Label it what you will, Salvador Santana is a creator. Handed a generational gift for creating music, he now steps out as a father and as a producer, musician, and artist of his own right. His new single, Panic Mode is another collaboration unique to the Santana name but in his own direction, it may not sound what you’d expect a Santana song to sound like. Salvador had a few minutes to chat with June Reedy of Grateful Web to discuss the new single Panic Mode and the collaboration with UK house DJ Felix.
SS: Hey June, this is Salvador.
GW: Hi Salvador, how are you?
SS: Thank you for asking, I am grateful & blessed.
GW: Excellent! I have been listening to Panic Mode all morning long.
SS: Right on!
GW: It feels like something; I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the movie Idiocracy?
SS: No, I haven’t had the chance to check that one out, but I will.
GW: It’s supposed to be a humorous movie and it came out several years back, but it’s scarily becoming true. But anyway, Panic Mode reminds me of a song that would be playing in the background when the President speaks during that movie. It’s fantastic!
SS: Right on, well I’m not gonna argue with you on that. (laughs)
GW: Great! So I spent some time reviewing some old stuff today. It’s such a great time to be alive because you can find pretty much anything you want online. This morning I came across some footage of 1991. It was your dad (Carlos Santana) playing with the Grateful Dead. I should tell you, I write for Grateful Web.com based out of Boulder, CO. We are the oldest online hippy community.
GW: My readers would definitely love to hear any stories of Jerry Garcia from back in the day?
SS: That is a great question… I would have to think about that. Oh! I have one! One time I met him at an event, I can’t remember what the event was for. I was really little because I think he passed in 94-95.
SS: I remember going to the event and I was really little at the time and to me, he looked like Santa Claus. I said, “Santa!” and my pops was like, “No that’s Jerry Garcia.” I said, “Oh, sorry” and I was really embarrassed. Then I stopped believing in Santa Claus.
GW: Cuz if it ain’t Jerry, there must be no Santa Claus! (laughs)
SS: Nah, it’s just Jerry Claus. (laughs) I just remember him being super nice. I actually got to hang out with his daughter KiKi a bit here and there. We grew up, not necessarily together, but in the same musical family, similar family backgrounds and what have you. We both grew up in the Bay Area, we definitely hung out and were immersed with the same people group and community. It is super cool to be able to be associated and affiliated with such incredible musicians like Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead. I know how much their music touches people and has impacted so many people.
GW: Absolutely. This is the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock festival, coming up this summer.
SS: That’s right! Wow. That’s crazy!
GW: Isn’t that crazy? I guess I just wanted to, on that note, ask you, do you feel like… Obviously, you from a very musical family - not only musical, but I understand your mom is a poet as well - all across the board… As far as Woodstock and becoming a musician, how would you say that what you do- would you consider yourself carrying that torch? Do you see great peaceful gatherings coming together - Talk about that?
SS: Yeah, absolutely. In the song Panic Mode, which thanks again for taking the time to listen to, in the song Panic Mode even though there is a lot of darkness going on both lyrically, sonically and musically, there is still a collective gathering in that song that I definitely highlight. Felix, who I collaborated with we both wanted to highlight that and integrate that within the song. For me, I don’t know if I would have viewed it as passing the torch. It’s one of those where my father has obviously made a career of the longevity of being a musician, my mom also being a poet and philanthropist and doing so many things for the communities, both my folks and my family have always looked at it as being in service to people. What better way to be in service to people than through music and through giving back? Music is the catalyst for that. Music and being creative is in my blood. Both my grandfathers were musicians, my mom’s dad Saunders King is an incredible blues-jazz guitarist as well as a singer. I won’t say he was world famous but he was very popular as well in the ’30s and ’40s...
GW:(interrupts) Well, I’m calling you from Chicago. We love our Blues. Saunders King is well known here!
