Santigold is one of the most interesting artists in this millennium. Her first album, Santogold, came out in 2008 with a sound that music critics couldn’t label. She released her next album, Master of My Make Believe, in May 2012. That proved to be another critically acclaimed, out of the box effort.
For Santi White, the girl behind Santigold, staying true to art of writing songs is critical to her music. Socially and politically charged, she wants to inspire people to change both their lives and the planet. She says she’s working on relaxing more on stage and trying not to be as much of a perfectionist with her performances as she is in the recording studio. Either way, fans will get a rare treat at the Republik Music Festival this Friday when she (and Damian Marley, who we talk to below) takes the stage for her very first Hawaii appearance.
MAUITIME: Did you always know you wanted to be a musician?
SANTIGOLD: I tried a lot of things before the age of 12, from ice skating to tap-dance to karate to field hockey and basketball. I loved music and I would write little songs from the time I was nine, and poems and raps. I didn’t put any special weight on it. It was one of many things I was into. By the time I got into high school, I played guitar, but I never got any good at that. I got some production equipment and then I started to really, really love music as something that I would like to do. I thought I wanted to own a record company. Then as soon as I graduated from high school I interned at a couple of record labels and really learned the business of music. It was clear to me after about three years that that was not what I wanted to do. I wasn’t really interested in the business side–I was more into the creative side. But I never wanted to be a singer or a star. I would try to figure out ways to be involved with music so I didn’t have to do that.
MT: Never wanted to be a star? So how did you end up one?
SANTIGOLD: I thought I wanted to be a songwriter. I started writing songs for other people. I executive produced and wrote a record for an artist called Reese. In 2001, it came out. So after I did that I kinda had a weird experience with that because I liked writing songs, but I didn’t like how once they go through other producers and other singers. They didn’t come out how I heard them in my head. So that’s where it all started. I really want to hear the music and the songs come out the way I hear them in my head. The need to do that is what finally drove me to start performing myself. So I started a band–a new wave punk band called Stiffed and I was in that band for four years. And when that band broke up I started doing my solo project as Santigold.
MT: How do you describe your music?
SANTIGOLD: I always describe my music as collage music. It doesn’t really fit into any category that exists. So I guess I get to make up my own. Basically the name that I call it is more about the process than anything. It’s the approach of taking bits and pieces of all different inspirations throughout my life and putting them together that’s unique to who I am. It’s really fun for me because anything can fit. I don’t have to limit myself as an artist at all. The challenge is to weave it all together in a way that seems whole and complete.
MT: What artists inspire your music?
SANTIGOLD: There are just people who have been favorites throughout my whole life like Devo, Nina Simone, the Smiths, Bad Brains, the Pixies, Siouxsie and the Banshees. I could go on for a really long time.
MT: What were the lessons learned from creating Master of My Make Believe?
SANTIGOLD: Well it was very different from creating my first record. I was at a different place. I had spent two years on the road; I went around the world. The thing that did me the most disservice was the thought that I knew what to expect the second time around. I thought I will just get in with the same producers and bang it out. But it was totally not set at all. I had a different experience with all the same producers I used the first time around, so I ended up working with some new people–thank God, you need some fresh energy.
In my first record, John Hill was my partner through the whole thing. He was staple through the process. But in my second record I was the only constant. So it was a lot of new pressure. I learned how to trust myself creatively and have confidence in a way that I haven’t had to do in the past.
You can’t go into any situation or create a situation expecting the same thing twice. That was a really big lesson I learned. I also had to take a minute to think what I had to say the second time around. When you’re on the road, there’s so much projecting outward. Then you’re supposed to have some new creative thing to say right away but you haven’t spent any time introspectively. You know I had to take time to do that.
MT: Your tour is already over–why come to Hawaii and do a show?
SANTIGOLD: I’ve never played Hawaii. I’ve never done a show in Hawaii. I’m really excited! Honestly, I’m not even touring right now. I’m not making any money on this show. It’s for the love. This show is like I’m just coming because I have never played Hawaii and I really wanted to come and do some shows in Hawaii. These shows are really genuinely out of love.
MT: So what’s next after Hawaii?
SANTIGOLD: [First] I’m gonna stay for a couple of extra days and do some exploring. It doesn’t make any sense to come out to Hawaii and come straight home. [Then] I’m ready to head into the studio and work on my third album. I’m planning to work on the new album as soon as I get back from Hawaii.
MT: What are your must-haves on the road?
SANTIGOLD: Throat coat tea and raw honey. You really don’t think about it but your voice is like an athlete, and you have to keep your muscles right. You have to keep your voice right. And it’s so hard when you’re traveling and you’re not getting rest. You’re on airplanes and getting dehydrated. I have so many throat things, that’s just two of them. I have saline solution inhalers and stuff to keep my voice okay. The other thing is I really like to be comfortable–I’m such a homebody. I love matching pajama sets and slippers and stuff. I usually have like 10 matching pajama sets on tour. Also a good face moisturizer for flying. It’s the little things that make all the difference on tour. It’s boring, but that’s the truth.
