On the Verge – Santi White

Part skater, part punk, part neurotic crooner, Philadelphian Santi White fronts Stiffed, whose stripped-raw rhythm and eerie vocals have created so much buzz in the underground rock scenes in New York and Philadelphia that record producer Ryko and publicity hotshots Girlie Action (the White Stripes and Ryan Adams are also clients) approached the band hoping to distribute and represent Stiffed’s music. All the band needed was an actual EP. Sex Sells hits stores early next month. Stiffed includes drummer Chuck Treese (McRad, Bad Brains, Urge Overkill), Chris Shar on bass and Matt Schleck on guitar (both of New Jersey’s the Lottery).

Profession: Singer/songwriter

Age: 27

Accomplishments: In addition to her work on Stiffed’s forthcoming six-track album, Sex Sells, White co-wrote 11 of 12 songs on Res’ acclaimed debut album, How I Do.

Neighborhood: Germantown

Hobbies: “Snowboarding. I have two boards.”

Being on the artist side after working in Epic’s urban music division for several years: “I never wanted to be a performer. I was 15, and I had the worst experience. I had a solo at my high school. It was some whack song, a gospel song–‘Mary Had a Baby,’ or something. My parents came, and they said, ‘How did you get this solo?’ I was that bad.”

From Res to Stiffed: “A lot of people felt the Res album knocked down boundaries for black singers to not be R&B; and hip-hop, but I thought that it could have pushed it even more. So after that, I decided I wanted to do my own project.”

First Philly Stiffed performances: “It was this skater punk crowd. It was all white. I’d be the only black person in the room most of the time. In the beginning it was like, you gotta be hard, you gotta hold it down. And the audience was like, ‘This is cool. This is a girl singing, and she’s not singing all annoying girlie, but not trying to be a guy either.'”

First New York Stiffed performances: “Rock is all the hot thing in New York these days. It’s a very style-y scene. You get all these sort of trendy people at the shows, but it’s also really mixed [racially] there. It’s great to have people who are discovering rock for the first time, and it’s great to have people who know all your references and can say, ‘I know where you got that from.'”

Veering off of Philly’s neosoul track: “We did a Black Lily show, which I did not want to do for a long time because it’s that Philly sound that’s so not what I do. We thought, ‘Oh man, they’re going to hate it.” But all the girls in front were rockin’ out. We also did a show in D.C. that was pure R&B; crowd. They were doing a Soul Train line! We went on and some people were like, ‘What is this?’ They weren’t really ready for it. But we got a lot of emails after it saying good stuff.”

Why rock?: “I remember actually laying some references for Res’ record and singing it and starting to play around with my voice, and they’d be like, ‘Santi, what are you doing?’ I was like, ‘What? Nothing.’ It was just how I was singing my stuff. Rock gives you the most freedom. R&B; is so not for that. And for hip-hop, you have to talk in a certain way. You have to be up on all the language. It’s too many restrictions.”

On Stiffed’s punk references: “My band grew up on that stuff, but I didn’t listen to that much stuff until probably the last several years. I don’t know. It was so not a conscious thing. It started coming out that way, and the more it came out that way, people would say, ‘Hey you sound like this.’ And I’d go get that CD, and I’d be like, ‘Wow, it does kind of sound like that.’ And then that new music would influence me, and on and on, and it just grew into this weird sound, I guess.”

Pivotal moments, musically: “Michael Jackson, Thriller (age 7); UTFO; the Cure; Bad Brains; the Smiths; the Cocteau Twins (age 15). Also, I remember going to see Fela Kuti–the Afrobeat legend–with my dad when I was really little and seeing all the women dance around with no shirts on, and I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ In college I studied traditional hand drums–Cuban, West African and Haitian. I’m sure it’s all in there somehow. I think maybe that’s what stands out about what we do. It doesn’t sound like if you were four white guys in a band. I think it sounds like there’s something else going on.”

Where she writes her songs: “This morning I woke up and I had this song that I wanted to write, and I had the riff, and so I called my cell phone and I ahhdeedaa dee daa’d into the voicemail. It’s cool when you wake up with a song. They’re usually the best ones.”

What was on her mind?: “I’m talking a lot today, but usually, I’d space out and look away, and I’d open my mouth and I’d put my tongue on my teeth. I realize the way I see things is not very normal.”

How she describes her performances: “The songs are pretty high energy. I guess I do this thing with my voice where I squeak. I don’t know where it came from.”

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