SS: Oh right on! Yeah! He did a lot of stuff out there as well, you know. He inspired cats like B.B. King, Freddy King, all sorts of musical greats within the blues and jazz world. My other grandfather Jose Santana, he is an amazing mariachi musician, violinist, and singer as well. Both of them had been playing music all their lives, so… It’s just one of those things where it was inevitable. Rather than viewing myself as passing the torch, it’s more like this is what I was born to do. This is what’s in my blood, this is what’s in my DNA. This is just who I am. At a certain point, at a young age, I just had to kind of honor that and validate that rather than, running away from the inevitable, to own that and be that, not just talk about it but BE about it. Again, Panic Mode definitely has that sense of gathering and coming together about it. It’s kind of dark. Lyrically, I always like to present myself from a more positive, realistic but I like to generally do more of a 60/40 or even 70/30, the majority being more positive than negative. Panic Mode is definitely something that is just more- it’s just darker - I don’t want to say positive or negative - just darker. I am really grateful that Felix and I were able to collaborate on this because it helped push me out of more of my comfort zone, which is writing and composing things with more of a positive mindset in the creative process. I am just super grateful because Panic Mode drops today, January 11th. Yep! It’s out today. Everyone can go and check it out, we’ve got music that is coming soon, we have remixes to follow with various artists. I am super grateful that they were part of the project. I’m just really happy that Panic Mode is out and people like yourself can enjoy it. At the end of the day, both Felix and I, I’m sure he would say the same thing, we just want people to take the time to listen to it and hopefully enjoy it as much as we had fun making it.
GW: I recall Felix’s house mixes from back in the ’90s. If someone was to just simply look at your name, having Santana in your name, and then listening to your music, it probably wouldn’t be what they expect to hear. But really, if you give it a second thought, the name Santana is synonymous with collaboration. I mean Supernatural was a huge Grammy-winning album of collaborations. Oh! Didn’t you play on that album?
SS: Yes I did. (laughs) Actually, I just want to validate your point. That is very true. My father and the name Santana, you’re right. We collaborate. We love to collaborate and join forces and build and create together. Doing it by ourselves is totally possible, but let’s share the wealth and let’s create together therefore so many more audiences and demographics of people can enjoy it and spread it around. And yes, to answer your question, yeah. I got to perform, not only play but my father and I co-wrote the song, “El Farro” which is the only instrumental on Supernatural. It got nominated and actually won a Grammy in 2000 which is when I was in high school. I think I was 17 at the time.
GW: No way!
SS: It was such a trip. I didn’t really, I didn’t have time to… I was in high school and hanging out with friends at the time and whatever I was doing in high school was far more important than… It didn’t sink in until much later ya know? To be honest, the genesis of that song happened when my father and I on a weekend morning sat down. He had this melody and wanted me to help find the chords, to put them together. Learning the melody of El Farro and I was piecing these chords together. He was like, “Yeah that’s cool, that’s a good chord. I like that one.” We were piecing together these chords together and then a few minutes later, we got a phone call that his father had just passed away.
GW: Oh my god.
SS: Yeah, my grandfather had just passed away as we were writing that song. So we dealt with that. We handled that as a family and then a few days later we finished that song and we performed it at his funeral, at his service. Then we didn’t really think about that song until somewhere along the way my dad wanted to include that song on Supernatural. I’m just grateful that happened. We were not only able to honor my grandfather through that song that was written for him but then it got to go on Supernatural, that you pointed out, and all the accolades and all the things that came with that. That record helped launch my musical career and it’s been going on ever since.
GW: You collaborate like crazy, I see that you have collaborated with members of Ozomatli, did you work with Dan Deacon or did he just remix some of your tunes?
