The Seattle Hip-Hop Duo Stays Down to Earth on Another Plane
THEESatisfaction is the musical project of Stasia Irons (Stas) and Catherine Harris-White (Cat). Together the couple forms a two-woman, self-produced R&B/hip hop/psychedelic soul operation with strong cosmic overtones. Stas does a bit more rhyming while Cat is known for the jazzy vocals, but the beauty is in the way one thing changes into another as stylistic boundaries dissolve before your ears.
Inspired by everything from the Neptunes to feminist science fiction, the grooves on their Sub Pop-released debut album awE naturalE might take you to another world. After all, that’s what they themselves are seeking in their musical explorations.
We gathered some of this insight in our recent interview with the duo. Never ones to shy away from deep conversation, they opened up about the musical extraterrestrialisms they love and the process of finding their own spacey sound.
Your music sounds very personal. Is it strange at all being introduced to a larger audience?
Cat: It is kind of interesting to see how people respond to it. Especially, now that we’ve been overseas. It’s not really scary or anything. It’s just different.
Is it changing anything in the way that you make music, knowing that more people are going to hear it?
Cat: Situations always change how people react to things, so being that we’re going to be in a different kind of environment now I guess that our music would change. It’s probably changed in many ways already, that we don’t even know. Our music has definitely changed over the years. That’s just what’s going to happen naturally.
What is your favorite response to your music so far?
Stas: We play our music for our nephews and our family members. They get a kick out of it. My younger nephew knows the lyrics to “QueenS” and he sings it all the time. He’ll call me and he’ll be singing the song. We just really appreciate that our family loves the work we do.
After putting out a series of mixtapes, what was the most important thing for both of you when it was time to make a more official release for Sup Pop? Or had you already been working on the album?
Cat: We’d been planning awE naturalE since the beginning of our group. We were always trying to take steps to put out our projects on a larger scale. And I feel like with every release it reached more of a crowd or a larger audience. But now with Sub Pop’s support we were able to put out awE naturalE on a different kind of level. For us it’s always about growth and seeing what you can do with the resources that you have. And Sub Pop is a great resource. They’re really cool, nice people who really grasp what we want.
There often seems to be a political subtext to your music but you don’t make a lot of outright political statements. Is that a conscious decision or just a natural part of your creative process?
Stas: When we make music, sometimes we want to talk about a particular subject like love or the weather, things like that. But a lot of the time it’s just how we feel. We don’t really put any boundaries around what we do. And we are interested in politics as well as other things but we don’t try to have an agenda.
How do you feel about the term Afrofuturism? I think it’s been applied to your music in every single thing I’ve read about you. What, if anything, does the word mean to you?
Cat: I really like the term. It embodies a lot of things that I agree with. It has a deep meaning because it has a way of explaining a whole culture. It is still a label that boxes a lot of other things out, but at the same time it propels black people to another height. It examines things in a way that can stretch as far back as Egypt and the pyramids or as futuristic as you want, like right now with Janelle Monae. It’s a broad phrasing but it explains a lot of people. I think it explains us, a part of us anyway.
People apply the term a lot to your label mate Spoek Mathambo. Have you gotten into his music?
Cat: Yeah, Spoek is pretty cool. We got introduced to him through Sub Pop. We all got signed around the same time. Us, Shabazz [Palaces], and Spoek. We got the chance to meet him at SXSW and watch him a little bit. He’s a wild guy. He’s very creative. His music videos are just off the hook. We like him.
Are there other artists you identify with in music who have adopted an extraterrestrial identity?
Cat: Definitely. Outkast, Janelle Monae, and all the entities with George Clinton, P-Funk and such. Earth, Wind & Fire. Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones. And even beyond that with Afro-futurism in the sense of different chord structures, different things that mean science fiction inside of our mind, leading back to things like Ella, Billie, Miles Davis. They just had a crazy kind of space sound and feel to them.
Can you tell me more about music you feel is inherently otherworldly like that?
Cat: Yeah, it’s all around us. Sometimes you’ll just hear a note that will kind of send you into space. Definitely, tritones for us. I feel like it’s different for everyone. But sometimes people align with one sound or a certain sound that literally takes you to space, makes you zone out, takes you somewhere else, takes you on a journey somewhere. All the artists I mentioned definitely.
Stas: If you’ve ever listened to the Neptunes they have this little pling sound. I don’t even know how to describe it. Pling! That’s an interplanetary sound right there, something from outer space, something that you don’t hear naturally on Earth.
What sort of sounds have you hit on like that in your own music?
Cat: I think it’s all throughout. It’s a feeling and more than just a combination of chords. It’s not like G Minor 7 chord makes me feel that way, it’s a sequence. But I think it’s all over. It just takes time to identify it.
Can you think of a particular song where you found that in your own sound?
Cat: When we put out our first mixtape That’s Weird, the intro and just the whole tape has a vibe of something somewhere else.
Stas: We were just playing around with Garage Band and the different ways to manipulate voices. We were just talking and the way it came out the voices didn’t even sound like ours, so I think that’s what prompted that whole entire mixtape, you know “We Sound Weird.”
Do you have any secrets for staying positive?
Cat: Drink tea and water. Water is so necessary. You’d be surprised what a glass of water will do if you just integrate it into your day. Just spending some time to think, or reading outside of a text message. Taking walks. Being around your family members and people you love and having conversations with them. Just enjoying life, period.
So, what are you reading now?
Stas: I’m reading the Patternmaster Series. Seed to Harvest. It’s by Octavia Butler. It’s very, very, very good.