THEESatisfaction: Preflight Checklist
This is not your captain speaking, but you may put your seats in their full-back recline position. Thank you for flying Dynasty Air. En route on this flight are THEESatisfaction's Catherine Harris-White and Stasia Irons, bound for London to play a string of shows. Once we reach cruising altitude, undulation will begin. The fasten-seat-belt sign is off, and the bubble machine is on. Our flight path today will take us over the Sea of Chaka Khan and through the Kingdom of Stevie Wonder. The in-flight movie will be Sun Ra's Space Is the Place, and when you need a robe, press the "Robe" button on your armrest. The attendant will bring you one immediately, velvet or silk. Please sit back, relax, and enjoy your flight.
THEESatisfaction's Stas and Cat are cojoined, beat-made MCs, producers, partners, and lovers with nothing in this world or the next to hide. Their collective brain lobes contain hiphop acumen and insight. When their voices harmonize, it sounds like a human Moog synth rendition of keys Stevie himself would have played. Rangewise, Stas and Cat graze tonally into Ella Fitzgerald and Tina Turner. On the beat, rapped side of the equation, the Seattle duo spreads into Quasimoto's refined and raw oddness. Since 2008, THEESatisfaction have released five EPs. This spring, they are set to put out an Erik Blood–produced full-length on Sub Pop. I caught up with them preflight, prelaunch, hours before they left for London. (Note: Unattributed quotes figuratively come from both members' mouths.)
Are you packed for the trip to the UK?
What have you packed? Anything out of the ordinary?
Cat: Turkey and Swiss sandwiches. Swedish fish. Stas really loves Swedish fish.
The candy. No, we packed actual fish from Sweden.
Actual fish from Sweden—not such a great mid-flight snack. I need to improve my candy knowledge game. What will y'all read and listen to on the flight over there?
Cat: I'm going to be reading Harlem Is Nowhere by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, and I'll be listening to Gang Starr.
Stas: I'll probably be listening to some Erykah Badu and some Mariah Carey.
Are you all good fliers?
I guess it's uncomfortable to fly. But if you go to sleep, everything is fine. We try to use up all our energy so we can sleep.
Are you excited to go play in the UK?
Very excited. We've never been there, so we don't know what to expect. All we know is Mary Poppins and Harry Potter. And The Office.
Dumbledore is frikking everywhere over there. With Jack the Ripper. Look out for that. And there's the London Bridge.
And Big Ben. Buckingham Palace. We may say what's up to the Queen.
What does THEESatisfaction think of all that royal-family business?
It's what they do, you know? It's how they do it over there.
You guys have a royal tone to your voices and phrasing. It's rich. There's luxury there. Makes me think of Cleopatra-type royalty. You know how when Egyptians died and were put in tombs, they would be buried with their closest treasures? What would you two want to be buried with you in your tomb? To have for all of eternity. Besides Chaka Khan cassettes.
Cat: Swedish fish, of course. My copy of The Wiz. My first dashiki.
Stas: I'm gonna be buried with Cat [laughs].
Your new album is finished, produced by Erik Blood, coming out in the spring. How was it working with Erik?
Erik is really cool. A really good person, very talented. It was nice to work with him and open ourselves up to the experience of working with him. It was fun and amazing. It felt very special to connect with him. I don't know what it is, but I feel like he really knows us, more than, say, someone you know your whole life. But I feel like he knows us, and that manifested in the studio.
He's a sonic mind reader.
Yes. He took things we gave him and put another light on it.
What parts of your sound have you built on?
We really have to say every part. Every part of our sound is built on each part of us, as individuals: our vocals, production—from doing our own tour, to working with Sub Pop now. And putting out our own mixtapes, having support to put out a project. All aspects feed on each other. It's just a matter of growth. We've been growing over this time. We still don't really know shit. You think you know things, but find out that's not the case. We're still learning and growing. Hopefully, we can get to where we want to be.
What was it that made y'all know you wanted to perform?
Stas: I feel like my whole life has been a performance [laughs]. Having to deal with family shit, school shit, being gay, being black, being a woman. Having to deal with those things, I feel like I've had to act at various points along the way.
Cat: I feel the same way. I've always been performing, getting people to listen—in terms of actions, singing, and dancing. I talked a lot about acting with my family, acting as my preferred mode of expression. Not necessarily like acting in a play. Even in talking to people, you have to put on a different voice sometimes, different outfits. You can't be the same way with everyone, because you have to be considerate. So in that consideration, it's a natural thing.
Like a persona? What you're putting out there to people?
No, I mean being considerate to what people are going through, considerate of where they've been. Because I'm me throughout it, I'm always myself, I'm always Cat. Like you don't talk to your parents the same way you talk to your beer buddies. You can, but it depends on what kind of person you are and what kind of person they are.
Where do your lyrics come from? How did you approach words for the upcoming album?
We're going through different things every time we put out a project. And we try to keep it within a time frame so it can have a certain feel to it. We did Snow Motion in the winter. And it was like the worst winter Seattle has ever had. For this one, we were in a situation, and it's going to have a feel you're going to be able to pick up on. It's going to sound better because it was made in a studio, and it was mixed and mastered. The sound quality is up. I think it's a combination of all of what we've done.
And the huge Chaka Khan influence.
Always Chaka Khan. It's hard to pinpoint a specific approach or process. Creating the album was a fluid thing. Some days we would write, some days we wouldn't. Some days we would work on the beats, some days we didn't. It's kind of hard to think of what I was listening to when I made that beat or wrote those lyrics. Our lyrics come from the '70s, or the early '80s. Maybe I'll say that.
What comes first, beats or words?
It depends. Everything is very situational.
You both seem so even. You have this presence. Like you're ancient aliens of sound, from the future, not of the earth—human-formed entities of sound. You contain a strength and astuteness, and a calm. With the album coming out in the spring on Sub Pop, THEESatisfaction will launch. Are you ready? Is it intimidating? What are your prelaunch thoughts?
We're excited, and grateful, and thankful for all the support and energy people have been sending. People like to groove to our jams. We're very appreciative of it. It's still kind of mind-blowing, though, every day.
How was your LA show last month? Where did you play? Y'all gotta get ready for TMZ and shit down there. When you go to the grocery store, they're gonna be all up on you. What do you think of the whole LA thing?
That show was cracking. No one knew who we were. They were watching us and studying us, getting to know us as we performed. Lots of people came up afterward and said they liked it and that they hadn't seen anything like that before. They bought hella vinyl, which was cool. They didn't want CDs. They mostly wanted the Magnetic Blackness record. It's a different place down there. They have a different taste for things, a different approach: West Coast, slightly different than Northwest.
What are your favorite Stevie Wonder songs? Have y'all ever seen him live?
What drum machine does THEESatisfaction like to use?
We use an Akai XR20.
In your song "Mourning SAMO" off Transitions, you all say, "The pastor made moves." Is this from a personal experience, did a pastor make moves on you? Seems like every time I look at the news, some pastor somewhere is making moves on someone.
No. It's kind of a double meaning: pastors, priests, making movements.
So when y'all get to Buckingham Palace, will you steal me one of Queen Elizabeth's corgis? She has these specific dogs. You know they're over-cared-for. I've always wanted someone to jack one. And as long as y'all are there, when no one's looking, I was hoping you could nab me one. I'm sure they don't have fleas.
We'll try to get you one of those.
I should let you get back to packing. Don't forget your passport, and underwear, and an extra pair of socks, and a hat for if it gets cold.
And Swedish fish. Not actual fish from Sweden.Listen to "Mourning SAMO"
Listen to "Bush"
Listen to "Bisexual"