SS: He’s a super cool cat. That one he helped do a remix a song Don’t Do It, which is a song off my album Keyboard City that came out 10 years ago, which is crazy to think. That was really cool. We didn’t have a chance to link up because he is an east coast cat, I think he’s from New Jersey or New York. At the time, we didn’t have a chance to link up in person. We did chat. He wanted me to vibe out to how he wanted to remix the song and re-present it to everybody else. I wrote Keyboard City, the whole record, with Money Mark, the 4th member, if you will, of the Beastie Boys. Collaborated with Astru Sierra, like you said, the lead singer of Ozomatli and for a long time Jose Espinosa, aka Crunchy, a founding band member of Ozomatli. He is a multi-instrumentalist, a brilliant guy. He passed away a few years ago due to his battle with cancer. He taught me so many things, one of those to just play music together, bring the community together, and just to embrace the art of collaboration. Yes, there is a business side to it but also there is a beauty in being able to join forces and come together. We all have different views and backgrounds of knowledge when it comes to music but I think joining forces - there is a cohesive thread that can be tied together. With Felix having a completely different background than myself in terms of being successful within the house or garage - or as he says it with his awesome UK accent, “gar-rah-ge” genre of music, we got together and rather than focusing on our differences, we focused on our commonalities, our common denominator. Our goal was to create something that had that head nod factor and people can just move their head and dance and vibe to it. If you don’t want to dance then you can just listen to the lyrics. Just vibe out. Again just enjoy it as much as we have fun creating it. That’s why I love collaborating so much. I learn so much.
GW: What was I going to say? I totally lost my train of thought.
SS: Oh that happens to me all the time. Especially now that I’m a new parent, man, I just… If I can form a sentence successfully I feel like I’ve done all I need to do.
GW: Are you sharing a pregnancy brain with your wife?
SS: I’m doing my best to share and to be as patient as I can possibly be.
GW: You have a son? How old is he?
SS: Yes. He is almost 6 months.
GW: Now time really goes fast.
SS: Yeah it’s incredible. Watching him grow up and being a part of all that, seeing myself, a little version of me. Life is definitely, for me right now, not only in my life but just life in general, life is that much more precious and meaningful. I’m doing my best right now to remind myself to make every moment count. Whatever I’m doing, I put 200% into what I’m doing. It’s at a point now where whatever I do, I do it for my son. Everything I do, it’s for him.
GW: That’s where I was at - this new track Panic Mode- your music now, it’s a departure from your live music of the past. You were talking about the banging beat and the head nod and it crept into my head and totally distracted me from what I was thinking. (laughs nervously)
SS: Ha Ha Ha That’s okay.
GW: Talk about where your music is moving forward to. You enjoyed your collaboration with Felix. Do you think you will get more into the electronica? The techno house music?
SS: Yeah, honestly as long as it involves music I am totally down to be involved in general. It’s funny when I go into a doctors office or whenever I am asked about any allergies, I answer “Yes, I am only allergic to really terrible music.” (laughs) I think there is a quote from Buddy Rich where he was in the hospital and they asked if he was allergic to anything and he says yes, country and western music. I just always think of that. I do like some, I enjoy certain artists within the country genre and what have you. For me, the music has got to be authentic. As long as it’s authentic and I can feel where the artist is coming from, I vibe out to it. I can put my opinion and reservations aside. I would love to collaborate and continue with Felix some more. As my financial team would say, I would love to diversify and broaden and expand my portfolio from a musical standpoint. Right now, I’m really focusing on being a producer and putting a lot of my creative energy towards that. Being a musician, a multi-instrumentalist, keyboards are my main instrument even though drums are my first love. I learn a little bit of everything but at the end of the day, I just want to be a producer as well as a musician and artist. Also, a social activist for social justice is very important to me. That is also in my blood, to stand up for human rights.
GW: The little guy…
SS: Yes, absolutely. Last but not least, falling under the category of production and being a producer, I also want to continue to offer my services in composition for scoring film and television. I have a lot of fun. Even though I haven’t seen the movie you suggested, Idiocracy, I love watching movies and now listening to the scores and hearing why this particular sound or song works in the scene and figuring out how it all comes back to the why. The why of why I do what I do.
GW: With Panic Mode, did the lyrics come before the music or did the music come and you wrote the lyrics for it?
