Sub Pop astral travelers THEESatisfaction introduce their quietly thrilling new album EarthEE

The Seattle duo of Stasia “Stas” Irons and Catherine “Cat” Harris-White, better known as THEESatisfaction, have a striking new album out soon on Sub Pop titled EarthEE – their first for the label in three years.

As well as contributions from friends and allied artists – including Shabazz Palaces, Erik Blood and two striking turns from Meshell Ndegeocello – the focus remains on the powerful interplay between Stas and Cat, with the former’s MCing and the latter’s singing intertwining in a series of ruminations on states of mind, which play out over creative, often quietly thrilling arrangements that ground the performances as much as letting them fly.

What should have been a detailed conversation with the duo was plagued with choppy connection problems on my end, and the following conservation partially relies on notes as well as the recording. Both Cat and Stas could not have been more patient and gracious in their answers, however, as they considered the latest effort in their now seven-year partnership.

Could you first talk about your creative process in general at this point – does everything tend to come together pretty quickly?

Cat: It took us a couple of years to complete the project. We had songs that we were working on before and we took a little bit of time, we were crafting it a while. But towards the end when we working together with Erik, mixing it down, that went quickly.

Stas: Yeah, because when we create songs, it’s not necessarily one way that we do it. Sometimes it’ll be the beats first, sometimes it’ll be the lyrics. But when we come together in the studio it comes together pretty fast. We have that kind of vibe we want, we know what we want to say. It doesn’t really take too much time!

Starting the album with two shorter songs (‘Prophetic Perfection’ and ‘No GMO’) made it feel like it was a mind at work, moving quickly through many thoughts.

Cat: Yes, I can see that as a comparison. We wanted to capture a sense of activity, and having shorter songs at the start of the album helped with that – an energy that sets the tone before moving into longer numbers.

There is a sense not merely of room in the album’s arrangements, but space, a feeling beyond.

Cat: We saw it as a next step. The album is called EarthEE, of course, but we were looking at something wider – if [2012’s] awE naturalE was focused on the earth itself, EarthEE is in space, moving with the earth. It has that feeling of motion, of going forward.

A standout song for me was ‘Post Black, Anyway’ – does that hold a particular importance?

Cat: It does. I took some time for a small retreat away from the city, where I could reflect and create. That song in particular, that came from a place where I was thinking deeply about what it means to be black, about black identity in the present time.

Stas: For me, I was thinking about blackness as we communicate and share. Thinking about Black Twitter, for example.

Could you talk about ‘I Read You’ and why it was the last song? The arrangement is very inspiring.

Stas: That was the first song we recorded for the album! It was actually the starting point for where we wanted to explore things next, but also how we were working together. It was a little rough there at the start, but it all ended up feeling very strong, very uplifting – and then it ended up being the last thing on the album!

Do you write songs for particular guests and collaborators in mind, or do they participate more in the moment?

Stas: When we collaborate we like to give the guests complete freedom to contribute to the jam in a way that makes sense to them naturally. If we don’t vibe with what they provide then we go in another direction, but we usually don’t have that problem because we like to work with artists that are sound professionals. On the song ‘Recognition’, we had the chant already prepared for Erik and Ishmael to recite – we felt like the words would resonate with them.

Related to that, Meshell Ngodeocello’s guest turns were really enjoyable. I was catching up with her recent work last year. Had you worked together before, and was this in studio or via the internet?

Stas: This is our first time working with Meshell and we collaborated via the internet. Cat and I both met her on separate occasions and felt an instant kinship. We are honored to have her on our album and we hope to work with her so much more.

Seattle, the city where you’re from, strikes me as a place where so much good and bad happens at the same time – continuing problems with police brutality, Amazon’s reworking of the city into an expensive playground, for instance, and at the same time there was the minimum wage vote, the election of Kshama Sawant and many things I’m sure I’ve missed or simply can’t see at a distance. Without trying to sound reductive, I was wondering how much of this informs EarthEE directly, if it all?

Cat: Seattle is a city of strengths and weaknesses like most. Living here has been a learning experience, especially being that I’m originally from Keaau, Hawaii. My work is inspired by my environment and Seattle has been providing conflicting energies which are interesting to process. With that said, it is a big part of how EarthEE sounds. And since Stasia moved to Brooklyn, New York has also influenced the sounds on EarthEE.

Finally, there’s no real answer to this kind of question, but are you artistically satisfied right now or are you thinking of something beyond, to reach for next time?

Cat: I think right now it’s there. After 10 projects together, it’s important to create something that we know we can be proud of. We’re satisfied with EarthEE, and Sub Pop is too – that’s always important! But it’s not just that the label is satisfied as well as us, it’s also that our families are satisfied with it, our nieces and our nephews. Seeing that is incredibly moving.

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