When your music is mystical and panoramic, completely untethered to time and place, basic descriptors no longer suffice. THEESatisfaction’s songs could be called a fusion of hip-hop and neo-soul, but neither term tells the full story.
Instead, the duo came up with their own genre. It’s a mouthful: “funk-psychedelic feminista sci-fi epics with the warmth and depth of black jazz and Sunday morning soul,” reads the bio on their website (www.theesatisfaction.com). It goes on to say they evoke a former Black Panther leader (Elaine Brown), a spoken-word artist (Ursula Rucker), and a rapper (A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip).
THEESatisfaction is the pairing of Stasia Irons and Catherine Harris-White; they go by Stas and Cat. They are partners on and off stage, and their immense chemistry is the adhesive on their left-of-center new album. Released earlier this year, “awE naturalE” is a singular hybrid of sounds and themes ranging from the political to the sexual to the spiritual.
More than that, though, the album, which is their official debut after self-releasing mixtapes, is the brainchild of two independent artists who happen to be kindred spirits.
“We had been dating for a little bit, and Cat had been in a couple of bands before we met,” Irons says recently from their house in Seattle. Cat is on the line, too. “I had been doing a little spoken word and open mikes here and there. For fun’s sake, we decided to mess around with music on the computer and program some stuff. We started making songs in 2008 and really enjoyed doing it.”
THEESatisfaction is signed to Sub Pop Records, the vaunted Seattle label that’s also home to Shabazz Palaces, the indie hip-hop collective that’s headlining the tour that brings THEESatisfaction to the Middle East Downstairs on Monday. They are all part of the fringe contingent of contemporary hip-hop.
Irons and Harris-White produced their new album, and each song is credited to both of them. Harris-White tends to sing most of her parts, and Irons delivers her lines in percussive raps that carom off Harris-White’s soulful crooning.
Some of THEESatisfaction’s songs have the rhythm and cadence of poetry, but the duo is also capable of constructing infectious R&B jams. “Sweat” samples Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Turn It Into Something Good.” A space-age funk informs “Enchantruss,” and free jazz courses through “naturalE.”
If there’s a common thread to their disparate influences, it’s spelled out on the album’s first single. “Leave your face at the door / Turn off your swag / And check your bag,” Irons instructs at the start of “QueenS,” before Harris-White delivers the song’s irresistible hook: “Whatever you do / Don’t funk with my groove.”
They bonded over a mutual love of Shakespeare (hence the “THEE” in the band name) and musicians such as Bobbi Humphrey, a female jazz flutist signed to Blue Note Records in the 1970s. Even though they had already been dating, each woman admits making art together revealed new shades of the other.
“I realized how deep Cat was,” Irons says. “Some of the stuff she says I’ll think I understand, but then months later I’ll actually understand what she meant. There are so many layers to all of her words and phrases. It’s cool to go back and be like, ‘Yo, did you really just say that?’ ”
“Stas and I always had a really deep connection,” Harris-White says of their progression from personal to professional. “I fell in love with her as soon as I met her. I already liked the way she put together words. It’s cool to be able to explore a relationship in this fashion.”