Ketel One Vodka ended 2016 with its "You Don’t Understand, It has To Be Perfect" campaign launch celebration at NeueHouse’s penthouse space in Madison Square, and the energy was as dynamic as the cocktails the bartenders were mixing up.. While NYC heavy-hitters sipped on martinis, I took the opportunity to chat it up with one of the event's performers: Santigold. The cross-genre artist looked on point. She wore a small brimmed black hat, which draped a veil that covered her perfectly blushed cheeks, and balanced her femininity with a tough leather jacket with bold oversized lapels. Still, I was most interested in Santigold, the person. And as it turns out, the soft-spoken, eloquent singer isn't nearly as showy as her lyrics.
Here, she chats with us about her latest music, her pro-women message and some of the Latino artists that inspire her.
Your third album, "99 Cents," was poppin’. What was different about this project?
I worked with different producers. I stepped out of my comfort zone. I spent a lot more time than ever before on content. You (musically) only get five, maybe three minutes of attention. I enjoyed being able to delve in deeply. I tied the album’s theme into many different creative facets.
Your bio describes you as neither calm nor mayhem, but from your lungs bursts every color in between. How did signing with Roc Nation change you as an artist?
The cool thing about it is that it’s a very new version of what a management company is because they’re really not just a management company. I think people go to Roc Nation because it is like an in-house everything. Roc Nation is the new model for what the music business has become. It’s been interesting to watch how they grow because I signed to them very early. There are so many things that have nothing to do with music, that really have everything to do with music now. Music really isn’t just about music, unfortunately. You know? No judgment, but judgment.
In the “Banshee” video, you are holding a "will work for blood” sign in the opening scene. What was its significance?
The second sign (in the video) said, “Will bleed for work.” The video is about being an artist, what goes into it, and what it’s like being on the inside versus the outside. How much will I sacrifice for my art, and how much of who I am is changed for what I do.
You include a lot of world sounds in your music. What are some of your favorites?
Lately, I’ve been playing old music that I grew up listening to. It makes me really happy. I enjoy punk music and old conscious reggae, it’s my resting position. It feels like peace when you hear the music that made you who you are. I love Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. I’m just a real music lover. Even like, Lil Yachty, I love him.
[Laughs] I am not going to put him in the category with the people I just mentioned, but right now I am finding immense enjoyment from his music.
You grew up in Philadelphia. We work a lot within our community in Philly. Have Latinos inspired your music at all?
There was this one Puerto Rican kid I had a crush on in church. [Laughs] It is unfortunate Philadelphia is so segregated. I do not know if it’s gotten better. It’s part of the reason I left. I’ve studied all kinds of music that were influenced by Latin sounds, especially percussion. I was a drumming major in school. Those sounds influence my music.
You initially started as an A&R with Epic Records. What did you learn from that experience?
I learned that I didn’t want to work at a record label. That was the main thing I learned. I was an intern for a couple years before I even worked there. It was important. I learned what the executives are thinking versus what the artists are thinking. I had no interest in being an artist, at all! It was partly my experience there that helped me realize I needed to be a part of the art side.
What are you working on currently? What can listeners anticipate in 2017?
I just got home off the road. Honestly, I had a kid, and when he was two months old, I was already making a record, videos and touring. I just got home, maybe like three weeks ago. What happens is some people just go [sighs] and I start going, “I want to do this, I want to do, I want to do this!” [Laughs] It’s psychotic. There are so many things I want to do right now, but first I need to calm myself down. As far as music, I want to do a Christmas album. I’ve been saying that for years.
What is your message to women?
Don’t listen to anything that is being laid out for you right now. This is a very strange time for women. If you look at the power women have had throughout history, the power they have manifested throughout generations, and you see where we are now, it’s just like this with everything right now. We make so much progress and then it’s almost like a backlash. I feel like that is happening. I’m disappointed.
Also, I feel like there is a dysmorphia epidemic right now. The lack of confidence women have in their bodies and their appearances is horrifying. I think we really need to challenge that. It’s so hard. As a woman myself, it is really hard to go against it, when you are just being fed these images, over and over, that aren’t real! I think that’s a major problem. In music, there should be more representation of women who are not just trying to sell their sex appeal. That is fine. That is great, and there has always been a place for that. There should be other options. I try to be exactly who I am and hope that will inspire people. That is how you influence people. Living my life how I want, by not adhering to any rules that don’t fit what I want for myself.