MT: Do you write music for yourself?
SANTIGOLD: When you stop writing for yourself, that’s when your music gets bad. Or at least, that’s when it gets short-lived. If I wasn’t writing for myself, there would be no point in me writing music anymore. That’s where the love comes into it. It’s something that I need to do. I wouldn’t feel whole if I didn’t get the opportunity to write music. I also think if it’s worth writing or hearing, then it’s worth saying.
My process is really introspective and cathartic. The things that I work through in my songs are probably helpful to other people because it’s exploring issues that I deal with. My style of writing is like poetry–the lyrics are left open to interpretation.
MT: Who is the master of your Make Believe?
SANTIGOLD: We are all in charge of our reality. We are the rulers of our reality. It’s important that we recognize that and that we claim that. It’s in our power to create the life that we want and the world that we want. I think a lot of people feel powerless right now. Like I said, the process of that record was about me claiming my own power and confidence and trusting myself and I think that that goes beyond the creative process to the world in general.
There are so many crazy things that I don’t want to be our reality, that are going on in the world right now. Especially when I was writing the record. Arab Spring was going on. Crazy weird stuff, dead birds falling out of the sky. I climbed Kilimanjaro and tried to bring awareness of clean water in the world. I was visiting villages that have no water. Women are cutting out their faces and looking like monsters and that’s, like, normal. Have you seen the housewives shows? We are just in a really weird place in the world. It’s important that people feel empowered like they have the possibility of changing that with their own hands, individually.
* * *
It’s not everyday that we get the opportunity to interview someone like Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley. He’s the youngest son of Reggae king Bob Marley, whose music brought so many inspiring messages of freedom, love and unity. To his credit, he seems to have escaped his father’s shadow and forged a unique path. From his debut album Mr. Marley to chart topping hits like “Welcome to Jamrock,” many would agree that this Marley is a great musician in his own right…
MAUITIME: I know you lost your father at a young age. What’s the best advice you received from him?
DAMIAN MARLEY: A lot of the things I know about my father were passed down through my family. I was told family was very important to him. Mother said he was very disciplined. When he worked, that was all he focused on. It was his priority, nothing could break that focus. He had a strong work ethic.
MT: Anything you wish to pass on to your son?
MARLEY: Good manners. I will support whatever he naturally gravitates towards.
MT: How have you handled the pressure that comes with the name Marley?
MARLEY: All I have ever known was being a Marley. I don’t really know what I’m missing out on or anything other than that.
MT: Do you have a favorite song by your dad?
MT: You’ve done collaborations with a number of artist in your career (Nas, Bruno Mars, Skrillex) How do you go about choosing who and what you contribute to musically?
MARLEY: The music dictates the process. It’s what’s current. With someone like Nas it’s different, we’ve done many records. We have common interests and music similarities.
MT: Any new music in the works?
MARLEY: Yes, more from the group [Ghetto Youths International–his record label] than myself. Stephen [Marley] and [label artist] Marshall are coming out with new music. We are getting ready to launch some artist from our label. My focus has been getting those artist up and running and the label.
MT: What’s your advice to up-and-coming musicians?
MARLEY: Master your craft. Computers these days can do so much. It’s no longer good enough to sing well. Anyone or thing can be a musician now. Which is why live shows are more important than ever.
MT: What do you enjoy most when out here in Hawaii?
MARLEY: The energy. Hawaii caught on to my music early on. Specifically, my first album and I’m always reminded of that when there. I will always remember it.
MT: What’s currently in your iPod?
MARLEY: The label’s new artist. I’m in the studio right now. I have just been listening to that, really.
MT: What’s your favorite place to travel while touring?
MARLEY: Hawaii! To be honest, everywhere I go, the energy of the performance makes for a beautiful experience. It’s the rigorous performance schedules that sometimes make it less appealing.
MT: What are your three must-haves when touring?
MARLEY: That’s hard. I need a lot when touring. I would say good food, herb and my crew–not necessarily in that order.
MT: Besides music, what are some of your passions?
MARLEY: We are a fan of unorganized charities, if you will. Charities will usually come to us and we go from there. In Jamaica, we work with ground level charities–those that don’t necessarily have an established organization. In Ethiopia, we are working with a few schools. We are a fan of children and education-oriented charities.
MT: What legacy do you wish to leave behind?
MARLEY: I think many people pass on and are forgotten. It would be to be remembered.
* * *
REPUBLIK MUSIC FESTIVAL
Starts at 6pm this Friday, June 14, at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center.
Tickets: $42.50/gen admission, $90/VIP (prices increase $5 on show day).
Maui Arts and Cultural Center (One Cameron Way, Kahului)
Call 808-242-7469 or go to Mauiarts.org for more info.