If you have no idea who THEESatisfaction are, then you must be very new to this town. But even if you are a recent inhabitant of the 206, Stasia "Stas" Irons and Catherine "Cat" Harris-White are by no means obscure or underground. They are, after all, signed to Seattle's most internationally recognized label, Sub Pop, are regularly reviewed on sites like Pitchfork, are soon to tour with veteran rock mavens Sleater-Kinney, and have worked very closely with Ishmael Butler, who, as a member of the Grammy-winning Digable Planets, secured a place in hiphop's canon in the early '90s. Had you come to Seattle five years ago, however, there was every good reason not to know the name THEESatisfaction; indeed, many who lived here were also in the dark about the duo. Stas and Cat's music was then known and cherished only by a few who were hip to the happenings at Hidmo, an Eritrean restaurant that served as a cultural center and hiphop hub and sadly closed its doors in 2010.
Back in those early days, the days of the duo's first and self-released album, Snow Motion (2009), no one would have imagined that THEESatisfaction would go so far, releasing two albums on Sub Pop—the first of which, awE naturalE, was unquestionably the best 206 hiphop album of 2012, and the latest of which, EarthEE (released February 24), is a richly and boldly produced work of neo-Afrocentric sonic fiction with contributions from the likes of Meshell Ndegeocello. Yes, they have come a long way. But that very fact brings up a good question: Exactly where did THEESatisfaction come from? Where were they born? Did they grow up together, and if not, where did they first meet? They certainly did not enter the scene in 2009 from the nothingness that the universe seems to have exploded from 13.5 billion years ago. Stas and Cat have a history, a past, a beginning. What was it? Well, it goes a little something like this.
The place Stas came into life is Tacoma, Washington. This happened in 1985.
The place Cat came into life is San Francisco, California. This happened in 1986. A year later, her family moved to Hawaii.
Stas attended a private Christian school, Peoples Christian School—which is now Cascade Christian Academy—from preschool to third grade. She was one of the few black kids in her school. And what she most remembers about the experience is the day she had to learn a song called "Please Don't Send Me to Africa."
The lyrics: "Oh Lord I am your willing servant/You know that I have been for years/I'm here in this pew every Sunday and Wednesday/I've stained it with many a tear/I've given you years of my service/And I've always given my best/And I've never asked you for anything much/So Lord I deserve this..."
The odd tune is by Scott Wesley Brown, a contemporary Christian music songwriter. He was, it seems, trying to mock the true feeling most middle-class white Christians have about being called by God to do hard missionary work in the heat and dust of the Darkest Continent. His sense of humor did not, rightly, please Stas's mother when she heard her little daughter singing the song. "She took me out of that school soon after that."
A year after Stas moved to Seattle from Tacoma ("vastly different places"), Cat moved from Hawaii's main island to Seattle (1997). Not long after she settled, Cat attended McClure Middle School. A few months in, she began to notice that a certain teacher would never give her good grades no matter how hard she worked. Everything she handed in returned with a D. This teacher was not white, but black. The situation got so bad that Cat's mother finally showed up at the school one day and had a meeting with this particular teacher, desperate to know what she, as a mother, could do to improve her daughter's grades. The teacher was apparently very frank and told Cat's mother that because of her daughter's skin color, it wasn't good for her to excel as a student, as that would raise her expectations. The society she lived in did not reward black girls who worked hard or had good grades. It was better for Cat to appreciate this fact right away and not live with illusions. Cat then transferred to Hamilton International Middle School.
Stas and Cat met in 2005 while the former was attending the University of Washington and the latter Cornish College of the Arts. Cat: "Cornish is a very small school, so they didn't have a lot of the different student groups that the bigger schools have. I used to go to UW because they had a black students union and an LBGT community." Cat began hanging out at the Ethnic Cultural Center, which had an open mic night. It was here Stas first saw Cat, and the seed for THEESatisfaction was planted.
Stas: "I used to go [to the open mic] to make fun of the poetry, but then I started reading my own poetry. Cat was there all the time, singing and dancing. We vibed off of that. Eventually, we joined with the house band [from the open mic night] and formed Question, a neo-soul cover band. We had a kazoo player [none other than 10-4 Roger—the man who would later produce THEESatisfaction's 'Cabin Fever'], a rapper, and a guy who would stand up and make political statements. He didn't attend any of the schools." The band broke up after a year. Stas and Cat graduated in 2008.
THEESatisfaction came to life in 2008 after Stas returned from a three-month trip to South Africa. Stas: "I was looking for a name for my MySpace profile and was not happy with any of the names that came to mind, and so I just called myself THEESatisfaction. And Cat was like, 'That's a great name for a band. We should call ourselves that.' And we did." That's Weird was their first mixtape as THEESatisfaction. It has nine tracks that were recorded in a closet in a house on 23rd and Madison. Cat: "We called it the madhouse—it had rats and was crowded with people."
THEESatisfaction's first proper show happened in the fall of 2008 at an event for queer artists of color at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute.
Cat: "We worked at Costco on Fourth Avenue between 2008 and 2009 and we hated it."
THEESatisfaction's first album, Snow Motion, which came out in August of 2009, essentially emerged from Ladies' Night, an all-female rap and spoken-word night at Hidmo. Snow Motion's release party also took place at Hidmo.
It happened like this in the fall of 2009: The local artist Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes is eating at Plum Bistro, a vegan restaurant near 12th and Pike, when he sees Cat and Stas walking down the street. He leaves the restaurant in an instant and introduces himself to the two. He says that he saw them open for the Swedish band Little Dragon at Nectar Lounge. He tells them they are amazing. He invites them to the opening of his art gallery, pun(c)tuation. They accept the offer, attend the opening, and are introduced to Alley-Barnes's close friend Ishmael Butler, who earlier that year released two CDs as Shabazz Palaces with Tendai Maraire (a master mbira player and rapper). Stas: "It was crazy meeting Ish. We just stared at each other for a very long time. He had this fur coat on, and we were just amazed."
THEESatisfaction's first show with Shabazz Palaces happened at the 2010 Stranger Genius Awards. THEESatisfaction covered two of Shabazz Palaces' songs, and Shabazz Palaces covered two of THEESatisfaction's songs. This is how Eric Grandy, the music editor of The Stranger at the time, described Cat and Stas's incredible moment on the stage: "The female duo THEESatisfaction [emerged] from a thick, dark fog wearing goggles and towering ebony-colored headdresses that looked like carved animal totems." Those strange and wonderful masks were designed by Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes and defined this new mood of blackness, this new form of collaboration: Afro-eccentricism.
Shabazz Palaces and THEESatisfaction both became a part of Sub Pop in 2011.
In early 2012, THEESatisfaction shot their first video in Brooklyn, New York. It was for the lead jam, "QueenS," off their first Sub Pop album, awE naturalE. It was directed by the legendary filmmaker/activist dream hampton and concerns a party attended only by black women.
In 2013, Stas moves to Brooklyn. Cat stays in Seattle.
THEESatisfaction had their first of many Black Weirdo parties (DJs, rapping, dancing, a night of Afro-eccentricism) at Littlefield, a hiphop and jazz spot in Brooklyn. The size of the event's success surprised Cat and Stas.
In 2012, THEESatisfaction began working on EarthEE, their second album with Sub Pop. Half of the album was recorded in Brooklyn, and the other half in Seattle at Black Space, a studio run by Shabazz Palaces and Erik Blood, a musician and producer THEESatisfaction first met at the Bend-It Festival at Cal Anderson Park in 2010. Since 2011, Blood has worked extensively with THEESatisfaction.
This is THEESatisfaction on a dinosaur. This happens in the future.