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Santigold releases new album 'Spirituals'


SANTIGOLD: (Singing) Hey, you, hey, you, I think I got a hole in my head.


At this point, it's almost a category of its own - the music forged in the middle of the pandemic. The fear, the anger, the moments of solidarity - you can hear it all on Santigold's new album.


SANTIGOLD: (Singing) When they wind me up, I can make it through hell and back, hell and back. Me in my horror.

RASCOE: The genre-bending artist has wooed critics and fans since her debut dropped in 2008. She even got a shoutout from Beyonce earlier this year on a track honoring her musical queens. Now Santigold is out with "Spirituals" and joins us now to talk about it. Thanks so much for being here.

SANTIGOLD: Hi. Thanks for having me.

RASCOE: I want to start where the album starts, with the song "My Horror."


SANTIGOLD: (Singing) Roll right over out of bed. I don't know even know what day it was. Move so fast I have to ask, did it happen? Did I make it up?

RASCOE: This feels like a really raw, exposed way to introduce us to the project. What are you talking about? What are you bringing us into?

SANTIGOLD: What I meant when I wrote it was that I was suffocating. You know, I was stuck in the house with my kids, and I didn't have any help coming in. And I was - I had just-turned-2-year-old twins at the time and a 6-year-old. And so I was cooking. I was the only one deep cleaning. I was changing diapers.

RASCOE: And they eat all the time. They eat all the time.

SANTIGOLD: They eat all the time. They eat all the time.

RASCOE: Oh, my gosh. That's all they do.

SANTIGOLD: And then, you know, dishes - and then it was just like, I didn't have time to think. I didn't have time to shower. I didn't have time to do anything obviously creative. Like, I was just drowning in, like - I love motherhood.


SANTIGOLD: And I love being a mom. But I need to have balance. And I had none. But then also, outside, there were wildfires, and we couldn't go outside. And then there was, like, Black people getting murdered and riots and protests. And it was just like, this is too much, you know?

RASCOE: Yeah, absolutely.

SANTIGOLD: Then with all that going on, people have just been deciding to disconnect. And so this song is about what it was like in my world when I was just stuck, but then also what it's like when you're living in a world of people who are just going through the motions while they're turned off.


SANTIGOLD: (Singing) Me in my horror, a day in my horror. Me in my horror, just a day in my horror.

RASCOE: What made you want to, like, make this album? The name of it is "Spirituals," which evokes, you know, enslaved Americans singing songs about their heartache and, you know, calling out to something higher than them.

SANTIGOLD: I called it "Spirituals" because, for me, making this record was my own salvation, really. It was an opportunity to step out of survival mode. And the idea of using art and music in particular to transcend my circumstances and experience freedom and joy and beauty in the absence of it in my environment to me was the same thing that Negro spirituals did for slaves in a time where they were able to experience freedom and joy through this music when their - in their environments, they were not free, and there wasn't - it wasn't joyous.


SANTIGOLD: (Singing) Won't be waiting all my life for no paradise, for no paradise.

RASCOE: Let's turn to your song "No Paradise."


SANTIGOLD: (Singing) Everybody is not afraid. Everybody don't know the way. Where the one just sink to the floor is where the other open the door up.

RASCOE: And then you go on to say, don't know where but going, and there's power and struggle. Like, it seems like there's a tension between optimism and realism in this song.

SANTIGOLD: I wouldn't say there's a tension. I would say there's room for both of them to exist simultaneously, because I think that's what's real. In reality, we can be fearful, optimistic, hopeful all at the same time. I was just listening to "Change Is Gonna Come." You know that song?

RASCOE: By Sam Cooke?


RASCOE: Yeah. Oh, yeah.


SAM COOKE: (Singing) I was born by the river.

SANTIGOLD: And I was listening to it, and I was just like, man, this song is so powerful. But it's really - like, he doesn't talk about the positive changes coming.


SANTIGOLD: He just talks about the struggle. So basically, it's about his faith. But in that - even in the expression of that very real pain and real struggle, that song is uplifting...


SANTIGOLD: ...Because it's an opportunity to give name to that pain and that experience. And that's uplifting in itself.


COOKE: (Singing) Oh, yes it will.

RASCOE: That song, "A Change Is Gonna Come" by Sam Cooke - I mean, it sounds very spiritual, right? Like...

SANTIGOLD: Yeah, it does.

RASCOE: ...It could easily be, like, a gospel song. And when you listen to gospel and listen to spirituals, they're not always positive.

SANTIGOLD: Because sometimes you just need a release.

RASCOE: Yes. Yeah.

SANTIGOLD: I think - in Black women in particular, I think often we live in survival mode. And I think part of it is generational trauma, and part of it is the reality of our everyday. But I think that one of the wonderful benefits of song is that it helps give name to those emotions and acknowledge them and then hold space for you to let them flow. And in that way, it's evolutionary, helps you to evolve.


SANTIGOLD: (Vocalizing).

RASCOE: You know, you talked about being a Black woman, being in this industry. In the past, you talked about how record labels would see you and basically say they just want you to do R&B and not much else. Do you feel like you've been given more freedom now, or is the industry kind of the same way that it's been?

SANTIGOLD: Yeah. I mean, nobody ever said to me, I want you to do R&B. They just said no to what I was doing, you know? And nobody's ever given me anything in this industry, you know? And I think that it's like - what was great about my career was that it started happening at the time of MySpace and of the internet. So in the absence of anybody opening any doors or giving me any breaks, I just got to go straight out and show that there was an audience for what I was doing because they showed up online.

But at the same time, at the same time, if you look at the Black women who are - who have really made it, you know, high, high up on the pop charts, they're still oversexualized. And if you look at people now, it's rare that you see somebody without, like, their butt right in the screen or - and, you know, to everybody their own choices. But it just sucks that that's the only option. You know what I'm saying?

RASCOE: That it's not - yeah - that it's not a variety.

SANTIGOLD: It's like, if you want to make it, this is what you have to do.

RASCOE: That you have to do.

SANTIGOLD: And that hasn't really changed.

RASCOE: Well, I mean it sounds like they're - you know, that they ain't ready. And, I mean, I'm trying to do a segue (laughter).

SANTIGOLD: That was a good one. That was a really good one. I like that.

RASCOE: You have a track on "Ain't Ready," and we want - to I wanted to play a little bit of that.



SANTIGOLD: (Singing) Ooh. It come in hard, kick in one side of your heart. What a blow. No, it won’t stop, so I take my time now getting back up, taking the reins - third eye. Everything I see coming to me - y’all sure not ready. Was letting it play, high and mighty - not today, no more. Ya ain't ready.

That was a really emotional song for me. You know, the lyrics is about like getting knocked down on the floor and picking yourself up...


SANTIGOLD: ...And just kind of like, telling yourself, like, they don't know what I possess. They don't know what I can do, you know? But it's really about telling yourself that. For some reason, I see this song in my head like a battle - you know? - and almost like I am in the corner of the rink, you know, where they rinse your face off from the blood, and they talking to you. And this is almost like the talk to myself. Like, they ain't ready. Like, you know who you are - third eye. Everything I see coming to me. You not ready.

RASCOE: We've been talking to Santigold. Her new album is called "Spirituals." Thank you so much for talking with us.

SANTIGOLD: Thank you, Ayesha. I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Ian (pronounced "yahn") Stewart is a producer and editor for Weekend Edition and Up First.