Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Queens of the Stoned Age: Hip hop partners THEESatisfaction speak up

One of the most enjoyable interviews I've ever done, following on from last year's meeting with Shabazz Palaces, was this one right here with the ladies of THEESatisfaction. I am genuinely thrilled that they're getting so much kudos, acclaim, buzz, hype, plaudits and all that jazz at the moment, because they are unarguably GREAT and their album is GREAT.

Just picking out the twisting beats and rhythms and stuttering rhymes and the way their voices weave in and out is a joyous mental exercise, the musical equivalent of a very satisfying crossword. But that's what a cruciverbalist like myself would say, and that makes awE naturalE sound like thesaurus hip hop, which it ain't - it's more like a psychedelic strain of hip hop breathing new life into funk jams and cosmic jazz and neo-soul and real poetry. Oh, just play the track will you:

First published in Loud And Quiet

THEESatisfaction – the Queens of the Stoned Age, as they describe themselves – have been making serious ripples lately ahead of the release of awE naturalE, their debut album for Sub Pop. But if they sound kinda familiar, it may be that you already know those distinctive voices from Black Up, 2011's enigmatic offering from Shabazz Palaces, also out on the Seattle grunge label.

The self-styled 'lo-fi rebel hip hop' duo have actually been active on the U.S. city's music scene for a few years, releasing mixtapes like the wonderfully titled Sandra Bollocks Black Baby and THEESatisfaction Love Stevie Wonder: Why We Celebrate Colonialism, but it was teaming up with Shabazz Palaces, creation of the former Digable Planets rapper Ishmael Butler, that finally put them in the spotlight. As well as lending jazzy vocal tones and sharp rhymes to Black Up, Catherine Harris-White and Stasia Irons have performed often with Butler and his percussionist Tendai Maraire, and now they're back in the UK supporting Little Dragon, a band whom they're also big fans of. “We did a show with them in Seattle years ago, we opened up for them, and we just connected immediately,” says rapper Stas, the smaller-'froed half of THEESatisfaction. “We did another festival with them and kept in contact.”

Stas and Cat, partners in music and life, meet me in their sweltering dressing room at Kentish Town's Forum, where despite the mild weather outside they've cranked the heat up to tropical inside. Tonight's show will be one of their biggest, but they're not sweating it. “We get a little nervous,” says Cat, the larger-'froed band member with the sultry jazz voice, “but then we get on the stage and that character of THEESatisfaction comes out, so we can just sit back and go somewhere else.” Their show, much like Shabazz Palaces' live act, is stripped back and sassy, the two women in full control of beats and vocals, even throwing in a casual dance routine or two. “We've had offers from people to be our hype man, but we just hype each other on stage,” says Cat.

At college back in Seattle, the pair had circled each other for some time, meeting through friends and when Cat was doing spoken word nights. “I'd be performing and we'd kind of catch each other's eye,” she laughs. They started to hang out, and then date, and now it seems they eat, sleep and breathe with each other, making music at their home in the West Coast city.