Santi White is nearing the end of her proverbial rope. She's overworked, bone-tired and making a concerted effort not to burn out. But mostly, the artist known as Santigold is wondering just how long she can continue the energy and acuity needed to promote her third LP, 99 Cents, released in February via Atlantic Records.
"It's really intense. Honestly, it's hard to be a human being and sustain this pace," White says with a laugh from Austin, Texas, where she's holed up between multiple SXSW appearances. "And it's especially hard with me because I'm so hands-on with everything and approach it all as art. It'd be a lot easier if I were one of those corporation artists that had millions of dollars, still actually sold records and had crazy teams behind me. But because I'm the type of artist I am, it is so all-consuming."
The performer/producer is undoubtedly stretched thin, but it's not like she didn't know what she was getting into. A former big-label A&R rep, she had written songs for the likes of GZA, Lily Allen and Ashlee Simpson before releasing her own 2008 self-titled debut album as Santogold—later changed to Santigold after a legal challenge from a filmmaker and owner of a mail-order jewelry business.
Santigold plays March 29 at House of Blues
Earmarked by significant contributions from Switch, Diplo and producer John Hill, her first record was a genre-bending mixture of pop, new wave, punk and dub. She followed a similarly eclectic blueprint on 2012's Master of My Make-Believe, an album that made it to number one on Billboard's Dance/Electronic Albums chart. But it isn't the music or the process of making it that is throwing White for a loop this time around.
"It's all the new technology," she says. "Everybody is trying to utilize it, but for the actual human trying to move through it, I just don't know how it can be sustainable. The quantity of content youíre expected to be doing now is too much. Luckily, I've been trying to create content daily. The creation is what I love. It's the pace and the budget that are really fucking difficult."
White is well aware that a lot of the pressure she's feeling is self-imposed. No one is forcing her to promote 99 Cents with mini infomercials on Tumblr, art installations, parties at actual 99-cent stores and a seemingly never-ending laundry list of press commitments. This is all on top of directing videos, choreographing live-show dancing, making costumes and producing social content.
But when big-name artists backed by production crews and creative teams are setting the standards, regular artists are forced to keep up.
"It's almost as if the music is a side note at this point," says White. "And that's what I think is the real danger. You just can't spend as much time on the music. Everybody is at their max. There are no budgets. There is no help. And there is a lot of expectation."
Despite the inequalities, pressure and increased workload, the 39-year-old singer is anything but deterred. Instead, she's taken on the new challenges of technology-based self-promotion with a spirited tenacity. And she's done it all while raising her nearly two-year-old son.
While she doesn't hesitate to criticize the state of the pop music machine or its non-musical burdens, White is bolstered by the thought that good music will always survive passing trends.
"I think the fact that people are buying vinyl again is telling," she says. "But it all comes down to values. Do people value talent? Do they value hard work? Immediacy? Disposability? Empty celebrity? Culture is moving without thought or direction for where we're headed, and is letting us be guided by the wave of new technology, rather than driving the ship. I just really hope it swings back to valuing something more someday."
Until that day comes, expect Santigold to keep producing her unique musical stew and designing the entire experience around it. Whether she continues to keep stride with the system she routinely calls out remains to be seen. But just because she's got all of her chips on the table doesn't mean there still aren't a few tricks up her sleeve.
"I do have in the back of my mind where I'd like to go," says White. "But I also feel like it's really important to be in the moment. It's hard work right now and it's all I can do to barely hang on. I'm just trying to see this thing through.
"I'm an artist, I love creating, and I want to participate," she adds. "I want to be part of the pop world. I like pop music. And I love making pop music. But I want to keep the integrity. Honestly, I just want to keep the art of what it is that I'm doing."