On a recent Wednesday morning, the singer Santigold was at Saraghina in Bed-Stuy digging into an avocado toast with sundried tomatoes. Lately, she’s been working non-stop on 99¢, her third studio album out in February, and so she relished a moment of quiet away from the studio. Santigold, who is originally from Philadelphia, established her reputation as a forward-thinking musician with her debut album Santogold, released in 2008. But as she’s matured, she said she’s stopped chasing trends, like social media, in favor of cultivating a point of view and sound that’s uniquely her own.
When did you know that you were ready to go back into the studio to record this album?
I was ready two months after I had my baby [laughs]. I wasn’t ready to have the busy schedule, but I was ready to start writing. It was hard though. I was really sick for the first part of my pregnancy. I’m like a really active person normally, but the first month after I had the baby, I didn’t leave the house one time.
Tell me about your favorite songs on this album.
Favorites are hard for me. I mean I really like Can’t Get Enough of Myself and Rendezvous Girl. I’m not saying those are my favorites, but they come to mind. Also, I think I enjoyed making them a lot so maybe that’s part of it. The way that I write songs is: I do melody first. I sing a whole melody, and then I kinda, like, finish it, and then I go back and write lyrics at the end and I write the lyrics based on what it sounds like I’m saying. I know, it’s weird. But for Rendezvous Girl, I went in the studio and I sang it in one take, all the way through and I didn’t change a single thing of the melody. I was, like, “There it is!” And it’s so crazy because that never happens.
What inspired the cover art for this album?
Basically, I just jumped in and started writing the record and hadn’t thought much about what I was going to talk about, which is how I do it. After a while, like after a bunch of the record was done, I started listening to my songs and I was writing a lot about where we are in culture, in terms of consumption and commercialism and narcissism and being a product in that environment and being so aware of yourself as a commodity and not really as an artist. And sort of the challenge of navigating that landscape, you know? So in trying to tackle all those topics, I decided to approach it in a really playful and fun way to highlight the absurdity of it all. So for my cover, I was, like, I will literally climb into a bag and shrink-wrap myself and stamp the undervalued price of 99¢ on it because I feel like it’s saying a lot about how disposable everything is and how people are so looking for the next [best thing] and then once they get something, they’re like “This isn’t new anymore. Toss it.” Once me and my creative director found the topic, we started hoarding all this stuff and one of the pictures was by photographer Hal [Haruhiko Kawaguchi]. He had been shrink-wrapping couples, so we did it in a way where I wanted it to look really iconic. He had never been to the United States and we hit him up like “Hey! Want to do this cover?”
Lately, pop stars are ubiquitous on social media as a way to promote new projects. Do you feel pressure to have a presence in that space?
I’m like the complete opposite personality actually. And it’s hard for to me to post and I need to be better. My song Run the Races is about that. It’s about having to join the game or else you’ll be left behind. With the social media stuff, it’s really easy for me not to post because it’s like why does everyone need to know what I’m doing every second? But I get it. I get that people really want to. If I’m doing something that’s coming out and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t wait ‘til people see this, I don’t want to post it until it comes out especially because it has such a quick moment now with the Internet. It’s like onto the next, onto the next every day.
What else are you working on?
Right now, honestly, I’ve been working on getting all the f---ing content done. It used to be: you make a record, you work so hard on that record, you put it out, and then people buy it [laughs]. But now, you make a record, you work just as hard, and then you hand it in [to your label] and they’re like, ‘Great! Now basically work that hard again, creating all this content so that people can actually know that you exist after you put your record out.’ So no collaborations, but honestly, I’ve been in video world. I’ve been editing and directing myself. I’m a real DIY-er, partially because I’m totally a perfectionist. Like my husband and I directed the Who Be Lovin’ Me video. I was so stressed out because I was directing it and trying to get my show ready. But those moments that are in the video, you couldn’t have planned it.
That video looked like it was so much fun to shoot. And even on the website, all the GIFs.
It’s funny because the website tumblr.santigold.com is supposed to mirror the whole theme and the experience of using it is supposed to be like, ‘What the f--k?’ I was trying to go on and show somebody Can’t Get Enough of Myself and it was all the pop-ups of Who Be Lovin’ Me and I was, like, ‘No!’ But that’s exactly what it’s supposed to feel like. Like, ‘Sell! Sell! Sell!’
This interview has been edited and condensed.