For the latest installment of our "Tell Us Something Good" celebrity recommendation series, we talked with “spaced-age” composer, singer, producer, and all-around creative dynamo SassyBlack. She told us about her career transitions, her favorite gluten-free bakery, the best books she’s reading, and what she misses about the bus, among other ways she’s been weathering quarantine.
You’re a composer, a singer, a crafter…. Can you tell me what you’ve been up to lately?
I'm a goofy person and I've been returning to that. Everything makes me giggle—I’m a whole goof troop. But I also made a big transition career-wise last year from a live performer to primarily a composer/producer/songwriter. I’ve been taking online classes and reading a lot—autobiographies, music theory, even screenplays. Anything that's exciting and mostly free or already in my house, I’ve been digging into that. It’s been a really exciting journey, because I’ve also been engineering my own music more.
I just want to do stuff that still has joy about it, you know? As a musician, I always felt like, “Okay, I'm a performer. I have to make records and go on tour.” You take away the tours, you take away the budget, and that means it's harder to make records where you hire out engineers. I'd already been engineering for a while.
I've also been crafting. Crafting, music, and studying. And I'm spending time with my family via Zoom or on the phone or just texting. Just finding ways to find joy and celebrate the little moments.
So you’ve been finding ways to weather the crisis. It can't be easy right now to be a musical performer.
Luckily, I've always wanted to be a composer, and I've been a producer. I’ve made big changes from being a lyricist to being a singer, and now into a producer/composer/engineer. It’s for my own satisfaction, not so much for others.
I've been able to license some music and get some good placement, but I’m also tired. I toured for about a decade. Now I’m like, “Oh, is this what a home is like?” But I did hit the ground running when the pandemic began with my livestreams, which I’d already been doing before everything happened. I'm pretty tech-savvy, especially being an electronic musician, and I just like researching. I learned a lot and got cameras and tripods and greenscreens.
It wasn’t the same sensation as live performance, obviously. I love performing music, but I love, love, love making it. And I like sitting in my own music and going through the emotions of it.
You've done a bit of filmmaking in the past. Has that come in handy?
But yeah, I have a lot of editing background from high school, and I was editing stuff on my phone over the years. I have Premiere Pro, but I like to do it simple.
When you want to learn something, it all takes the same focus. Regardless of what you're learning, you have to be patient and you have to take deep breaths. You have to be mindful. You have to take breaks, you know, and understand when your brain is overflowing. I was starting to get more in touch with that, which made it easier to learn a lot of other things. So it was good to have a departure from the music. And now I can bring the music more to life with these visuals.
Let’s talk about what you’ve been enjoying lately. Any favorite local restaurants or shops?
I had to stop ordering out. I’m gluten-free and dairy-free, and so much stuff is like, “Whoops, we put cheese in it!” So I actually started cooking more.
I am turning my life so upside down. Touring, you eat whatever you can, and you always eat the same weird thing. You’re like, ”Oh yeah, I'm on a plane. I'm going to have jerky every day.” Now I’ve started meal prepping. One of my friends taught me that you should just make big batches of food and freeze it and have it throughout the week, so I do that. I'll make brown rice for the week, and kale of course, and Brussels sprouts. People consider them to be some of the nasty foods, but that’s only when they’re cooked wrong. I marinate them to take away the bitterness. I’ll make some curries, lentils with some protein, and then be like, “All right, I'll be back!”
There was that big gluten-free shop Flying Apron, but unfortunately they had to close their Fremont store. They have one in West Seattle, and it's actually not that far from Easy Street [Records], so I could do a two-for-one trip someday. They have the best gluten-free cinnamon rolls ever, and good gluten-free vegan pizzas too.
How about movies or TV? Have you been occupying yourself that way?
Oh my God. So much. I went through all of Deep Space Nine and Sister, Sister. I saw so many Star Wars movies; I watched New Girl twice; I watched all of Bob’s Burgers again. Now I'm going through all the Marvel movies.
What music or podcasts have you been listening to?
Chick Corea has unfortunately just passed away. I just feel so uplifted listening to Chick Corea. His music is so complex, but light and delicate and intentional. There’s a record called Children of Forever with Stanley Clarke, Chick Corea, Andy Bey, and Dee Dee Bridgewater, and also the players. I'm really into cosmic soul, that's just my vibe.
