ON BEING A TRUE WARRIOR: An Interview with Sate


Photo by Che Kothari

Sate is a Canadian singer/songwriter who has recently reinvented herself and her music, moving more into her own brand of heavy, gritty blues rock that’s simply mind-blowing. We sat down in the sunny backyard of a quiet cafe in Harlem to talk music, but the conversation ended up encompassing so much more.

W: Sate—where did the name come from? It feels so appropriate.

S: Other than the obvious—the dictionary? [laughs] I was just looking for something that encompasses the music and me and something strong and bold and sexy, and a rebirth of self. You know?

W: You talk about that a lot—rebirth. Because you’ve done so much in the past that Sate, this new band, is like your rebirth. Do you want to speak to that?

S: I’ve been doing this for a long time, growing up in a musical family and just coming into my own. Being in a cocoon for a while and figuring stuff out, getting to know myself and finding my footing. Dying and birthing. And it’s constantly going to happen throughout my life. Throughout our lives we are constantly killing things off and becoming more of ourselves. That is definitely a theme in my life and the music.

W: You did mention your past in a musical family in other interviews, but never really went into a lot of depth. Were there any distinct memories from your past where it hit you—that music is what you want to do? 

S: There was never a time when this was not what I wanted to do. It’s like being—and I’ve said it before—it’s like being born into a family of doctors and lawyers and not becoming a doctor or lawyer. And to each their own. But in the olden days, if you had the last name of carpenter, it was because you were of a family of carpenters. It’s about keeping the family’s lineage and carrying the torch—there was just no question to me. I might as well have had the last name “Singer” or “Entertainer”, you know? I just kept the family tradition together.

W: And with these three EP’s, that seemed also to be so family-oriented, is that where the ideas come from?

S: Definitely. Again, [the ideas of] rebirth, dying, embracing and finding self. Learning from three really important female energies in my life, how they changed me, what they taught me and how I became me. My mother, my daughter and my sister. My sister is older than me, so I look up to her. My mother birthed me. My daughter is going to change me through being a parent. I’m going to learn from each of them. That’s really what life is about.

W: How do each of these three EPs (Red, Black & Blue) differ from one another in terms of the spirit animals—the Robin, the Butterfly & The Black Panther?

S: In the beginning I was going to represent each [woman in my life] with each EP, but it just didn’t work out that way because they all weave. There’s no separation when it comes to the lessons you’re learning; you can apply them to every point in your life. I can learn a lesson from parenting my daughter through being parented from my mother. So you can’t compartmentalize that. The black panther for me was about being a strong woman, a huge female energy. And it brings in some darkness, the sadness, the depression, the fight, the struggle to really claim who I am and my experiences in life, being ok with that and talking about it and expressing it to other people. And not commiserating but relating. And seeing how we can all move through that.

W: Is there anything in particular that forced you to look into your pain and into those deep dark spaces?

S: Definitely. My sister and I were estranged for a very long time, so that was a big catalyst for me even pushing into doing this body of work. I’ve been dealing with my mom and her dementia. So those are two huge catalysts for pushing me forward into looking at what I’m really feeling. Trying to hold it together, not realizing it’s ok to fall apart.

W: That’s so beautiful to think and visualize. And it makes it a little more attainable.

S: Yeah! It takes the pressure off of thinking “I have to be the best” or even receiving accolades. Well, I am the best at this because no one can do it like me. No one else knows what me is, where I’ve been. And I can look at other people and be like “Wow, I see you. You’re amazing.” Whatever you’ve been through is inspirational and I don’t have to be you.

W: I read the Noisey Canada article, where you were claiming yourself as being a warrior and what you think a warrior encompasses, but who was it that helped create the warrior in you?

Salome Bey, Sate's mother & Canada's Queen of Jazz & Blues

Salome Bey, Sate’s mother & Canada’s Queen of Jazz & Blues

S: My mother! I watch her in her ups and downs battling and navigating her way through dementia. Being a communicator and sometimes not communicating at all. And it’s devastating. Devastating as a daughter and devastating as someone who’s been inspired by her all my life as a performer and communicator. And trying to visualize what it is like for her to not be able to communicate and want to communicate. That’s some warrior shit, to be here fighting and trying. That’s all it is, it’s inspiring people to just try and be you and fight through whatever you need to fight through, not giving up.
We are so hard on ourselves. And most of the time we project that onto other people, but it has nothing to do with others. It’s really about the shit that we’re dishing on ourselves and how perfect we want to be. But we’re perfect as we are. We’re all warriors because we’re still fighting. We all have that dream, that thing that we want to do, but think we can’t do it. So it’s about pushing beyond whatever society says we can’t do and just do it! Why would we spend our lifetimes not doing what we want to do and not being in joy? Eat the food you want to eat and enjoy it. Be with the person you want to be with and enjoy them. Savor them and those moments. Do what you want to do, if it’s painting, singing, dancing, acting, computer programming, bank telling, whatever! If that is your joy, that’s what we need. We need people to be doing whatever they really thrive off of in order for the joy level and love and happiness to shoot up into our whole being, lifting the frequency of love and joy in the world. Imagine how buzzing the world would be if we were all loving what we were doing every single step of the way. We could love one another freely.
That’s what a warrior is.

W: I sort of went through that when I turned thirty and got scared of how old and unaccomplished I felt. But I realized I couldn’t let that get in the way of what I wanted to do. So many people let that get to them and it’s a shame.

S: It is. When my father had a stroke and not too long after my mother was diagnosed with dementia, I befriended one of their friends who at the time was sixty-six…sixty-seven? And I’d remembered when I was a kid thinking “Oh my god, you’re thirty? thirty-five? you’re so old.” [laughing] You know? But here I am and I’m relating to this sixty-something year old woman. It wasn’t about age. It was about spirit. Fuck the age thing, that’s not what matters. I would ask her, how do you do it? And she said, “I’m happy.” And from that moment on I chose to to have joy, which will surpass any age thing. It’s about the experiences you take in, learn from, savor, pass on and pay forward.

W: We were talking a bit about your mother and I know you’re also involved in activism with the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada. Tell me a bit about that, how you became involved and how others can get involved.

S: Basically what I did was create a pledge campaign for these three EP’s and this upcoming album. I chose Pledge because of how close they work with artists in helping them achieve their goals, but also because once you get past a certain mark you can give back to a charity that you care about. So it only made sense that I would give back to the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada. I’m still learning a lot more about the Society. But what they are doing really touches me: they are moving toward using music to activate people, their core, their spirit, their joy, the same therapy featured in that film Alive Inside. So that they’re not just sitting there in their heads, dying everyday. Instead [the Society] is using music to give them life. They put together playlists and give the patients iPods. I programmed my mother’s music on her iPod and I’ve seen the therapy working. She used to be in a band called Andy and the Bey Sisters. When she heard her music, she just started singing her parts. It’s incredible to know what the spirit does. We are energetic beings. It’s not about the flesh. It’s about energy, you know? So I’m all in support of what the Alzheimer’s Society is doing around the world.

W: Aside from contributing to your music people can just donate…

S: They can go to Pledgemusic.com and Sate, they’ll find that they can still be a part of the process and receive the three EP’s because I’m not releasing all of it to the public. I’ll be releasing a ten song EP and pledgers get to pick which songs are released. It’s funny, they’re all like “I can’t pick ten!” and I’m like, you just tell me what you like and we’ll take it from there. So yes, people can still join in, take part and help.

W: I was really taken with how punk and DIY this experience is aesthetically, in terms of the journals you’re creating—which is something I’m really interested in. How are you doing this—how are you making it so personalized?

S: I don’t fucking know! [laughing] I’m a super creative person and the whole journaling thing, that’s so close to my heart. The whole thing just came out of the evolution of how I journal, just by cutting and pasting and making beautiful collages of repurposed magazines in my lined, boring journal. I’m a magazine-o-holic. I have to kind of cure my addition by stopping. Oh my god, I had piles and piles. But I figured, what if I just put these magazines to use? I like the human connection, the spiritual connection, and so I think the only way we can do that is to talk. So that’s why it’s so personal.

W: and what about when you’re on stage—how do you think that translates?

S: I’m a very in-your-face kind of performer. I love to sweat. I like to give it all—I can’t give anything less than all. I look for the interaction, for people to be with me, engaged. That translates definitely through my performance. There was a guy who came up to me at a show. He’d been to a couple of shows. During the first performance I noticed him just kind of looking at me. At the second show he came up to me and said “I was a little scared of you at the first show, I was so overwhelmed by how big of a presence you are, I was just scared.’ I said, “what, did you think I was going to eat your head off?” He was like “yeah.” And I said, “I’m not that person. That’s who I am on stage, but even there, I’m not gonna do that.” He said, “Yeah, I see that you’re approachable,” and I was like, “Hell yeah, I’m approachable.” You know? Male energies are very interesting when they approach me. They think she’s rough, she’s hard, she’s tough…and then when they meet me, they’re like “You’re so nice! so gentle, so funny” or they’re like “You’re so sexy.” And I’m like, yeah sure, I’m trying to be [singing] “I’m every woman”. And I think that translates to women as well—yes, I want to strive to be an inspiration to other women but also to myself. To be a strong woman who’s sexy, hard, soft, vulnerable, a go-getter, a bitch, femme, queer, all the isms…all the things that we can be as human beings, we embrace them and be them without hesitating.

Performance from June 19, 2014 at the Bovine Sex Club in Toronto

Sate Performing at the Bovine Sex Club in Toronto in June of last year.

W: Speaking of women, what advice do you have for burgeoning women in rock? How can we level the scales?

S: I feel like we have to support each other, go out and be in the mix. We have to insert ourselves in the male-dominated world. It really sickens me that most of these festivals are not balanced in female energy, in queer energy and in cultural energy. It’s very white/male/hetero. Great, but that’s not representative of who lives here in this world. There are so many more stories. We have to continue learning from each other so that we can grow and be incredible all-knowing, all-loving beings. But if we continue to go down this road of the all-white, all-hetero male, we’re not going to learn anything. And that’s not being anti-male. That’s saying let’s integrate this shit. It’s hard because then there starts to be this quota thing and I don’t want to be included in some sort of quota. Because then that’s still a part of that all-white, all-hetero male agenda. Open it up. There was this article recently where a reviewer said “Sleater-Kinney is my favorite band and they’re an all-female band.” And I was like, yeah? So? It’s like the same thing I run into. Why do we have to use the term “black rock”? I get why it’s being done—it’s because there isn’t an inclusiveness is happening. We have to insert ourselves and build ourselves up in our community. But then it becomes just “black rock”. I fucking hate the term “blue-eyed soul.” Soul is soul. You have it or you don’t. When it comes to music, I believe soul is found in every kind of music, it moves through you. I think we have to insert ourselves as women and we have to look out for one another and support one another. I’m not looking for another Lillith Fair, that’s not the solution to our problem. Then it becomes one festival where every woman who’s doing all types of music can go to. Are you kidding me? There’s how many hundreds of festivals around the world and we get one? Really? Just open it up.

W: Have you ever experienced that? Where a promoter told you “no” and it was because they’d “met their quota”?

S: I don’t think anyone would EVER say that. I hope not! I haven’t run into anyone saying that, but they might as well have.

W: Yeah, just by looking at the fliers.

S: Definitely. Some of those fliers, we’re not headlining any of them. Who do you have? Florence and the Machine, Alabama Shakes and Bjork. Who else is there in the mainstream? And what’s fucked is that there’s so much amazing music in this world. And when it comes to rock, women are being pigeonholed into being soft and“ladylike” (whatever the fuck ladylike is, because yelling and roaring is ladylike, that’s what a lady does. And trust me, that’s what you want a lady to do.) A lot has to change and it might take a long time. And it can’t just be women doing it, there have to be dudes who step in and look at things differently. Promoters have to look at things differently. Open up. Start looking out of the box. It’s not just what women have to do—yes, we have to insert ourselves and go outside our comfort, make connection and community with other bands—but people outside of that need to start thinking differently and start changing it.

W: What about female producers and women in tech?

S: They’re all out there, you just have to look. I think people would be really surprised to know how a lot of women are just doing this shit themselves. All of it. Not waiting. I have a dear friend called Hill and she has a band called Hill and the Sky Heroes. And she is a producer, musician, songwriter, video director, she does it all. And it’s wicked. She even did a remix of Warrior, it’s on Soundcloud and Facebook. She’s great. There are women out there who are doing it and doing it all. The industry just needs to change.

To hear Sate’s complete collection of recordings, visit her Pledge page where you can contribute, donate to the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada and gain voting rights for the tracks that will ultimately be her first release. Hurry, though. There’s only about a month left before it comes out. And if you didn’t know her name, you most certainly will now…