Santigold has never been one to mince words. The Brooklyn-bred musician turned heads with her 2008 eponymous album and collaborations with artists such as The Beastie Boys, Major Lazer and others. Here, along with the premiere of her new track “GO (feat. Karen O),” Santi decodes the meaning of the song (which was produced by Q-Tip, Switch and Santi herself, along with Nick Zinner on guitar), working with Karen O of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the concept of the new American Dream.
Life + Times: What does “GO” represent for you?
Santigold: In this song, “GO” has a dual meaning. On one hand it’s a challenge, beckoning any would-be usurpers to come show and prove. On the other, it’s a call to myself to rise to the occasion. “Go” is a “fun” song. It’s playful, but like many of my songs, lyrically it was an opportunity for me to vent. It’s about the difficulties of holding onto what’s yours, everything from your ideas and energy, to your confidence. As artists, we give so much and make ourselves vulnerable. Sometimes it’s hard to stay grounded. You get so caught up in all that you have to do to constantly deliver, then suddenly you realize you’re so far from where you started that you almost don’t remember the way back. And that’s a dangerous thing, in so many ways. So in this song, I talk about guarding what’s mine. Also, this song comments on the era we live in and the NEW American dream. The dream used to be that if you worked hard, and you were good at what you did, you could pave your own way in America and the sky was the limit. It was based on the idea that there was “opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” However, things have changed. The NEW American Dream is to become rich and famous by happenstance – or sex tapes – and to get there with as little work or talent as possible. And as a result, we are suffering – though many of us don’t know it – as quality becomes a notion of the past. We’re ruining art, our planet, and our health, all due to our newfound obsession with instant gratification, with the short term quick-fix. So, my song’s about all that in a way. I guess I know I work so hard at trying to cultivate my talent. And I get frustrated watching all these people trying to jump on and fake it. Sadly, it works. But not in my song!
L+T: How did your collaboration with Karen O (of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs) come about?
SG: Well, I went to my friend Nick Zinner’s photography show, which was great, one night and I ran into Karen, and we were talking. I was probably bitching about working on my record, which makes up most of my tired conversation these days, and she kind of volunteered to help in any way. A while later, I was working with Q-Tip, trying to come up with some ideas, and he played what ended up being the foundation beat of the track, and I had, like, an “audio-vision,” if that’s what you call it, of the song. In an instant in my mind, I heard what the finished song would sound like and it had Karen on it. So I worked on it a bit and sent it to Karen. I felt all insecure and was like, “You know, if you’re feeling it, if you could come up with something, but if not, it’s cool.” And then I didn’t hear back for a while. So, I sheepishly reached out again, and was like, “Hey, no pressure, if you weren’t feeling it, it’s cool.” And Karen was like, “OMG! I sent it back to you a week ago. I thought you hated what I did so much you didn’t ever want to speak to me again.” I told her I never got it, and we agreed that being an artist was insane and we laughed at our psycho- insecurity, and were both psyched on what she called our “rad track.”
L+T: Why music?
SG: No choice really. It chose me. I even get the impulse to hum when I chew my food.
L+T: You created a boro-wide anthem with “Brooklyn Go Hard.” How did that feel?
SG: It was pretty awesome! And really out of the blue. I’m grateful for Jay’s and Kanye’s keen ears for honing in on that line. I guess people gravitate towards the truth! I remember when Jay called me and asked me to do the song with him, I was on tour in Europe I think. He said he would send me the track to write to, but that if I played it for anyone he would hold me over the edge of a roof by my ankles. I’ve been running that line ever since whenever I have to send early versions of music to people. It doesn’t quite have the same gravity for some reason when I say it though. I don’t think anyone believes me.
L+T: What’s the first thing you remember about making music?
SG: The first song I remember writing was when I was nine-years-old. I had just finished watching the movie Breakin’ and I was oh so inspired. I went and got a pencil and paper, and sat on the floor in front of the TV and wrote the lyrics to my first song. It was called “City Streets.”
L+T: What’s next?
SG: Getting my album out once and for all! So much red tape! Shit, I make music to be heard!