If you’re a Jay Z fan you’ve more than likely heard him repping his new slogan #NewRules with veracity. Ironic as it is that one of the most commercially successful hip hop artists in the game is pushing this anti-industry motto. However, there’s no denying that indie rap is the new wave. With today’s technology, having major label baking is no longer a necessity to make it in the game. With social media and global marketing available at your fingertips it’s possible to stay self sufficient in this new age of hip hop. So, we’re bringing you 4 artists that are really creating their own rules, and asking them how you too can come up on your own.
For our second installment we’re taking it to the West coast and bringing you THEESatisfaction.
THEESatisfaction are Catherine Harris-White and Stasia Irons. Cat hails from Seattle, WA by way of Hawaii and Stas was born and raised in Tacoma, WA. The two met while in college, Stas attended the University of Washington and Cat the Cornish Performing Arts School in Seattle. Now, the duo create and perform all over the country. Frequently hopping between Seattle, Brooklyn, DC, and Toronto hosting their Black Weirdo parties along the way. They write, produce and perform their own material; described as “funk-psychedelic feminista sci-fi epics with the warmth and depth of Black Jazz and Sunday morning soul, frosted with icy raps,” these two are the definition of unique.
Mass Appeal: How did you guys meet?
Cat: Stas used to attend the University of Washington and I went to Cornish Performing Arts School in Seattle which is not that far away. I used to go to the open mics all the time. I would sing or do poetry or whatever and Stas was doing poetry and then we just met through some mutual friends, and we’ve just been cool ever since.
MA: When did you guys decide to become a band?
Cat: It was in the winter or spring of 2008.
MA: How did you come up with the name THEESatisfaction?
Cat: It was really Stas, but we love Shakespeare. That was another thing that we were really into together, just different poets and different things. We believe that Shakespeare was black [laughs], like ‘cause I was like ‘come on man, why would you write about the Moors if you didn’t care?’ [laughs] But yeah, we just really like Shakespeare and Stas had come up with it for something, I think it was originally supposed to be her myspace name, and I was like ‘ooh, that’s a great one! Let’s use that for our band.’ And, she was like okay. And it was like we weren’t satisfied with college, we really weren’t satisfied with anything, so we were looking for satisfaction, and we were like, you know what? We’re our own satisfaction. We’re the satisfaction. And it’s just like, that’s it, that’s all we can be. We’re our own satisfaction and we hope to satisfy others, but by satisfying ourselves, hopefully that will satisfy others.
MA: When did the Black Weirdo parties start?
Cat: They started in 2012.
MA: Why Black Weirdo, where did that name come from?
Cat: We’re just weird black people. It just felt right, because people have been calling me a weirdo for a long time. And blackness is something that people really want to be a part of but really don’t want to be apart of at the same time. Black or white or whatever, like people feel like flipped sides about it.
MA: Everyone wants to be black, but nobody wants to be a nigger?
Cat: Exactly! It’s like so real. So we identify as black because it’s really encompassing of everybody. We come closer to everybody by saying that we’re black. It breaks barriers, because there are people in El Salvador who identify as black, there are people in Cambodia who identify as black, it just breaks down a bunch of barriers. Because anybody who feels black and it has to be a complexion thing, it has to be a whole thing, an identity. And we really believe in blackness and being black and that is further than race. It has to do with your genealogy and your ancestry and your faith, that’s how I feel about it. I mean, when I think of Black Weirdo I just think of all of us. And there are a lot of white people who are like, ‘Can I be a Black Weirdo?’ And I’m like, well you’re a Black Weirdo ally. You know what I mean? and that’s no disrespect, but like, you’re cool with us being super black. That’s essentially it, when they wear a Black Weirdo button, and they wear Black Weirdo t-shirts, it just means I’m cool with you being black. And when black people wear it, it’s like I’m cool with being black, and other people of color wear it, it’s like I’m cool with who I am and I support black people who are doing this. And it’s like a silent support.
MA: And you have them in different cities?
Cat: Yeah, we’ve had 3 in Seattle, 1 in Oakland, 3 in Brooklyn. Then we teamed up and did a pride party which was like, a ‘Black Weirdo presents’ with Brooklyn Boi Hood and this other organization 88 Days of Fortune, in Toronto. So we’ve been to a couple places now.
MA: How do you organize them? How do you decide when you want to throw them? How do you get them together?
Cat: Stas and I talk about it all the time, like man where do I want to go. More recently since we have an audience through THEESatisfaction, we just ask. We put it out there, like where do you want it to happen? People are like, Chicago, Miami, London. And we really want to get there, but we’re working within the actual connections and communities that we have. So that they’re meaningful parties. We like to just have someone from the city and from our team so that we become a community and we introduce everybody and feel the same vibes. So, we have friends in Oakland and they were like, you guys should really come to Oakland. And we lived in Seattle so that worked, and Brooklyn is where Stas is based now, so it makes sense. But, we’re trying to break out and do some new things. We’re getting ready to do one in DC next month.
MA: What got you into the t-shirt/ fashion aspect of the Black Weirdo brand?
