INTERVIEW: R&B singer SassyBlack​ gets real about the artist hustle and her jazzy new album ‘New Black Swing’

June 16, 2017

SassyBlack, aka Catherine Harris-White is the afrofuturist, sci-fi loving R&B singer we, the people, need. And thank goodness she’s back with a jazzy new second solo album, New Jack Swing. Many might know SassyBlack from the now former hip-hop duo THEESatisfaction, and you may have even seen her in the HBO series Vinyl as R&B legend Ruth Brown.

New Black Swing will officially be out June 23rd and we can even expect visuals and a few short films from the album soon, that, like New Boo, will be co-directed by SassyBlack herself.

The classically trained singer, poet, producer, actress and director definitely keeps busy as an independent artist based out of Seattle. I chatted with her to learn a little bit more about what goes on behind the scenes, some of her inspirations, and the artist hustle. We even talked about the recent Black Panther trailer, which SassyBlack joked she’d love to be a part of. Real talk, with acting chops and a unique love for sci fi, she’d be perfect for that possible sequel. You hear that, Ryan Coogler?

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

By Jaz Joyner*, AFROPUNK Contributor

How did New Black Swing get its name?

It’s definitely a play on my name. I love the option to do that, so that’s cool. And I’m referencing new jack swing the style, too. I mean, actually, it’s funny because my dad came up with it. My parents give me a lot of advice and try to be involved and that’s awesome. And so we were hanging out on the holidays and my dad was like, “You should call it New Black Swing like new jack swing but you’re the new style and you’re Sassy Black.”

And he was just breaking it down and I was like, “Dad you’re right, this is perfect.” And what’s funny is he’s the one who introduced me to new jack swing, so it makes sense. So for me it gives you that idea and it’s like I’m swinging, I’m on a new side and a new life, super black.

A lot of the songs in New Black Swing feel like references to the many levels of a relationship in a similar way to your first solo album though there’s definitely more growth in how you talk about love. Do you consider this album a continuation or a progression from No More Weak Dates?

All of the projects I do kind of leak into the other ones because it’s just me growing up and growing as a musician. If I put out every single song that I’ve written it’d be that much more clear about the kind of experience that I’m having in life. So yeah, I’d definitely say it’s a part of that conversation of my first album No Weak Dates. And then where I’m trying to go in my career is I never really wrote about relationships before because I was in a relationship and sometimes you don’t want to tell too much about what’s happening in your life. Now I kinda write about [relationships] because that’s what R&B and most music is. It’s about relationships and the politics of that.

You’ve got a few dope verses in this album where you rap, like in What We Gonna Do, and you have a history of mixing spoken word with singing in the past. Could we ever expect an all-out rap album from you? Is that something you’d ever be interested in?

I love rapping in my songs and I’m gonna keep doing it and keep doing spoken word cause I started by doing poetry and writing long before singing. It’s like a natural occurrence for me. Rapping is something I love, actually. I’ve been so nervous because I’m like, “Oh I don’t sound like somebody.” You know? But in this record I pulled the whole inspiration from Queen Latifah and really try to embrace that side of me because that’s what I was going for. I wanted to be like her when I was growing up.

But I also rap when I feel it’s necessary. It’s like with these songs I try to be more fearless. That’s kind of my creative experience in general so it’s how I feel and just trying to get myself out there and push forward. That’s been fun, so rapping comes into that.

You’re rocking it solo now which has been really cool to see. How do you like solo performing so far? Are there any other fresh artists out there you’d love to collab with?

Right now I like performing alone and doing my own thing but you know there are a lot of artists I would like to work with and I realized I should start shouting them out in my interviews so they can hear me (laughs)! I wanna work with Bad Bad Not Good. I really wanna work with Kaytranada, and of course The Internet. I love them. And King, and you know like Anderson .Paak. You know, like all the homies, all the peer groups. I’m like, “I love all ya’ll, let’s get on these tracks!”

I read that you’re really into the Seattle scene not just for the music but for the community there as well. What keeps you grounded in Seattle? And how were you able to avoid the typical artist tug to, say, LA or NYC?

I’ve definitely felt like moving to NY or LA or San Francisco but what keeps me here is all the work that I’ve done. I’ve been here for so long and I have a strong community and you know, it’s a special place to me. It’s a special experience for me. I have been thinking about moving sometimes but it’s more like okay if I’m acting I need to be in LA more but then an actual move? I don’t know. I feel like Seattle is an actual gem. Like the Emerald City, it is a gem, you know? I wouldn’t wanna lose it for anything. Actually it’s so funny because Quincy Jones in The Whiz has Emerald City and in my mind it feels like a reference to Seattle because he lived here for so long.

You’re releasing New Black Swing from your own record company, Space Theory Records. What made you decide to go independent? Was this always a plan for you?

I’ve been a full time musician for a while now and in order for me to stay consistent with that I have to be out here making music making moves and those moves now don’t include me actively searching for a booking agent and management. And I’ve reached out to booking agents before to no response or people being like, “I’ll get back to you,” and then say, “Yeah, we’re too busy,” which is fine, you know? I’m not offended by any of it. I take it as like, okay, maybe this is my time. I figure out what I need to do and get back to you guys later and then I know a lot of it is just action, you know, like doing this stuff. Like when I was with THEESatisfaction, the reason that we got all that stuff that we did is because we were non-stop moving. I had just graduated from college and I was like “We. Will. Get. Stuff. Done.” And so I’m trying to have that same kind of energy, all these years later.

Be sure to check out SassyBlack’s new album New Black Swing when it comes out June 23rd, and bet your Friday doesn’t get that much flyer. While you’re waiting, have a listen to some of her tracks available now on Bandcamp:

*Jaz Joyner is a black non binary writer and founder of QUNTFRONT residing in Brooklyn, NY. @JazJoyner