Seattle hip-hop had a nice showing at this year’s edition of the CMJ Music Festival here in New York City. Performing alongside Champagne Champagne — but not officially on the bill — were THEESatisfaction who actually came out to NY over a week before the October 24th CMJ show to network, chill with friends, and just enjoy everything this amazing city has to offer. The ladies of THEESatisfaction, Cat and Stasia, were gracious enough to reach out to me for an interview. These two women (girlfriends, for those that don’t know) are funny, charming, creative, and beautiful. And it’s apparent, after spending a little over an hour with them, that they’re in this hip-hop sh*t strictly for the love. I met them for lunch at a diner in the Financial District a few blocks from my work the day before they were scheduled to share the stage with Champagne Champagne.
Talk a little about how you came to be involved with CMJ. Did someone associated with the Festival hear you and ask you to be involved?
Cat: No, nothing like that. We’re doing CMJ through Champagne Champagne, because they asked us to do a song with them that we perform all the time called “Magnetic Blackness.” Basically we’re just like a family, so whenever we have an opportunity to do [that song] together, we do it. It’s a really great opportunity, we appreciate Champagne Champagne for letting us be a part of it. I’ve known Pearl for years, before THEESatisfaction and Champagne Champagne [formed], and Thomas [Gray] is like family. He’s like my best friend’s cousin.
Stas: Yeah, those are our brothers!
The stuff Pearl Dragon was doing before Champagne Champagne is much different than what he’s doing now.
Cat: He’s really creative. He and Thomas and Mark [aka DJ Gajamagic] are all really, really creative.
What’s your take on the Seattle hip-hop movement right now? It’s really blowing up.
Stas: I think it’s amazing. I remember a time when I didn’t listen to anything [from Seattle], except for Blue Scholars and Cancer Rising. Now there are shows every weekend, everybody is collaborating with each other. It’s like a huge family. People are on the move. Everybody is coming to Seattle to do shows. Wu-Tang has been here [a lot]. It’s just bringing more attention to Seattle. [Before] we’d have to go to Portland or LA to see a good show.
It does seem like there are very few prominent female acts in the spotlight, though. I mean outside of you guys.
Stas: I’m blessed to be an example and inspiration for more of them.
Do you think more female emcees are out there and just not receiving the proper exposure?
Stas: There are a lot of artists out right now.
Cat: A lot of female artists have been sheltered or pushed to the side.
Stas: Not just being a [female] hip-hop artist, just being a female musician of any kind [is difficult].
Cat: It’s starting to change, though.
Stas: Another prominent group is Canary Sing. They just did a show at The Rendezvous.
Cat: JusMoni, too.
So you guys are now in the Bay Area, right?
Stas: No, actually we’re just traveling.
Cat: We were going to move to the Bay, but we never even wound up going there, [laughs] just to LA. We came back to Seattle for a show and now we’re in New York.
How’s the life of a traveling musician?
Stas: I love it. It’s exciting. I knew I’d be a wanderer, nomad child, that got into all sorts of crazy shenanigans.
Cat: It’s cool. At some point you just realize there’s so much more to see.
Stas: It’s nice to have friends to stay with. We have friends in LA and friends out here that we’re staying with.
Musically, what’s your background? Are you formally trained or self-taught?
Cat: I’ve been in choirs forever and I studied Jazz in college.
Stas: I didn’t [study music]. But I’ve been around music all my life. My mom is a choir director and plays the piano, my dad plays the piano and has been in multiple choirs. I’ve been a poet for about eight years.
I was wondering about that. Your music seems inspired strongly by Spoken Word poetry.
Stas: Yeah, absolutely. We both do Spoken Word.
Cat: That’s how we met actually, through the Spoken Word circuit.
Cat: It was Retro Open Mic night at U-Dub.
Did you both go to the University of Washington?
Stas: I did.
Cat: I went to Cornish. But I was always at U-Dub events. [laughs]
I read that your most recent album, Snow Motion, was recorded in a basement when you were snowed-in during the famous Seattle Winter of 2008.
Stas: We recorded [the songs] in a closet.
Cat: Some of the songs were recorded on Beacon [Hill], some of them were recorded in the house. It was crazy. That was all bad. We moved into this house, it was on 23rd and Madison [in the Central District] and it was sunny and nice and everything when we checked out the house. It looked nice in May or June, and then it got to wintertime, and the house had no insulation. And then the rats came. It was infested with rats. You wouldn’t want to leave your bedroom at night because there were rats running all through the house. There were holes under the bathroom sink and they would come in through the cabinets and they would get in our food. Our refrigerator stopped working three times.
Stas: Then our laundry machine stopped working.
Cat: Yeah, it just filled up with water. And then, it didn’t just freeze over, it was a solid block of ice.
Stas: We were working at Costco.
Cat: Pushing carts outside. Our buses weren’t running, so we had to walk halfway [to work], from 23rd and Madison to Downtown to catch the bus. If you didn’t come in, you’d get fired or written-up. They were really determined to be open.
Stas: We recorded [Snow Motion] because we were fed-up and depressed. We had family members passing away. One of our friends was murdered in February [concert promoter Tyrone Love], literally down the street.
Cat: It was a really tough time. We were working all the time, too. It was really hard to finish the album.
Stas: There was no sane place for us to be.
Cat: No there wasn’t, because we had to find somewhere else to live, too. We were working all the time. We’d always come home tired. We just had to decide what we were going to do.
