Meet the musical duo making cultural appropriation, inappropriate.
Much of what you need to know about musicians Catherine “Cat” Harris-White and Stasia “Stas” Irons of THEESatisfaction can be gleaned from the artwork on the front of their recently released album, EarthEE, drawn by Rajni Perera. They sit, tall and proud, upon a golden throne adrift in the cosmos, ritualistic adornment draped atop their naked bodies. It’s both a bold celebration of the female form and a testament to the intelligent, self-assured women sitting beside me.
“She said she wanted to make us look like bored queens sitting on a throne,” says Harris-White with a laugh, lounging in a back room of Los Angeles’ storied Hollywood Palladium, where they’re due to play later in the night. And while the pair makes light of other high compliments paid to them—They were palpable amongst the flat. Regal in a manner that is mostly forgotten, penned good friend and artist Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes in a poetic opener to EarthEE—the praise is anything but misguided.
The duo has been collaborating for the past seven years since first meeting in Seattle, weaving social, political, and cultural commentary into their self-proclaimed “funk-psychedelic feminist sci-fi epics.” Currently, they’re split on either side of the U.S.—Irons still in Seattle and Harris-White in Brooklyn—but they make THEESatisfaction work, even amongst their other solo musical and artistic endeavors. Now signed to indie label mainstay Sub Pop, EarthEE is their second child, following their well-received debut album, 2012’s awE naturalE. Irons’ slow-burn raps layered over Harris-White’s jazz-tinged, soulful vocals tip a hat to the musical greats from a host of genres—R&B, hip-hop, neo-soul—while still crafting THEESatisfaction’s own contemporary truth.
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“Some of the shit that we go through—racism, sexism, being in a relationship, not being in a relationship—we just love to mix it all together and catch people’s ears, and make them dance too,” says Irons. “It’s just what we love to do.”
Part of their truth involves not shying away from their beliefs or identity, and EarthEE is no exception. They tackle cultural appropriation on the track “Blandland,” with Irons calmly rapping, “If it was in your heart you wouldn’t have to work hard” to those who have stolen jazz, soul, and hip-hop before Harris-White takes off scatting melodically. “Post Black Anyway” confronts realities of the black experience today. Irons wrote the lyrics around the time of Mike Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri, prompted by online debates over the notion of a “post-racial society” she was seeing. Perhaps all too fittingly, Irons chose one of Harris-White’s beats that had been created some time before, attempting to aurally capture “being soaked in the heavy downpour of feelings and emotions,” as she puts it. “But ‘post-racial society’ or ‘post-black society,’ that doesn’t exist, because we’re always going to be here,” Irons says matter-of-factly. “We can’t be post-black. We just can’t be.”
This unflinching candor certainly contributes to the refreshing vibe of THEESatisfaction. For Harris-White, her philosophy is simple: “You can generate darkness or you can generate light,” she says. “I’m about loving yourself, knowing yourself, appreciating yourself. And if you love yourself, it’s easier to love other people. And then you shine through that.”