SS: That’s a great question, Felix and I got together at my home studio and we sat down very similar to the making of the Black Album by Jay-Z. He got into the studio with Timbaland and Timbaland has an encyclopedia of all unreleased beats. So he’s just going through all these beats and Jay-Z was like, that’s cool, that’s cool, that's cool, and then Dirt Off Your Shoulders - that beat, what was going to be that song- that beat came on. It’s on the documentary, Jay-Z just lost his mind. He got up and started doing the head nod, going crazy and all that stuff. That’s what happened with Felix and I. He came over with maybe 5-7 instrumental ideas and the beat for Panic Mode came on. I immediately just started nodding my head and was like, “Woah! What is this?!” He was like “this is idea number 5” or whatever it was. I was like, “This is cool. I get the vibe of wanting to party but this is like an apocalyptic end of the world type of vibe.” He said that was funny because the working title is called Panic Mode. I was like, “That isn’t the working title. I think that IS the title! Let’s start working on it.” I came up with some lyrics and ideas. Felix is really great because he has a lot of knowledge and he was able to share some visuals for me to keep in mind as I created the lyrics. I don’t know if you got a chance to check out the album. It was an interesting process because normally as a lyricist, I try to conjure up some lyrics before I come up with the music - and the key word here is trying, I put my best efforts, but being a musician first the music more times than not comes first and the lyrics kinda follow that. Nothing really changed in terms of the routine, but at the same time… I don’t know if you had a chance to check out the album cover. Its a bunch of different hands appearing over, almost as if they are giant hands coming up over this very dark and underneath these are these strings coming out of the fingers so it’s almost as if a giant puppeteer master controlling the public. Everybody else in the world of what’s going on, even though the end of the world is happening, there’s this reason for everyone to go out and party and live their last moments as if it’s the end of the world, to make it their best- kind of a thing. That’s what we were going for and eventually, we ended up with what everyone is now able to listen to as Panic Mode drops today. The lyrics followed the instruments, the music. However, it all kinda of happened simultaneously because then Felix started tweaking some things. “Oh, because Salvador said this, I’m going to add this musical idea here or add a siren here.” The music happened first but once that happened everything else we were able to layer on top. It only took a couple of weeks and it would have happened a lot sooner if my son hadn’t have been born in the middle of recording it.
GW: A planned interruption! (laughs)
SS: A beautiful interruption!
GW: Obviously, the sky is the limit but where do you guys see this song being played? Daydreams, visions…?
SS: I always dream big. I always look at every song or opportunity that I want to create, rather than a specific goal like, “I want to see Panic Mode in this particular scene of this particular movie, this or this or that…” Rather than have specific goals, one thing that I’ve learned here in this life and also in my 20 years of musical career, is rather than having expectations, I’d rather have goals and intentions. The reason for that is that having expectations, at least for me when they aren’t met, just for me personally, I feel like I‘ve set myself up for failure. Then it’s hard for me emotionally. It’s not like ‘poor me’ or anything like that…
GW: No, not at all! I love that. It’s beautiful and inspiring.
SS: Yeah, thank you. It’s more like a mental, a state of mind. I’d rather be in a state of mind where I have goals and intentions to say I just want this song to be able to soar and fly. In this case, Panic Mode, there is a home for it somewhere, maybe multiple homes for it. For me, I just put 100, 200% into what I’m doing so that it at least has that opportunity to be able to shine, fly, and soar onto these major platforms whether it be radio or it gets placed in a really big movie or anything on those levels. At the end of the day, people like yourself just being able to take a listen, that at the bare minimum, is for me a very high honor. There is so much music out there right now. I feel like there are 8-10,000 songs that come out every day, at the least, and so for people to take the time to listen and absorb it and vibe out to it, that means the most to me. I said this before and my father has also said this before, I’ll leave it at this. We were at the Grammy party, the red carpet for the Grammy awards and people were asking, “Oh Santana I know that your son is here and I know that you both won Grammy awards for Supernatural. How many Grammys do you expect to win this time and what does that mean to you?” I wanted to say it but my father stepped up and then we both were able to say it to the gentleman. It’s nothing personal against that gentleman but we just wanted to be clear and transparent. He (Carlos Santana) said, “That type of stuff, as much of an honor as that is for us, I’d much rather know that we were able to touch an individual or a group of people with our music and our song.” At the end of the day that is what allows us to get these awards is through impacting and touching people through our music. Those are the bigger accolades, those are the things that don’t get noticed. The Grammys, stuff like that, the actual awards are just physical validations of what we’re really doing which is to impact people. If we can distract people in a way where they’re not so focused on what “not my president” is doing right now and all the other… the people that go out of their way to condone fear and sell all this negative stuff. If we can distract people from all that stuff and what better way to do it than through music. If we can distract from all of that - it’s more important than winning all these awards and accomplishments of that nature. That’s really my biggest goal and intention when putting songs out is to be able to get it to a point where we can share it with everybody. Again, we want people to enjoy it as much as we had fun creating it, no matter what it is.