Cat: Stas is actually an ill illustrator, so she designs most of our album covers. She designs all of our posters pretty much, and all of our t-shirts, except for the ones from the album, but we had a heavy hand in designing those too. We were just like man, people would wear Black Weirdo t-shirts I think, yeah. Okay, we should sell those. But we started out with buttons, we came out with them, and we’d just change it up every time and it was cool because we could just spread it. I actually like the Black Weirdo buttons a lot, I mean, the t-shirts are cool because you can just wear the shirt, and people are like, ‘What the hell is that?’ but the buttons are awesome because it just raises hella questions and we’ve given them to so many different people. Like we did this big festival in Sweden that Slash was at, so we gave one to him, and then like Erykah Badu has it, India Arie has one, just hella people, Donald Glover. Just a variety of people have Black Weirdo buttons, but they’re unified in that.
MA: Let’s talk about THEESatisfaction, how did you guys mobilize yourselves to get to the heights that you are at now with your fanbase and things like that? Was it social media or word of mouth or pushing out mixtapes?
Cat: It was everything. We did this crazy social media campaign. We did this crazy marketing scheme. And it was just like, okay we want to do music. Our first show as THEESatisfaction was at my senior recital at school [laughs]. And it was like, my first set was jazz stuff, the second set was my original songs with THEESatifaction, and then we got our first show from there. Every time after that we’d just start leveraging. Like okay where can we get shows? And then we would throw our own shows at some points. And just be like, we’re having this show with the homies come through. And then we did all this social media stuff, contacting everyone. I just remember spending hella nights emailing, and looking up hella publications all throughout the country. Looking up the contacts for LA Weekly, The New York Times, just everything all over the country. And then, being like, ‘Hello, we’re THEESatisfaction, we’re this group and listen to our music.’ We were just like sweating all of these publications, and the same with social media. We’d just add friends on Myspace, at the time, [laughs] and say check out our music. There’s no queer black women duo out there so if we reach out maybe people will listen.
MA: How long did it take you to pop off?
Cat: We just worked on it all the time, and people just started picking us up. We were already involved in the community separately. I had been organizing and performing with different bands and so I reached out to a whole bunch of people that I had met from volunteering. I was just putting out as much as I could, I was telling people about it and we started getting more shows. We did a SXSW and we did a guest performance at CMJ. We did a guest appearance at somebody elses performance [laughs].
MA: Which year?
Cat: It was 2009, that was our first time ever being in New York, and we were like, we gotta go, it’s CMJ. And we saw Bilal and we were freaking geeked about all the stuff we were seeing. When we performed no one really attended [laughs]. And it was just like us, and we were just on 2 songs. And we had made the trip from Seattle to New York just to be on two songs [laughs], just to be in New York. So yeah, it took a little bit, but people started picking up pretty fast. We did SXSW for the first time in 2010 and then we got signed in 2011, and released our first album in 2012. But we had been coming out with so much material too, a bunch of mixtapes, going out to shows to meet artists, just whatever we could do, we did it.
MA: So, how did you finance all of this shit? Before you were with the label, traveling to all of these different spots? Was it retail by day, rockstar by night?
Cat: We were just crazy, we were just real crazy. We would go to work and we would sing too much, and they would like hate it [laughs]. We used to work at Starbucks together, and then we worked at Cosco together. The thing about Stas and I is that we work really well together, in any situation. We’re working at Starbucks making the coffees really fast and the bosses wouldn’t like it, because we were having too much fun. The same thing at Cosco, I used to be on register and Stas would be bagging for me, and we were just too fast, too fun. We did some crazy shit, we quit our jobs and were just like, we’re going to go with this music thing. Like what the fuck are you guys thinking? [laughs] We just ran up our credit cards and borrowed money wherever we could.
MA: What do you think the key differences are between being independent and now being part of a label?
Cat: The difference is now we have a lot more support. It’s still very grassroots though, that’s why we love Subpop Records because it’s not too crazy in terms of restrictions, they’re really chill about it. They let us drop mixtapes on our own time.
MA: Do you have any regrets or anything that you would do differently?
Cat: I would’ve kept my job longer. I recommend keeping your job as long as you can [laughs]. I mean, still doing what you want to do but make sure you have your hussle tight and have a plan. Every time someone tells you to make a plan or budget that shit, you get like ‘aww man, I don’t want to do this’ but do that. Oh, and this is really key; I would suggest to all musicians or anyone who wants to do art, to take business classes. And I’m not saying pay for them, you can go to, typically in each city they have a small business bureau, and they’ll give you free classes. There’s a lot of free classes offered through small business. They’ll typically have them offered once a month, sometimes once a week. So, just inquire about that, and really treat your craft as a business. It’s your passion, but you’ve got to be able to see the business part in order to see the money part.
MA: What advice would you give to someone who’s on the come up?
Cat: Be inventive. Go with your heart and soul. If you’re really not feeling that job go reconsider things and make plans. Go with your heart and your true feelings and be innovative. Be really brand new, and think about things differently, because the reason that the music scene is the way it is, is because somebody thought it up that way. It’s always changing, it’s always brand new. I’d say just be creative, because the more creative you are, that’s what’s going to bring you out. You have to be yourself and just try to be you to the core. Because, that’s all that Stas and I do.
For more on this dope duo, check out their website theesatisfaction.com, you can also buy some cool merchandise at theesatisfaction.bandcamp.com.
Be sure to check out the next Black Weirdo party on February 7th in Washington D.C. at Union Arts.
Peep their video QueenS below.