[MUSIC: Interview] THEESatisfaction
Stasia Irons has two song titles tattooed on her arms. On one arm is South African, anti-apartheid anthem ‘Senzenina’, which Irons first heard while studying in Cape Town. On the other is Michael Jackson’s hit-single ‘Thriller’. The music which Irons makes in THEESatisfaction with her band-mate and lover Catherine Harris-White is born of a similar counterpoint: one part revolutionary message of black, feminist and homosexual empowerment; one part feel-good dance groove.
“Social change has always been a part of [music]. It echoes all the way back. Even in the days of slavery, the slaves would be out in the field making music,” Irons explains before Harris-White chimes in (the pair often finish each other’s thoughts): “Naturally, this album is going to be about black, queer women because we are black, queer women. We’re story tellers at the end of the day, and we’re just trying to tell a story about us and our experiences.”
The couple met back when they were both students in Seattle. “I used to go crash parties at the University of Washington,” says Harris-White. “I went to a small arts college not too far away and they just didn’t have the same sorts of events. I’d be crashing these parties and bumping into Stasia a bunch of times. We became friends from there and eventually started dating. When we were both in our senior year in college, Stasia went on a ‘study abroad’ trip to Cape Town. I started messing around on GarageBand and sending her stuff. Meanwhile she was writing a bunch of poetry, and when she came back we were just so done with school, and we just needed a way to release.”
After several free mixtapes on Bandcamp, the duo broke some serious ground with a cameo on Shabazz Palaces’ 2011 album Black Up, followed shortly by a signing to Sub Pop records and the release of THEESatisfaction’s debut full-length, awE naturalE. Such is the gravity of Shabazz Palaces in Seattle’s still nascent hip hop scene that many reviews of awE naturalE treat the album and its makers as something of an adjunct to Black Up. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Whist Black Up occupies a synthetic, nocturnal, somewhat sinister sound world owing much to current trends in bass music, awE naturalE is an altogether livelier, more organic experience. Off-beat hip hop collides with Erykah Badu-esque neo-soul; there are samples of old jazz records and warm vinyl crackle. The overall aesthetic belongs more to the legacy of ‘60s and ‘70s soul and jazz than to club music. “We like to think that we were alive in the ‘60s and ‘70s in another life,” laughs Harris-White. “We just really love listening to music from that time, looking at pictures, watching footage from Soul Train. We listen to Curtis Mayfield, Gil Scott Herron, Chaka Khan…” “And the speeches too!” Irons interrupts, “Stuff like Malcolm X. We listen to a lot of that.”
The breadth of sources from which THEESatisfaction draw is impressive. Musically, it’s not hard to find evidence of all of the defining genres of black America – jazz, soul, hip hop, blues etc. Lyrically, the duo name-check Orson Welles and Archie Bunker, or spill Egyptian mythology into Bible references. If you had to sum up THEESatisfaction, you would come equally close with the revolutionary call to arms of ‘Earthseed’ – “THEESatisfaction couldn’t give a fuck about the fascists!” – as you would with the refrain from ‘QueenS’ – “Whatever you do, don’t funk with my groove.” That both these lines appear in the album some 40 seconds apart is all the more indicative of THEESatisfaction’s duality. From the political to the personal, the sound of awE naturalE is passionate, heady and convinced. This is a band that wears their hearts on their sleeves and their influences in the ink on their arms.
What: awE naturalE is out now
Where: Goodgod Small Club
When: Friday October 19