Seat­tle fac­tion

Theesat­is­fac­tion blend old-school hip-hop with jazz and r’n’b in­flu­ences. Grunge it cer­tainly isn’t – but they’re very much prod­ucts of their home­town, they tell Jim Car­roll

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Reviews -

WHAT THE hell is go­ing on in Seat­tle? You might well as­so­ci­ate the city with its grunge back pages and its re­cent run of folky-pop, but its hip-hop has been more note­wor­thy lately. Last year, it was Shabazz Palaces who en­tered the arena to a cho­rus of wows, Ish­mael But­ler and friends’ Black Up al­bum pulling in peo­ple with some won­der­ful arty, avant-garde head mu­sic and deep, wide and ex­otic sounds.

This year, it’s the turn of fel­low Seat­tle res­i­dents Theesat­is­fac­tion to take a bow. Those who read the sleeve notes will know that the ty­pog­ra­phy fans had a part in the Shabazz Palaces’ story, but that’s just the be­gin­ning of things. Their own de­but al­bum, awe nat­u­rale, is rich, play­ful and warm, a record that proudly wears in­flu­ences from old-school hip-hop and r’n’b to jazz and soul on its sleeve.

When Sta­sia Irons and Cather­ine Har­risWhite first met, mu­sic was des­tined to be on the cards. “We met up in col­lege,” re­calls Irons. “I went to the lo­cal univer­sity and Cat went to a per­form­ing arts school. I was do­ing spo­ken-word po­etry and Cat was singing at an open mic and we be­gan to meet up at var­i­ous places.

“We were in a neo-soul and hip-hop band to­gether first of all called Ques­tion. There was six peo­ple in the group, so a lot of per­son­al­i­ties, and it didn’t work out. Luck­ily, no record­ings sur­vived. Af­ter that, we formed Theesat­is­fa­tion and that was just the two of us vib­ing off each other, do­ing dif­fer­ent things and cre­at­ing new sounds.”

Har­ris-white says there was a con­nec­tion be­tween the pair from the start, and a musi- cal part­ner­ship (as well as a re­la­tion­ship) quickly fol­lowed. “We traded mu­sic with one an­other, we played each other mu­sic we thought the other per­son would like, we tipped each other off to new stuff.

“Af­ter our ex­pe­ri­ences in the other group, we saw that we both liked do­ing mu­sic to­gether and de­cided to do that and see where it took us. It was the con­nec­tion we had through mu­sic which en­cour­aged us to keep go­ing.”

Their sound came to­gether or­gan­i­cally and ef­fort­lessly. “We def­i­nitely had no plan about how we wanted to sound. It wasn’t a case of ‘we’re go­ing to be like Erykah Badu’,” says Irons.

“We were lis­ten­ing to a lot of jazz, funk and old-school hip-hop when we started out do­ing Theesat­is­fac­tion, and that rubbed off on us. When we come to­gether to make mu­sic, it’s about com­bin­ing our minds and the sounds we’re into.”

There’s an in­ter­est­ing nos­tal­gic slant to their sound, a re­minder of a time when black mu­sic – and es­pe­cially hip-hop – was more in­no­cent and less com­mer­cial.

“Yeah, I’d go with that,” says Har­ris-white, “but that doesn’t make us retro. I think there are great things to come be­cause the world moves in cy­cles. It’s just how it is. Ev­ery­thing re­peats it­self, but it also morphs into some­thing new in that rep­e­ti­tion.

“Of course, we have a very rich his­tory to dig into when it comes to mu­sic, and one which goes be­yond Amer­ica, but there is more to come, es­pe­cially when you ap­ply the in­flu­ence of tech­nol­ogy and the in­ter­net to creativ­ity.

“We have a lot more ac­cess, we have big­ger li­braries to draw from, you can ac­cess mu­sic and me­dia from wher­ever and when­ever, and I think that will lead to great things. I’d say that nostal­gia or a sense of bet­ter times in our mu­sic comes partly from that ac­cess, be­cause you’re re­minded now so much of how things used to be.”

Both feel that their Seat­tle base has had a lot to do with their sound. “I think we em­brace our space and our en­vi­ron­ment that comes from liv­ing here in Seat­tle and in north­west Amer­ica,” says Har­ris-white. “That sense of space you get from liv­ing here is re­ally im­por­tant to us. Where we live, we have a re­ally amaz­ing sky view at night, and that’s had an ef­fect on our mu­sic for sure, in en­cour­ag­ing us to reach for places we’ve never been.

“Seat­tle is a very vi­brant city for artists, be­cause there’s so much go­ing on and so much di­verse stuff to do and ex­pe­ri­ence and so many in­ter­est­ing peo­ple,” adds Irons. “What I like about the city is that the sea­sons change dif­fer­ently out here. Sum­mer is like a spring, so we get two springs, and the fall and win­ter are very dif­fer­ent, but fall is one of the best times to be here, be­cause the colours are so amaz­ing be­cause of the leaves and sun­sets. The moun­tains and fresh air give it such an in­ter­est­ing vibe.”

Liv­ing in Seat­tle also meant op­por­tu­ni­ties to bump into other artists, such as Shabazz Palaces leader Ish­mael But­ler. “We were run­ning in the same cir­cles and we saw him and we didn’t know who he was at first,” says Irons.

“When we heard he was part of Di­ga­ble Plan­ets we were re­ally ex­cited, be­cause his mu­sic was some­thing that res­onated with us for­ever.

“Seat­tle is very small and black Seat­tle is even smaller, so we kept bump­ing into Ish­mael through friends and at art events. It started with the mu­sic and long con­ver­sa­tions about art and went on from there and led to col­lab­o­ra­tions. It was def­i­nitely a Seat­tle thing.”

An­other Seat­tle thing is lo­cal la­bel Sub Pop, which has long been a strong and sup­port­ive chron­i­cler of the city’s mu­sic and has re­leased Theesat­is­fac­tion’s al­bum.

“When we first thought about Sub Pop, we au­to­mat­i­cally knew they had great taste in mu­sic, re­gard­less of the kind of mu­sic they were as­so­ci­ated with,” says Irons. “We’re big fans of Fleet Foxes, and we lis­tened to Nir­vana and Soundgar­den when we were kids. When you’re in the north­west, you grew up with that scene and Sub Pop, so it made won­der­ful sense to us to go with them. They’ve got a great ear for mu­sic and the fact that we could be part of their legacy is crazy.”

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