GW: What I love about your music is that it is so unexpected, it is such a distraction that brings the listener back to the music, not the hullabaloo of the music business that surrounds the artist. With Panic Mode, you can’t hear much of your classic Latino Afro-Cuban genre stylings. This is such a departure from that but it is still such a spirit of keeping your eye on the prize and dance! When all else fails in life, dance will see you through.
SS: Right, exactly. I appreciate you saying that. For me, I don’t want to be predictable. Maybe there are certain artists and certain people that can generate success through predictability.
GW: Well yeah, it makes money.
SS: Yeah, for me I just don’t know how to be predictable. I like to switch things up, I like to reinvent, not reinvent myself- but reintroduce myself, if you will, on different projects. Different collaborations involve different things. There are certain actors that get paid to continue to play the same roles over and over again and that’s awesome, great for them. That’s what separates the good actors from the great ones are those that aren’t afraid to step out and do something completely different. Like, off the top of my head, Christian Bale recently has done Psycho and then he’s done one role where he looked emaciated and now he’s doing Vice where he is super overweight as Dick Cheney. People who are willing to step out and actually embrace that role that they’re doing… That for me is what I’d like to be doing, challenging myself as an artist and as a musician and as a producer, to be able to just - whatever isn’t in my comfort zone to be able to MAKE that my comfort zone. That’s what separates the good artists that are successful from the great artists that are successful.
GW: Well you can certainly tell that you were made to be creative!
SS: That’s all I know how to do!
GW: Random question: what is on your playlist right now? What are you listening to these days?
SS: That’s a really good question! A lot of children’s music right now honestly. Again, being a new parent, we got different toys that sing music and I try my best to harmonize along with them so that my son Stevie can hear my voice. He loves music. He totally vibes out. There was one time when my wife came into the studio. I was working on another record I am working on right now with Asdru Sierra from Ozomatli, a collaboration that we are working on right now. I turned down the music because I heard she was walking in and she was still pregnant. She was like, “Honey dinner is ready, OH!” she grabbed her stomach and I was like are you okay? Is it time?! And she was like, “No, the baby just kicked, he’s dancing. Turn that back up.” He has been bobbing and dancing since I’ve known him. I know he is my son because he totally responds to music, music that makes you want to get up and dance, move your head, nod, all that. A lot of children's music, lullabies all that. On my personal playlist, there is always a lot of Herbie Hancock, first and foremost. He is my biggest influence not only as a piano player but also musically and sonically. For me, Herbie can’t do no wrong.
GW: I heard Herbie gave you the nod of approval on your album Keyboard City. Can you share that story with us?
SS: Yes he did. Especially at that time, I was doing a lot of interviews and people were asking me all sorts of questions. I was being critical and just being challenged as far as making sure I was on top of my game, all sorts of different questions. There was one guy, I don’t remember who it was and again it was nothing personal towards the guy but I just had to remind him. He said something something ya know something critical about this particular song and he wished he heard more of this and less of that, going on… I said that’s all cool but at the end of the day, I just spoke with one of my biggest idols Herbie Hancock and he said that he absolutely enjoyed Keyboard City so with all due respect, he has the qualifications and the critical ear to be able to criticize my album. If he says he’s cool with it, that’s all I needed. God could take me right here and now, I’d be a happy camper. That was a supreme honor and validation right there, coming from someone like Herbie. Herbie first and foremost, an album in particular Sunlight. If you haven’t checked it out, please do so and anybody reading this, please go out and check that record. That actually inspired my album Keyboard City, the song itself that I continue to do with the vocoder instrument. Sunlight was definitely the spark to that, for me. Herbie, for sure, Thelonious Monk, McCoy Tyner, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and then switching gears from jazz and blues to like the Bob Marleys of the world, Jimi Hendrix, Marvin Gaye - most of the artists that influenced my father also influence me as well.
