Her bio states, "SassyBlack is a space aged singer, songwriter & producer," and that is a great starting point in digging into her career, one that also includes the titles of freelance writer, entrepreneur, and actor. Catherine ("Cat") Harris-White came to many folk's attention as a member of THEESatisfaction, a Seattle-based hip-hop/R&B duo signed to Sub Pop Records. After that band, her solo career as SassyBlack yielded the albums No More Weak Dates and New Black Swing, as well as a plethora of online releases. SassyBlack and I were on a panel together in Seattle for the Upstream Music Fest and met up the next day to talk about making music and staying creative.
I gather that you went to school for voice?
Yeah, jazz vocals.
When did you first start getting into recording?
The first time I actually went to a studio was when my dad took me. I was 13 or 14. When I moved to Seattle from Hawaii, I wrote my first song within the first couple of weeks I was here. A complete song. Verse, chorus, bridge; all complete to the end. I wrote it. Every time I read the lines, I could remember how the melody went. I'd been telling my family I wanted to do music. My dad was trying to get me into acting, because I was doing Shakespeare when I was younger. When I was around 13 or 14, he was doing something with KCTS [public television]. He was one of the producers of this little show that only had a couple of episodes called Dig It. They needed some kid extras, so he found a way for me to be in it. The people who did the song for it had a studio, and my dad wanted to introduce me to them. He thought perhaps I could learn something from them. I was like, "Oh, my god; I'm in a studio. Look at this stuff!" The first time I went to record in the studio, I think I was 16 or something, and it was with my choir in high school. That was weird; I did my first solo, which got cut because they didn't like it. They didn't tell me; I found out when I heard the CD. Really getting into studio was when I was in college. I first started tinkering around with GarageBand and trying to record ideas. Mostly I was vocalizing, because I wasn't really comfortable with instrumentation or how to record it, but I knew I could just sing into my black MacBook.
The little built-in mic?
Yeah. That was the first time I experimented. I tried all these programs until I got to Ableton Live, which was really my comfort zone.
Is that the one that opened up for you, as far as composing?
Before I tried to use Finale, because I was trying to chart songs. That's what they taught me when I was studying as a jazz vocalist. They want you to do charts. That was the only audio workspace that I knew.
Where it's a mock-up of the charts?
Yeah, totally. You play it and it charts everything for you. It's so hard.
It doesn't sound musical, a lot of the time. It plays samples where the notes are.
Yeah. Especially if I'm uncomfortable with some of it. "How long is this note? Is it a quarter note? Eighth note?" That was the first time I even did anything with something similar to a DAW before I got into GarageBand. Ableton was the most challenging, and the most comforting at the same time. I tried working with [Propellerhead Software's] Reason. I liked the drum sequencer, because it felt so simple. "Just tweak this here and here." I loved the way it was formatted. That was really all that I liked though. The songs were complicated, and how to use it was weird. I liked Ableton because I was able to play tracks forever. When I first started using it, I made these weird 10-minute songs where I'd layer over it, and over and over again.
Because it's built to loop, it's like, "When does the song stop?"
Exactly. Before I was using it in Arrangement View, not Session View. Arrangement View is limitless, like Pro Tools. You're just running a track. It took me a couple of years to learn the Session View. It's challenging, but also exciting. Most people I was working with weren't working with Ableton, and when I asked people to teach me how to use programs, they didn't.
They didn't know?
I think they didn't know how to teach me, so they said, "No." My younger brother [Chocolate Chuck] made beats longer than I did. He helped me a lot in the beginning. He's been producing since he was 14. When I was...