“I’d written, ‘Don’t message me if you want to date, only message me if you want to collaborate musically, here’s a list of stuff I like.” On the eve of the release of their latest self-titled EP, Miss Queen, who alongside her wife Exquisite makes up the band Sateen, is recounting how the duo first met on a dating website. “If your tastes align with mine, message me,” she’d written. Luckily, the pair hit it off immediately, both being tired of indie bands and the culture that goes along with them, and wanting to do something decidedly more… disco. “We resisted the urge for a little over a month,” laughs Exquisite. “I think within a week or two [of that] I was living with Miss Queen, and knew we’d be together for the rest of our lives.”
“I think a lot of the things we were doing, before 2017 especially, we were trying to find who we were and connect a lot of the dots in our lives” – Exquisite
Luckily, for both them and us, it’s been a fruitful partnership. Sateen first found acclaim as Drag Queens, hosting some of New York’s most queued-for clubs in an array of Galliano-inspired get-ups. “I think a lot of the things we were doing, before 2017 especially, we were trying to find who we were and connect a lot of the dots in our lives,” says Exquisite. “And I think along the way we kind of made a bit of a mess of things! There was a lot of different information, like we’re a hetero couple, or a drag couple, and we’re club kids, and all this stuff. And to some extent, all that’s true, but it wasn’t our truth – if that makes sense?”
The EP opens with Finer Things, a classic Sateen paean to glamour and excess. “Give me diamonds, give me pearls, yes I’m that kind of girl,” croons Miss Queen against a decidedly Deee-Lite soundtrack as mastered by Exquisite. Quickly however, the record’s intention becomes apparent – as a kind of declaration of selfhood and empowerment for the pair. “I think the biggest thing for us,” says Exquisite of the driving force behind their music, “was me coming out as a trans woman. And living together as out lesbians.” Lightning and Thunder, the Chaka Khan-esque extravaganza which comes halfway through the EP, deals with this directly. “It’s about reclaiming our marriage from a hetero context,” she confides. “We still have a real marriage to us, even though we’re both women now, and it’s a little different. It’s definitely a lesbian anthem! And Free Your Mind is the trans anthem.”
“A big issue I think that we have with contemporary music is that it feels like its not necessarily homophobic, but it’s afraid to be overtly flamboyant” – Exquisite
This is the essence of Sateen as a band, looking to empower and free their listeners through their mix of honesty and, well, fabulousness. Obviously there was a perfect era of music to inspire this sound. “We don’t necessarily love contemporary pop music,” says Exquisite understatedly. “I guess our biggest influence on this record has been 70s disco music. And we came to this realisation that a big part of what’s so important to us about disco is its inherent gayness. A big issue I think that we have with contemporary music is that it feels like its not necessarily homophobic, but it’s afraid to be overtly flamboyant.”
Sateen channel this flamboyance not just through image, but also through Miss Queen’s soaring vocals. “Singers like Chaka Khan, Sister Sledge, Deniece Williams, Martha Wash is a really big influence,” she says of the women who inspire her warm, acrobatic singing style. “Just like so many amazing vocalists that really bring the music to life are my inspiration. I love their music, and I feel like disco music is the most light- and life-filled celebration of music.” Indeed, it’s almost impossible not to be lifted by their songs. “Even if our music touches on sort of intense themes, or things people are afraid of,” laughs Exquisite, “it has a positive tone, or makes you smile; it feels sunnier than a lot of music that you hear nowadays. We want this to be warm and full of life, and I think that of and in itself is a political reaction in America.”
“Taking something like having your hair done, doing your makeup, things that are frowned upon or thought of as vapid or meaningless, and turning it into something artistic – that’s our band” – Exquisite
Their next task is to take Sateen out on the road. “We’re planning Sateen world domination, universe takeover,” says Miss Queen only half-joking. “We’re going to go to the moon,” adding that all it takes is the price of a plane ticket to get the duo wherever you want them to play. Part of their problem has been that they’re pigeonholed as club performers, and in general, as Exquisite says, “You’re playing in front of people that are honestly not there to see a performer, they’re there to drink, and hook up, and do everything but that.” There’s also the perception, they think, given their fabulous and intricate image, that they’re too superficial to be taken seriously. “We feel like superficiality is just another construct, just like being ashamed to come out of a closet,” she explains. “It’s designed specifically to shame femme identifying people. Taking something like having your hair done, doing your makeup, things that are frowned upon or thought of as vapid or meaningless, and turning it into something artistic – that’s our band. Those things are just as important to us as the music itself.”
Miss Queen puts it more succinctly. “We give the audience life! I think we’re in the business of life giving,” and she gives a glorious cackle. “I always end up on the floor rolling around.” Their appeal is contagious, as Exquisite adds, “We feel like we’re getting somewhere with it. And all we can hope is that we’re laying down the infrastructure for more queers to come out of the woodwork.” Truly, the time has come for Sateen – we need their fabulous spirit more than ever.
Hair: Sean Michael Bennett. Make-up: Laura Stiassni at The Wall Group using Sisley. Styling assistants: Rebecca Perlmutar, Kat Banas and Sunnie Fraser.
The Autumn/Winter 2017 issue of AnOther Magazine is on sale now.