I love listening to my vinyl and my tapes. I've been revisiting albums I used to listen to as a kid.
And then Esperanza Spalding—I’ve listened to her since college, since her first record. What a powerhouse of an individual. I love music that has intentionality behind it, music that really wants you to think about who you are and why we exist and why we move. Just looking at different levels of existence.
Which books have you particularly liked?
I'm reading Shining Star by Philip Bailey, his autobiography about Earth, Wind and Fire. Philip Bailey was considered by many to be the co-leader of EWF along with Maurice White, who passed away a couple of years ago. It’s always interesting to read someone's autobiography, because you just get so much insight about the group and make connections about how this came together and the reasons why the music sounds like it does.
And then there is The Body Is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor. I'm just starting it, but man, I just have to keep stopping because I'm like, “Oh, she's speaking my spirit.”
Anyone you follow online that you find really interesting or uplifting?
I follow this Instagram and Twitter account called the Nap Ministry and it's about resting and it's led by this Black woman. It's really powerful. Rest is our right. With everything that's been going on, I think about how toxic industries are. I can say music, I can say entertainment. Industries in general and obviously how toxic capitalism is. There’s this energy that makes you feel bad for taking sick days or awkward for asking for time off. Or bad for taking vacations, you know? I used to work on my vacations. I’d go on trips and I would just be working all the time, checking my emails.
I don't keep email on my phone anymore. I barely keep social media on my phone. But following [The Nap Ministry], she's just talking about why it's important to rest, and I just needed the reminder.
There’s a saying: You’ll rest when you’re dead. Well, duh. So I’m thinking, how I can incorporate sleeping into my art form though? Having colorful dreams can lead to a colorful song.
I also follow something called the Finance Bar, which gives you daily tips. It’s run by a Black woman too. And it's just like, man, thank you. It's really hard to find financial help. People don't necessarily know how to support you, and they also don't want to be held responsible if it doesn't work.
Have you bought anything during the quarantine that's really enhanced your life?
Gear stuff. I had to invest in things for the studio work. I can record vocals at home using my simple SM58 and it doesn't work really well, but I had to upgrade to a better mic and SM7B, which is like the one Michael Jackson used for “Thriller.”” I really appreciate my vocals around that.
Before the pandemic, I bought a massage pad, because I was teaching and doing all this stuff. It’s great because I can sit in it, watch a little Steven Universe, and have some tea and be like, “Man, life could be chill like this.”
Are you teaching songwriting?
Yeah, I just finished teaching my third iteration of my songwriting class. It was crazy because we were in-person for maybe two or three classes, and then everything had to be on Zoom. It’s really cool, as I can now have students from all over. I have a larger fan base than just Seattle, which is nice. I'm getting ready to teach another one.
Students always come up with some really cool songs. It’s about embracing effort and breathing, trying something new and celebrating that, and having fun in the process. We get to analyze songs and make people stronger listeners as well as writers.
What do you miss most about Seattle from before the COVID times?
I've lived in Seattle since ’97 and I really just miss strolling. I would just go on walks, like walk to Capitol Hill and walk back. I haven't seen a lot of the city in a long time. I just miss all of it. Even miss the little grungy bus. Like, like what the hell? But I do like looking out the window and knowing I'll get somewhere. I can sit on a bus and if I'm going from Capitol Hill to the CD or something, I have so many memories with that.
What are you looking forward to most when we can go out again?
I’m looking forward to going to more exhibitions. Of course, I miss live concerts.
I miss seeing my family. They're just a riot. You know, you miss the love. Their love is like a total energy. You can get it through the phone, but man, being in the same room with somebody and smiling at them, it's not to be taken for granted.
Anything else you’d like to add or plug?
Sign up for my Hugo House class! Also, I release music only through my Bandcamp these days. Every two weeks, I release a new song. It’s only $7.77 a month. I’m not releasing these on Spotify or anything like I used to.
I’m hosting & DJing the second annual Digital Disco livestream in collaboration with Heylo & Hashtag on 4/20 with a special guest who will be announced soon. And then, I actually just finished working with the 5th Avenue Theater with this wonderful actress, Sarah Russell. It was my first time as a musical director. In the realm of composer and music director, it's all happening.