GW: Yes, that footage of your dad playing with the Grateful Dead in 1991 I saw this morning, your dad was wearing a Bob Marley tee shirt.
SS: Oh my God, when isn’t he wearing a Bob Marley tee shirt?! Then nowadays, some of the current artists whether they are around my age, older than me or definitely the kids. Since I’m in my 30s, anybody that is 30 and younger is a kid to me. So it’s whatever the kids are listening to, Anderson.Paak is one artist that I super love. I just love what he’s doing and his band the Free Nationals. Griz is another cat from Detroit who is doing his thing. Yeah! And also Little Dragon. My wife loves them so by default, I also love them. There is a Native American electronic group called A Tribe Called Red...
GW: A Tribe Called Red! (at the same time) They are great!
SS: Love those cats. There is so much music out there for me, I have to just kind of…Just like anybody... As long as it gives me goosebumps, makes me nod my head, it’s provocative, makes me think, or I can just vibe out to it. More times than not, I just listen to it. If it doesn’t do anything for me, it’s all respect - but it just doesn’t do anything for me. My playlist consists of a multi-genre of musical things. At the end of the day, what I do - I was asked this recently - “What type of music do you perform Salvador? What type of music do you play? It’s got Latin, hip hop, jazz, it’s got this it’s got that. What would you call it?” I said, to be honest, my genre of music is I play Life. I play everything that you hear nowadays. I just play Life. All the good music, all the amazing music that is out there that we sum up as in this era, right now. That is what I would call that genre. Life.
GW: I caught my 20-year-old son trying to google what genre this song he liked was. I asked him why does that even matter? If you like it, you like it.
SS: That’s all it is. I get that, record labels or television shows… What’s a comedy? Drama? Dramedy? What’s a horror, what’s a this and that. Everything has to be categorized and organized and I get all that from a business standpoint. For me, as an artist, I do my best not to, even though nowadays we have to wear multiple hats this day and age, I try not to wear a specific hat unless its the artist or creative one for too much longer than I have to. I start to overthink things and over-focus on one thing. Then I’m not doing my job. I’m not putting all my efforts into the creative side of things. That’s my job description. That’s my role. That’s what I’m supposed to do. I just want to learn the fundamentals of each other thing but I don’t necessarily want to invest everything in all that other stuff. I still have a job to do and that is just to be myself and whatever I’m doing I have to put my fingerprints on it. At the end of the day, that’s what people are going to at the very least expect from me, to be consistent with that. As long as I stay mindful and conscious of that fact, anything else is what it is. I let everybody else categorize my stuff or label it. You can label it whatever you want. Take it however you want. Once you release it out there, it’s open for interpretation.
GW: Absolutely. Hopefully, it’s taken in all sorts of ways, mostly for inspiration.
GW: I think you just perfectly described the dichotomy of Panic Mode because the lyrics keep going back and forth between I Can Set You Free- and -Hitting the Panic Mode. You gotta find that fine line somewhere in between if you want to live your life artistically.
SS: I’m glad you said that because that’s actually, that is exactly what I was going for. Teetering, tightrope walking, if you will on that duality of being cool with things could end at any moment but at that same time, you’re still in control. Even with that feeling, there is a sense of freedom. There is still a sense of choice, to accept it or to resist it. I’m really glad that you said it and articulated it exactly as I did. That’s what I was trying to convey in the message through the lyrics.
GW: Awesome! I got it!
SS: You did! Hey, my job is done. I can retire right now.
GW: Please don’t!
SS: I won’t.
GW: Well awesome, that wraps up all the questions I have for you today. It has been such a pleasure speaking with you.
SS: Likewise, Thank you. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. Like I said, Panic Mode comes out today. I hope everybody enjoys it. Hit the Panic Mode button for me okay?
GW: I sure will. When you come to Chicago I will be front row!
SS: Hey! I look forward to it. In fact, my wife’s family is from Chicago. If we didn’t live in California, even though it’s cold as all get out, Chicago is a big second choice for us.
GW: That’d be awesome! Thank You
SS: Thanks June