“I was young,” recalls White, “and I didn’t understand how much you really had to remove yourself from the creative part. You know, to have the song go from my head, filter through another artist, and then go through other producers. I was like, ‘I hate writing for other people!’”
After she lost a bunch of cash investing in a dot-com disaster, White moved back to her hometown of Philly and started a ska-punk band called Stiffed. The city was “my cocoon,” she says. But when the band called it quits in 2005, White knew that for her next, solo project, she had to come back to New York: “I kind of wanted to be invisible, to start slowly and be an observer. This is one of the only places in the world where you can be in the middle of everything and have nobody pay attention to you.”
Maybe that’s because all the kids are too busy checking out themselves. On her infectious, hand-clap-punctuated anthem “L.E.S. Artistes,” White posits herself as a postmillennial urban warrior at odds with the hipster masses. “For me, being back here was about finding my artistic self again. So then it was running up against the scenester artists who were all about being seen. In London, they’re always like, ‘But why do you hate the Lower East Side?’ I don’t hate the Lower East Side! It’s a metaphor for that type of environment.”
Where will Santogold’s whims take her next? “As a kid, I never stuck to anything,” she says. “I took gymnastics, tap dance, ice-skating, karate, violin … I think I tried to open a beauty salon in my house when I was like 7. But I found something in my journal that I wrote when I was 15 or 16. I was like”—she adopts a self-mocking tone, but a certain embarrassed pride seeps through—“I know there’s music in me, I just haven’t found it yet. Maybe the kind that it is doesn’t even exist yet.”
Oh, and by the way, she’s 32, so there’s ample time for future self-exploration.