so much, back then there were no costumes, we were doing all the choreography, and it was so free. I felt limited though because now I can do any kind of music I want and it totally fits! Like reggae, African music, hip hop, and just everything that I ever liked which is ultimately way more satisfying because I won’t ever get bored, y’know?
Yeah, you’re living the dream. You’ve been pretty vocal in the last few years about social media and the falsehoods it perpetuates. As a parent bringing up kids in the age of smartphones, what’s your plan to navigate all that?
Man, I’m doing a really bad job. My 15-month-old already knows how to, like, swipe the phone! But I do my best. It’s really hard because it’s such a part of every day. For me to be like, ‘Don’t be on your phone!’ and then everything I do be on my phone, even though I’m just going through emails, it’s hard for them to understand. My son is like, ‘I wanna play video games!’ and I’m like, ‘You can’t play video games, you’re five! Learn how to read first!’
I can’t imagine growing up with iPhones around, it’s crazy.
Yeah, it’s a real challenge, and I see a lot of the teenagers that I know are struggling with depression which I think is very much related to being on screens all the time and not having as many real-life experiences and social interactions. And the whole thing about always comparing yourself and your life to this doctored-up version of everyone else’s, I know it has a really bad effect on the development of a person. I can’t imagine having come up and having to navigate that.
What about phones at your concerts? Would you rather your audience put down their phones during your set?
I don’t care what they do in the audience, but when I invite them up on stage to come up and dance and I end up with a camera phone in my face, like in-between my mic and my mouth, then I tend to slap peoples phones out of their hands ‘cause I’m like, no. If you wanna record it just stay down there, but if you want to have fun and actually have an experience and be part of the experience, I just want people to be in the moment, y’know?
You released your mixtape, I Don’t Want: The Gold Fire Sessions, out of nowhere last year. How long in advance did you know you were going to drop it?
Um, maybe a month? I had recorded most of it the summer before and then there were two weeks before I moved to LA from New York where I was like, ‘Let me do this mixtape real quick.’ So I went in with Dre Skull for two weeks, and we ended up writing all these new songs, so I was like, this isn’t really a mixtape; it’s an album. So I had one or two songs to finish and then I moved to LA and found out I was pregnant like a week and a half after I got here. Then I found out I was having twins and my whole world flipped upside down. So when I was about nine months pregnant I thought, ‘I have to finish this project before I disappear into baby world.’ I was nine months pregnant recording myself in a room with mattresses around the walls to make it soundproof, and I finished days before I had the babies.
After just spending 24-hours with my friend and her four-month-old twins, you guys are my new heroes.
[Laughs] Oh my god, it’s so hard, right? It’s crazy.
I wanted to talk about your stage outfits because they are insane. How do you come up with what to wear each tour?
A lot of times I base them off of the concept of what I’m doing, like last time it was all about consumption and so I had my dancers come out drinking Gatorade—do you guys have Gatorade?
Yeah! Gatorade has made it all the way down here.
[Laughs] Okay, so they were drinking Gatorade and eating cheese puffs instead of dancing, that was the choreography. I just love to play around with the concepts with the visuals, whether it’s a dance or an outfit or a video. Y’know all those gold jewellery stores that buy and sell gold jewellery? Last time I just made a dress that said ‘We Buy Gold’, like I’m for sale. This time, we just did a short anniversary tour for my first record and I hadn’t worn gold in a long time, so I wore all gold. But I wanted a James Brown cape so I made one that says ‘So Damn Gold’ on it and it’s just playful. I love fashion and I love art so they end up kind of being a blend of both.
Do you know what you’ll be wearing at Splendour yet?
I mean, sorry to let the cat out of the bag but I’m pretty sure I’m going to wear something gold!
Speaking of that spate of shows you did for the 10 Years Golder Tour, how do you keep those songs fresh and fun to play after so long?
They’re the easiest because they are just in our bodies at this point. Most of my band and a couple of my dancers have been doing this together for the whole ten years so it’s like auto-pilot, those songs. But like, before, how you mentioned Stiffed—I was working on something with someone recently who referenced one or two Stiffed songs and I was like, ‘What song is that? Is that a Stiffed song or something?’ And I listened to it and it was almost like I hadn’t heard the song before. And then there are some songs on later Santigold albums that I don’t play almost ever. I was actually getting food a month ago and a song came on in the store and I was like, ‘What is this song again? I love this song!’ and then I realised it was me. Luckily I didn’t say it out loud, but it was a song I completely didn’t recognise and had forgot about.
Jay Z recently dropped a decade-old track he did with you called ‘Brooklyn Go Hard.’ How many collabs do you think you’ve done in your career, if you had to guess?
Quite a few! That’s one of my favourite parts about making music—I love collaborating. Especially being a solo artist, I never would have imagined that I’d be a solo artist. Actually, I went to a psychic once when I was in college and I was in this band for about two weeks—I played hand drums because that’s what I majored in in college—
I was a music major but my instrument was hand drums, so I played Haitian drums, West African drums, and traditional drums. When I was in this band, we went to a psychic together but each had separate sessions and she told me, ‘This band’s not gonna work out for you, but I see you on album covers, like lots of them, all over the world, but by yourself.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, right, okay.’ Because in my mind, at that time, there was no fucking way that I would ever do that. I never wanted to be a singer, a performer, I couldn’t even fathom that. Honestly, when she said it to me, it scared the shit out of me. And yet here I am.
Whoa. Have you ever gone back to her?
No! I haven’t. I don’t even remember her name. But I mean she was good, obviously, right?