SassyBlack talks Michael Jackson, *NSYNC and science fiction ahead of Middle of Nowhere fest
SassyBlack with DJ Espina, Wolf Mixer, M50
The Mill – Friday, September 1st at 9 p.m.
SassyBlack will perform at The Mill on the first night of the festival. – Photo courtesy Middle of Nowhere Fest
SassyBlack (real name Cat Harris-White) is an artist who controls her own destiny. As a singer with a warm, welcoming voice, she also writes her own songs, produces her own music and even takes care of her own booking. As part of the duo TheeSatisfaction, SassyBlack worked with members of Shabazz Palaces and made a vital contribution to the hip-hop scene in Seattle. Their latest album, New Black Swing, is an original take on R&B that warms up mechanical beats with lush synth chords and their warm vocal harmonies.
While SassyBlack identifies herself as a queer black artist, her music is not an expression of identity politics. Her main lyrical concern is romantic love wherever it can be found. While working within the popular African American musical tradition, her music is futuristic and transcends divisive categories. Her new album is dominated by her voice, which is full of lush, multi-track harmonies. Her singing hovers over economical, subtle, drum-heavy arrangements.
SassyBlack will play during the first Middle of Nowhere Festival in Iowa City (partially sponsored by Little Village) on Friday, September 1st. Tickets for the weekend are $ 35; Tickets for the SassyBlacks show only at The Mill are $ 12. I spoke to her on the phone during her last trip to Los Angeles.
Have you been to Iowa or the Midwest?
Yes I have. I just played daytrotter. I played with my previous group at the University of Iowa [TheeSatisfaction];; I’ve been to Chicago, Minneapolis, Detroit, St. Louis, places like that.
Where did your interest in creating and performing your own music begin?
I’ve been writing since I was around ten years old. I come from a family of writers and creative people in the sense that they create their own platform for what they want to do. I’ve always been interested in creating, so I wanted to find a way to create something, and music was the first innate thing for me to be able to create … the first place I felt comfortable.
What are your parents doing and how have they influenced you?
Both work in different ways at a university. They both worked in civil rights; They used to have a newspaper. You have worked in all sorts of communities and on television. You worked in political campaigns. I think they are multidimensional, visionary people who love to help people. I wouldn’t just want to label them because wherever you are, my father is a professor, my mother works for King County in Seattle. These are the jobs they do, but they do so much more.
Definitely a big influence.
Yes. You are my parents [laughs]. Whether or not your parents are present in your life, it will affect all of your decisions. They are the people who literally brought you into the world.
On your Bandcamp page, your photo shows your arm outstretched and you have a “Thriller” tattoo. How about [Michael Jackson] really influenced you or did you feel so close to him?
Everything. His creativity, his vulnerability, his oversharing, his lack of sharing, his artistry and his perfectionism. His birthday was seven days after mine too, so he’s a virgin, I’m a Leo virgin; This is how I identify with him. For most people just his music was amazing but learning his story and seeing a lot and learning about people he worked with and how he worked, what he wanted to express – that really inspired me. Then I learned from him as well as some mistakes that I don’t want to make as an artist.
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How did your sound change between No More Weak Dates and New Black Swing?
It changed because I grew up. I dont know; All of my music changes from one piece to another, it evolves naturally. It’s like, “How has your job changed from elementary school to middle school?” Or, “How do you think it changed from high school to college?” It has only changed in the sense that you have more life experience. You can go back to the projects you’ve done in the past and see how well they’ve done – what you want to change or not about them. I think it’s just moving on, not really a change. It just sounds like me to me.
Is New Black Swing All You Sequence On The Computer? It sounds like there’s live guitar and trumpet.
It’s all me They are noises that I researched. That was the New Jack swing genre. I’m a hardcore researcher so the music will reflect the research I’ve done. I’m glad it sounds like real guitar and horns because that’s what I wanted.
All projects will sound different. Like Quincy Jones or Michael or Stevie or Patrice Rushen. The instrumentation changes depending on what type of expression you want to convey. If you listen to any of my other projects they all sound a little different. The sources I had regarding the actual instrumentation or the resources I had to be able to communicate my thoughts with musicality. What has changed the most about this record is my ability to communicate the musical qualities that live in my head.
You feel more fluid; does it come out more directly?
Like everything else, it only learns one language.
You mentioned a love for science fiction in other interviews. Do you have favorite authors?
I would say Octavia Butler and then read these secrets, Easy Rawlins.
Yes, I’ve read so many of his books. Love it. They’re in the emotional realm. Other things I read outside are about psychology or law. But these are my goals.
You have output a beat tape based on * NSYNC samples. Was that a fun project or what did you want to do with it?
I love making beats, I love * NSYNC so this is part of a series that will continue over time. But I just wanted to try * NSYNC. Since I was younger I’ve been like, “Oh man, if I just…” I didn’t even understand sampling, I was 12 years old and I thought, “If I could just have that section of the song and grind it and sing and do other things about that would be so fun. ”
So I took my childhood dreams and made them come true. I started playing with these songs that I was so familiar with. And it was also an experiment so that I could try better. People say, “Try this! Try this! “But it’s better to try something that you are really familiar with, because that way you’ll get good at it. Once you’ve spent time finding those pieces in songs, you know that the songs are easier to find you just came across.
You do your own advertising and booking. It’s part of the business that a lot of musicians hate. How does that fit in with your work as an artist?
I don’t do all of my publicity … It’s been around 50:50 with my publicist since last year, and we do the work together. I still do all of my booking and administration, but I would love to get out of there. This is something that needs to be done! Before I had a publicist, I would wait forever if I didn’t try to do press releases or manage myself and wait for someone and I wouldn’t be so successful. I don’t have the privilege of just doing this. I don’t identify myself in a way that could make it easier. As a black queer woman, it’s just not that easy to just get exhausted.
The music I make seems experimental, but it’s mostly seen as experimental because I make it myself. If I had a producer that I partnered with, it would be like, “Oh, that’s cool, that’s a producer and singer; together they do something different. “I think it’s extra because I do everything on my own. I am a very proactive person; I have always been. Sometimes I just want to be in the studio, but I know my time will come if I just stay focused.
What bands are you a fan of that people might not know about?
I’m a big fan of Heatwave, a band from the 70s and 80s. They spawned a lot of popular songs like “Boogie Nights,” a disco classic “Always and Forever,” which Luther Vandross then covered and which got so big for him that people don’t know Heatwave did it. It made songwriters like [Heatwave keyboardist] Rod Temperton, who wrote “Thriller” with Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson. [Heatwave] was an amazingly talented crew of people. Some of the members have passed away. But they are a great inspiration to me. Because they weren’t afraid to make music that felt good and reflected who they were. They were never afraid of it; You just let it go and let it shine. That really gives me strength and how I make music to this day.