After blowing up in 2008 on the strength of her self-titled debut and its single “L.E.S. Artistes,” Santigold will return this fall with her yet-to-be-titled second effort. And while it features some famous guests, including Karen O and Nick Zinner from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Dave Sitek from TV on the Radio, the LP is really defined by solitude, Santigold tells SPIN.
“My lyrics end up being very much about what I’m personally going through, and I felt really alone on this record,” she says. “Last time I had writing partners. But this time it was just me. And that was really hard.”
Following the release of her debut, the 34-year-old born Santi White hit the road for nearly two years. When she returned to start work on the LP in early 2010, she was “totally exhausted and had not written anything yet,” she says. She was also unsure of her songwriting skills: “I had to find my way back to the place where my inspiration comes from,” she explains. “It was like, ‘Am I good at writing songs?’ And there was nobody to be like, ‘Yeah!'”
One new track, “God From the Machine,” is inspired by a plot device used in Greek plays, called deus ex machina, in which a problem is suddenly solved by an unexpected intervention. In this case, it’s Santigold stepping into her own life to solve her own problems. “It’s me talking to myself,” she says. “It’s a pep talk song. The chorus is, ‘You can make it alone if you try!’ It took me three months to finish those lyrics. At first I was like, ‘I can’t say that.’ Finally I was like, ‘It’s not the most creative lyric, but it’s the one.'”
“I had to reestablish a creative confidence,” she adds. “And now I feel stronger than ever.”
Another track, “Freak Like Me,” is about self acceptance. “I watch TV and all the Real Housewives and Kardashians shows are shocking to me. It’s upsetting. Everyone has plastic surgery. Everyone’s fighting and trying to win the affection of some guy. But everyone’s a freak, you know? I’ve never been in the mainstream with my style or choices. So I wanted to write a song about us all being freaks.”
“The Riot’s Gone” is deeply personal jam. “It’s getting out a bunch of anger inside about the death of my dad,” she says. She matched its fiery emotion with an “epic” sound, a musical theme on the LP, layering her vocals “into my own choir,” she says, and having the Bird and the Bee’s Greg Kurstin play percussion on a glass bottle to match a marimba sound. “It’s really grand. It’s my way of painting a musical landscape. These songs are multi-layered and ambitious sounding, like a Peter Gabriel epic.”
“This Isn’t Our Parade,” a ballad featuring guitar work from YYY’s Zinner, “is a sad song. It’s about a relationship that’s problematic,” she explains. “You can’t get through to the person for whatever reason, and you accept that it’s not going to happen.”
Early in 2011, Santigold signed a management deal with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation management company, and when she played her new songs for her new boss, he called the material “epic” and “important,” says Santi.
The partnership with Roc Nation is an important one for her: “The music business has changed so much, and a lot of labels haven’t changed with it. It’s still the traditional model — make a record, then tour, make a record, then tour. But there are a lot of exciting ways to build a career and you need to be open to a non-traditional path.”
“I have ambitions beyond music,” she adds, “and since Jay has had success in so many places, Roc Nation thinks in that way.” She adds that she’s been working on a movie with Community star and hot rapper Donald Glover (aka, Childish Gambino).
But now she’s focusing on finishing the record (“It’s two weeks away,” she says) and her upcoming tour, which kicks off in two weeks in Europe, then heads stateside. “Everyone comes and works on this album,” she says of her famous guests, “but I’m the constant. The album has its own unique sound — my sound.”