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Becoming Santogold (Burnt Orange Juice interview) May 2, 2008

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By Natalia Ciolko

Santogold, née Santi White, is Brooklyn’s worst kept secret. In the past year, she has gone from underground sensation to Kanye’s “favorite artist,” all without even a proper release. Tuesday, her self-titled solo album threw its substantial weight behind the hype and kept the buzz wagon rolling.
Anyone can Google Santogold and discover her love of punk rock, read up on her former career as an A&R rep for Sony, and see pictures of her pro snowboarder boyfriend Trouble Andrew. However, her whole college experience gets a measly one sentence on her Wikipedia page: “… Went to college at Wesleyan University, where she studied Caribbean and West African drumming.” Accordingly, Burnt Orange Juice was obliged to get the dish on what White was into back in her underage days.

The College Years

“I had no idea I would be doing this today. I thought I wanted to own a record label,” White said via phone call from Los Angeles. “To do that, I thought I should study music and business. But Wesleyan is a small liberal arts school and they didn’t have a business program. So to my young teenaged mind, it made sense to instead major in Economics, which was so wrong for me. I hate calculus!”

White then became a visual arts major, concentrating on painting for a year and a half. But before long, the rural setting became a drag on the Philly native. “My college was in the middle of nowhere,” White said. “And at that time, I would get bored with something really quickly. I’m actually still like this.” White signed up for a semester exchange at Howard University, where she said she finally came to self-identify as an artist.

“It was cool because I met a lot of really creative people,” White said. “However, there was a terrible art program there so at that same time I was also trying to make beats, write music, write raps. Never as a performer, just as a form of writing. I was a poet and very interested in music. This was a really important time for me  – feeling very creative but also very torn.”

After a semester in the relatively big city, White was determined to finish up at Wesleyan as soon as possible. “I went back, and it wasn’t any fun,” White said. White immediately took up a music major and continued experimenting with the ideas she had dabbled in during her semester at Howard.

At the end of her junior year, White took off. “That summer I moved to New York,” White said. “I started working at Sony full-time, and then in the fall, I continued working there, commuting from the city back to the college every week. I would drive up, go to classes, and come home again.” In spite of the breakneck schedule, White graduated from Wesleyan with a double major in three and a half years.

Life in the City

While living in New York City, White hooked up with the artists who have come to define the new New Wave in NYC, including M.I.A., Spank Rock, Sinden and XXXchange. “We’re one big creative family, and we’re all inspired by each other,” White said. 

Santogold’s first release is a dubtastic, electro-influenced rock album which draws from many sonic inspirations. “I’ve always listened to all types of music,” White said. 

But White is also no stranger to the Top 40. “I’m a pop music lover,” White said. “I love the pop structure, something you can sing along with and gets stuck in your head. The Police, Michael Jackson, Devo, Prince … they took great music and matched it with strong choruses. That’s what people like. I don’t like when people make songs that are so cerebral.”

When last in Austin, White took off her cool for SXSW. “When it comes to performing, some people can create an amazing alter ego, but I’m basically the same onstage as I am in real life,” White said. “All I really want to do is have fun.”

Download a sweet new B-Side left off Santogold’s phenomenal, self-titled debut at RCRD-LBL.

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