For as much of a horrible time that was, Snow Motion come across, to me at least, as a really optimistic record. I read an article on a blog that said something like, “THEESatisfaction creates Snow Motion while they descend into madness.” But I thought it was a pretty coherent record, for the most part.
Cat: Thanks! [laughs]
So nowadays, the life of aspiring musicians sounds busy.
Stas: It’s pretty hectic. We book our own shows.
Cat: We don’t have a manager or anything. Everything is just us two, researching things and at the same time making music, trying to keep it fresh.
Stas: It’s challenging, but I couldn’t ask for more. I’m having the best time of my life. I’m having so much fun. I can’t imagine ever working at Costco again.
Cat: I’d rather work my ass off at this than work a corporate job again.
When do you find time to write?
Cat: We write all the time.
It’s not a process for you? Like, I must write at nine in the morning every day?
Cat: No. The whole thing is a process. From updating the website, to writing the press releases, to burning the CDs, to mixing it down. We try to let things just come naturally.
What’s the first hip-hop music you remember listening to?
Cat: First stuff was like A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul. I have an older brother who’s 36 so he was putting me on to a lot of stuff.
Stas: I wasn’t even listening to hip-hop. My parents were only listening to gospel and r&b. I didn’t really get into hip-hop until Snoop Dogg and Death Row Records. That was my first exposure, that gangsta rap. Then, once I started seeking out on my own, I got into Tribe and De La.
Cat: I listened to only De La Soul and Tribe when my brother lived with us and then [after he moved out] it went back to jazz and, I don’t know what to call it: alternative folk music [laughs]. It was like hippie music, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell.
Stas: I remember my mom got a hold of my Doggystyle album cover. Remember the cartoon? She was like, “What is this?!”
Cat: I was like the prude kid. Like, “I can’t hear that stuff, it’s bad for my ears!” I didn’t know about 2Pac or Biggie, or most other rap other than De La and Tribe until I moved to Seattle. [Cat grew up in the Bay Area and Hawaii]. I listened to Chaka Khan, TLC, Technotronic. I know about hella random groups like Pet Shop Boys [laughs]. Lately, we’ve been switching it up, listening to all different kinds of stuff but we’ve always listened to a lot of different [music].
Stas: A lot of soul music.
Cat: Yeah, a lot of soul. Temptations, The Spinners, old Chaka Khan, Al Green. A lot of Michael Jackson and a lot of Jackson 5. I mean, we typically listen to Michael Jackson all the time, anyway. On our first mixtape [That’s Weird] we sampled Thriller.
Where were you guys when you heard he passed?
Cat: We were in our house on Beacon Hill and Stas got a text message or something. We got a text message and I was like, “This is a joke.” So we got on Twitter, we started googling everything, turned on the television and saw that he’d been hospitalized.
Stas: Then we started playing his music videos.
Cat: It was too much, it was very overwhelming. It’s still overwhelming.
Stas: I still haven’t watched the funeral in its entirety. I’ve been watching it on Youtube. I think I got maybe halfway through.
Cat: I don’t think so. I think you only got a third of the way through.
Stas: It’s still emotional.
Cat: It is. I watched [the funeral] on CNN while Stas was at Costco and it was really crazy. I didn’t think it was going to happen in my lifetime.
Stas: Nice shirt too! [laughs]
Yeah, that’s why I asked. [Cat is wearing a Michael Jackson t-shirt she purchased at a thrift store.]
So what’s next for THEESatisfaction?
Stas: We have a new mixtape coming out.
Stas: We’re thinking December, January, February.
Cat: One of those three months! [laughs]
Stas: The beats are pretty much finished. We’re teaming up with OC Notes. We hooked up with him for this next mixtape. We’re trying something new.
Cat: It’s the first time [we’ve worked with just one producer]. It’s cool, especially when that person knows your groove and knows your sound and it fits. A lot of artists will just work with whoever, you know?
So, one more question. You’ve already experienced a small amount of fame in Seattle. What’s that been like?
Stas: I wish I could enjoy my life a little bit more. It’s weird. You have to watch what you say all the time. But I don’t, really. [laughs]
Cat: You just have to be yourself. Some artists are controlled by other people, their managers, their band mates, by their producers. For us, we have freedom. We can say, “I’m not feeling well today so I’m not going to that event.” I think that gives a different spin to it. It makes it a different experience. It doesn’t make it easier though, that’s for damn sure! People used to come up to us all the time in Costco. It was weird, the contrast between working at Costco and being on stage. There’s a different amount of respect people have for you when at work. There you’re just Joe Schmo. It’s like, “Go over there and fold those clothes!”
Stas: When we’re at shows it’s, “Can I get you a drink? Can I get your autograph?” At work it’s totally the opposite. You’re just a robot again.
Costco seems like a major formative experience in your recent lives. What else happened at Costco?
Cat: When I was at work one day, Justo [of The Physics] came in and was like, “Hey, what’s up?” We didn’t even really know The Physics.
Did you know who he was?
Cat: I’d heard of The Physics and seen their picture, but I was really tired at work that day, so it took me a second to put it together. [laughs]
Was that how the collaboration on “Radio Head” came about?
Cat: [Justo] came into the store just in general and recognized me and said he’d been meaning to get in contact with us. But yeah, that’s generally how it started. After that we went and got in the studio together.
Stas: That’s where we met Rik Rude from Fresh Espresso, too.
Cat: Yeah. We saw Sabzi in Costco. All of Seattle goes to Costco!
Catch THEESatisfaction at their next show on 11.10.09 at Nectar: