Santi White knows what she wants. She always did. I know because I was there. In the studio, she knows what she wants and she’ll push and push and push until she gets it. She will respect you as a musician with a lifetime’s worth of experience and she’ll work with you. But she’ll nudge and push until the tones land where she wants them to land. Stiffed was just an impulse and she turned it into a pulse. She didn’t just come out of the box. Ten years ago, Mass Appeal ran this piece. She was just building them. Original Mass Appeal heads know what it is. They were always there first. We shared the most powerful ideas with our readers. Ten years later, Santi White is still potent.
– Sacha Jenkins SHR
Santi White went for broke and it paid off.
Remember the A&R from “Protect Ya Neck?” The one who’s “a mountain climber / that plays an electric guitar?” He’d have you believe there’s a place in today’s musical landscape called, quote-unquote, The Urban. A place where black artists are relegated, regardless of what they have to say or what type of music they make. More ‘hood than neighborhood and more of a ghetto than anything else, this is the home/cage of r&b, rap, and any other form of black music that can be contorted to fit into the “urban” category. The Urban is a place where every man sells drugs, every woman sells sex, and the liquor store sells nothing but Cristal and Courvoisier. For a slight change of pace, its denizens sometimes patronize a little coffee shop called neo-soul. And in The Urban, don’t nobody play the guitar or listen to “white people music,” i.e. rock.
Enter Santi White and her band Stiffed, a group that defies musical segregation and bewilders the A&Rs who police The Urban. The 27-year-old Santi is a black woman, her guitarist Matt Schleck (21) and bassist Chris Shar (24) are white men, and the drummer, the legendary Chuck Treece (38), is a black man. The music is unadulterated rock, punk mixed with new wave with the potential to become much more. lt’s not rap-metal or pop-punk and it damn sure ain’t neo-soul–it just is–and according to the heads nod-
ding at a Stiffed show, it’s just dope.
The recent hype surrounding artists like Cody ChesnuTT, Mos Def’s Black Jack Johnson Band, and Stiffed has led the mainstream media to herald a return of black rock, but in the eyes of Stiffed, “black rock” is a misnomer they’d rather have nothing to do with. “Clearly l’m black and clearly it’s rock, but l don’t believe in that being a new type of music,” explains Santi, “lt [the term black rock] kinda implies that black people haven’t been involved with rock all along the way–and we have–so it’s like, ‘What are you talkin’ about’?”
And it’s true. From Ike Turner to Jimi Hendrix, from Bad Brains to Living Colour, black people have always been involved in the evolution of rock. A revolution or revival isn’t necessarily occurring just ’cause the New York Times said so. “You have to judge the music for what it is and not the skin tone of the people playing it,” says Schleck.
Stiffed is Santi’s brainchild. After writing 90% of Res’s debut How I Do, Santi found herself extremely disillusioned with her collaborators’ creative process. “I have a little baggage from working in the Res situation,” says Santi, She likens the anxiety she had during that project to having her high school art teacher alter one of her paintings right in front of her face. “l’d be like ‘uhhhhhh’ and my whole body would clench up and that’s the attribute that made it difficult to be working on that Res project where there were so many people and so much input.”
Out of frustration and artistic impulse, Santi decided to do her own
thing, her own way. She got with Chuck, a musician who has played with Bad Brains, Lauryn Hill, and D’Angelo, and has been doing punk since ‘83 with his group McRad. She’d known him since her high school prom and tapped him to play drums on the Res album. While going through her trials and tribulations during the recording of the LP, Santi presented him with her idea for a lo-fi punk band that would play the songs she wrote the way she wrote them. Chuck believed in her and, with the recruiting of two local Philly musicians to play bass and guitar, Stiffed was officially born…sorta.
Santi’s “I-know-what-I-want-let’s-do-it-like- this” mentality clashed with the original members’ “l-know-what-you-want-but-this-is-what-you’ll-get” attitudes and Stiffed was momentarily defunct. In the meantime she promoted a punk rock night in Philly called the Clap where some of llladelph’s up and coming stars would regularly perform. It was at the Clap that she saw the Lottery, the band that Matt and Chris were playing for. She made it known that she’d like to “borrow” them from the Lottery. They were down, and Stiffed was reborn in spring ‘O2.
Matt Schleck and Chris Shar are two Jersey kids juggling college, jobs, and playing in multiple bands (They both still play with the Lottery and Shar also plays in the Division Group with Roots guitarist Ben Kenney). Ask them to list their influences and you’ll
hear the standard Metallica, Nirvana, and Black Sabbath answers, as well as the atypical “King Crimson is like my favorite group!” answer from Chris. See them on stage–Matt with his signature grimace and Chris with his patented hardcore playing stance– and you’ll realize that these are two dynamic musicians and not your average Joe Schmoes from the Jersey shore. They’re hard pressed to describe Stiffed’s sound since they joined the group, acknowledging that the root of the music is punk, but also noting that everyone in the group has their own taste and that makes for some interesting possibilities.
“Stiffed is definitely gonna evolve,” says Schleck matter-of-factly.
Evolution is inevitable with Santi’s gift for writing vocals (think HR of Bad Brains meets Nina Simone), Chuck’s experience in aggro-rock and Chris and Matt’s affinity for the experimental rock they affectionately call “weirdo music,” the common denominator in the group is their love for what they do. “I get this vibrating energy,” says Santi of her passion for music. “You feel like you’re on fire. I feel like that when l’m doing music and I feel like that when l’m snowboarding. I feel like that when l’m in love and when l’m in the ocean.” If heads can receive even a fraction of the energy that Santi channels through her songs, expect to see Stiffed around for very a longtime.