Santigold: Playing Around With A Top 40 Sound Hear the singer discuss her new album, Master of My Make Believe, and describe her attempts to "broaden the lane" of what constitutes pop music.

Santigold: Playing Around With A Top 40 Sound

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Audie Cornish and this is a new song off the latest album from pop artist Santigold.


SANTIGOLD: (Singing) Don't look ahead. There's stormy weather, another roadblock in our way, but if we go, we go together.

CORNISH: In the last two decades, Santigold has worn a lot of hats in the music industry. College intern, talent scout, songwriter for hire, producer, but since her debut album four years ago, Santigold has enjoyed the spotlight as the artist, center stage.

Her latest album is called "Master of My Make-Believe." Recently, she explained to us why she got into the business behind the scenes.

SANTIGOLD: I was interested in it because I thought it was a creative job that, you know - in music, which is what - I always was so interested in music, but I never was interested at all in being a performer. It was such a hard process for me because, you know, I was writing songs the way that I wanted to hear them, but when another artist sings them, they come out obviously different.

That actually is what led me to start singing and doing my own music. But then, after that, I got some opportunities to write for other people and I think because I have my own music, I didn't feel a need for it to be exactly what I would do.


SANTIGOLD: (Singing) (Unintelligible).

It's interesting because it's almost like I think of it as going to the gym. You know what I mean? Or, like, practicing your instrument, especially nowadays because pop music is such a specific formula.

CORNISH: Is there a song on this album that you think sort of shows off your songwriting chops from those days, a kind of pop writing?

SANTIGOLD: Well, I think that the pop writing that I've done - it gives me a really solid structure. You know, there's like verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, you know. Also, the sensibility of, like, making a hook that really is going to be, you know, something that stays in your head, something that's accessible. But then, in my own music, within that structure, then I really play around.


SANTIGOLD: (Singing) I hear you calling. I'm reaching you my hand. I can hear you now. I can hear you calling. And I say, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, won't you come down? Won't you come down? And I say, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey.

CORNISH: I find I walk away from this song with that little, hey, hey, hey stuck in my head for the rest of the day.

SANTIGOLD: That's good. That's good.

CORNISH: Tell me a little bit about this tune.

SANTIGOLD: There's two types of songs for me. It's like one that writes itself pretty much immediately, like I sang this melody out of my mouth exactly as it is first time. You know, and the lyrics came in, like, 10 minutes. It's just one of those songs that's so personal, it's just like cathartic - the process is. You know, so it's just kind of like a journal entry and it's really emotional.


SANTIGOLD: (Singing) (Unintelligible).

CORNISH: What's the other type of song?

SANTIGOLD: The other type of song is a song that takes three months to get the lyrics down and then you piece it together and it's not right and you just work and work and work until finally, one day, it's finished, you know, which is a whole different process. It's more of a - you know, I don't know if you ever do any kind of artwork. It's like some things are just so...

CORNISH: I certainly get writer's block.


CORNISH: I don't know if that's what you're talking about.

SANTIGOLD: You know, and it - well, it's writer's block and it's just maybe an idea that's forming as you're doing it, you know, and it keeps changing and you keep getting closer and then you rip away one layer and add something different, so, like, some things take a really long time and some things are just so immediate and so straight from the heart. And this song was the kind that's just like - it came out exactly as it was meant to be.

CORNISH: You talk about writing these songs and it being very personal to you and there are some lyrics that do sound very personal, and I'm thinking of the song "God From the Machine," where the lyrics sound like sort of the talk you give yourself in the mirror.

SANTIGOLD: Yeah. It's a total pep talk song.


SANTIGOLD: (Singing) You can make alone if you try (unintelligible) come home. I know you sing it. You can make alone if you try (unintelligible) 'til you make it home.

You know, in literature, when the author just, like, puts himself in the story and talks to you and so - and I'm thinking of Kurt Vonnegut. I think it's "Breakfast of Champions" and he's the main character sitting in a bar and this guy is staring at him and it's actually Kurt Vonnegut and he's like, you're afraid you're going to end up like your mother.

You know, they're talking about his mother had committed suicide and it had nothing to do with the story, but I totally got where - he's like, where are you taking this story? You know, and so that just resonated with me and the first thing that came out of my head was like, you can make it alone. I was trying to change the lyrics forever, but I couldn't change it and I was like that's because that's what this song's supposed to be saying.


SANTIGOLD: (Singing) You can make it alone if you try. 'Til the day you come home, I know you sing it. You can make it alone if you try. (Unintelligible) 'til you make it out.

CORNISH: You talked about striving in the industry and I'm curious about what it's been like for you because you don't fit into the kind of R&B pop diva image that's out there now or even with all of the genre-hopping kind of disco queens that are out there, for lack of a better term. But big artists are using similar influences as you are, but you seem to take it in a different place.

SANTIGOLD: Yeah. It's a challenge because I think it's a really strange time for music right now because I feel like the lane has become so narrow for what we consider pop music and what's playable on the radio and what's, like, top 40. I'm hoping to sort of knock down the walls and broaden the lane a little bit more for music that is pop music, actually, at the heart of it and it's just kind of refreshing. It tries new things and talks about different things and it's a challenge.

Sometimes, I have to sing the song to myself. You know, keep going. Keep going. You're doing something important because - I don't know. It's a lot more work and it's a lot - sort of less avenues and you have to find creative ways to get your music heard.


SANTIGOLD: (Singing) We're the keepers while we sleep in America. Our house is burning down. Our house is burning. We're the keepers while we sleep in America. Our house is burning down.

CORNISH: Santigold. Her latest album is called "Master of My Make-Believe." She joined us from the NPR studios in New York. Santigold, thank you for talking with us.

SANTIGOLD: Oh, thank you.


SANTIGOLD: (Singing) Our house is burning down. Our house is burning down. Down, down, it's burning down. Down, down, it's burning down. Down, down, it's burning down.

BLOCK: This is NPR.

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