Cat Harris-White and bandmate Stasia Irons know how to write a memorable lyric. “Queens of the Stoned Age/and princess of time/feel our energy/floating through your mind.”
The totally DIY hip-hop duo, which makes up THEESatisfaction, earlier this year released groundbreaking, 30-minute debut LP awE NaturalE. But they've long been a part of the emerging Seattle art scene. In it, they've been creating a nearly incomparable sound, at least, galaxies away from swag, with roots in soul and jazz overlaid by spacey electronic beats, cosmic funk zaps, and unexpected twists, along with eloquent sing-rapped verses.
Each track on the record holds a mini story, another sound exploration. The chopped, wordless R&B opener “awE” blends easily into funky beat-poetry style “Bitch,” on which the duo sings, “I'm always finding a time/when I feel I need to please you/but why do I even give a fuck/A fuck about/how the world trails off/off.” Fade out.
There's floaty, twinkling “Juiced” and powerful closer “Naturale”. Synthy, whistle-dropping, hand-clapping jam “QueenS” should, in a perfect world, be the summer anthem of 2012. On it, their mission statement: "Leave your face at the door/turn off your swag /check your bag."
I talked with both Harris-White and Irons about all this – musical origins, the nature of DIY creation, being sci-fi Trekkies, Seattle's current hip-hop surge, harmonizing with Drake, and memorable personal anthems (hint: Montell Jordan) – prior to their SF show this weekend:
SFBG How was the Europe tour?
Cat Harris-White It was really good, we did 12 shows out there in two weeks so it was kind of intense, but the crowds were really cool. We got to see a lot of cool people and go to different places we've never been – we went to the Netherlands, where we've never been before, and Brussels.
Stasia Irons This time we got to go up to Sweden and Belgium, we even dipped into Germany, we didn't have a show there but we passed through Dusseldorf, Germany, so that was awesome. We went out in Scotland to a nightclub and [laughs] we had a lot of fun. We were out pretty late, but that's how they party.
SFBG It must be much easier to get around on tour with just the two of you, as opposed to a larger backing band, or with roadies?
SI Yeah, it's much easier, you can take the train.
SFBG [THEESatisfaction] comes from a pretty DIY sensibility, a scene where you're making your own handmade CDs and tapes?
CHW Definitely, we were doing our own thing. We're self-managed. It's just a totally different experience, because we get to make the decisions and decide what we're doing.
SFBG Does that also influence the style of music you’re making?
SI Yeah, when we first started off we just made music for ourselves, just to enjoy at home and play around. We kind of developed the way we sound over time just listening to a lot of different kinds of music and figuring out what we wanted.
We really like gospel and jazz. We both come from those genres. I was more heavily in gospel and Cat was well-versed in jazz. So we started there. And then since we're doing it ourselves, we can go anywhere we want with it.
SFBG I've seen a lot of comparisons, to acts like Shabazz Palaces or even ESG, but beyond that I feel like it does have a very different sound, and it probably comes from that DIY sensibility – how do you feel about comparisons to other acts?
CHW I accept them, and it's cool that people can draw those lines. I'm never really offended. I like when they're able to pick out people who I really like. Someone told us that we reminded them of TLC and SWV and Digable Planets.
SFBG On the album, there are such interesting turns of phrases, and wordplay, I was wondering where that came from – are you voracious readers, students of hip-hop?
SI We read a lot, especially now more than ever. When we first started out we were just listening to a lot of music, and not really reading a lot. But now, since we did the album, we were heavily in to black sci-fi authors. I went to school for English, and Cat went to school for vocal jazz, so that's the reason too.
SFBG There are some sci-fi sounds, outer-space atmospheres on the album — was that sort of spacey vibe intentional?
CHW Yeah, we've always been into sci-fi too, I'm totally a Trekkie and everything like that. We've always been into outer-space and exploring beyond what's here on earth, and exploring deeper into what is here on Earth. Where we come from, where we're going. We're researchers and historians. We're always interested in finding out different information, I guess that comes out in our sound.
SFBG Who are some of the authors you're reading currently?
CHW Right now we're reading a lot of Octavia Butler.
SI Toni Morrison. Oh, Shakespeare.
CHW Shakespeare definitely. Alice Walker as well.
SFBG I feel like “Queens” is a really anthemic song – a song that people want to shout out the lyrics to – what were the anthems of your youth?
CHW Growing up I listened to a lot of George Clinton and P-Funk and Parliment. “We Want the Funk” and just all their songs. You know what I'm saying? Those songs go on for like 10 minutes and they're just chanting and harmonizing and blending things, so those kind of songs were anthemic, but also songs from Chic and SOS Band and other songs like that that have the same kind of vibe.
SI My mom listened to R&B a lot — so “This Is How We Do It” comes on, obviously I'm going to be reciting all the lyrics. Party jams like that. A lot of New jack swing and shit too.
SFBG What's your music scene like in Seattle?
CHW Yes, Seattle is poppin' right now, as far as music. A lot of friends are involved in it, not necessarily only music, but arts, authors. A lot of artsy people. But hip-hop is what's really going on right now. It used to be a lot of grunge and indie bands and they're still there, but I see like a lot of different kinds of hip-hop coming out of Seattle right now.
As you said Shabazz, and then there's Champagne Champagne, a lot of great hip-hop DJs – Chocolate Chuck. There's punk hip-hip, party hip-hop, sad hip-hop [laughs], Christian hip-hip.
SFBG Christian hip-hop?
CHW [Laughs] there's a lot of that going on. That's actually how I started getting involved [with music]. When I was kid, going to church, there was a group called Cave and I didn't know they were Christian hip-hop, they never cursed or anything but their songs were just really good and usually gospel hip-hop isn't all that good, but they were pretty dope.
SFBG Any thoughts on the current state of mainstream hip-hop? I guess “mainstream” is kind of a fast and loose description, but radio-popular hip-hop in 2012?
CHW I don't have a problem with it essentially in a big way, because there's always a certain place for it, on the radio and TV. There's always been a popular format of music, music that's highly promoted to the world. The music you'll hear when you go places – you'll hear Flo Rida or Odd Future or Nicki Minaj, or maybe LMFAO. There's music that will always be promoted because there's a certain force behind it and that's fine. It's been around as long as radio's been around.
SFBG Do you have any dream collaborators?
CHW Fantasy-wise, Prince or Stevie Wonder. Missy Elliot, Timbaland too. Esperanza Spalding. Drake [laughs], we can harmonize with Drake.
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