Cooking Lovesick Beats: Stas THEE Boss and Chong the Nomad In Conversation

Interviews, Local Music
Dusty Henry
photo by Dusty Henry

It doesn’t take long diving into Seattle’s nightlife scene before you inevitably come across two names: Stas THEE Boss and Chong The Nomad. The monikers of Stasia Irons (who also hosts KEXP’s Street Sounds) and Alda Agustiano respectively have garnered ubiquity in the city with the two constantly appearing on festival lineups, gigging around town, and DJing an unfathomable amount of sets around town on a ceaseless basis.

Trying to describe who Irons and Agustiano are and what they do takes some time. They’re DJs, producers, composers, songwriters, women of color, queer, and driven by that high of finding the perfect mix or sound in the moment. They’ve both taken different routes to get where they are – Irons famously got her start rapping and crafting beats for iconic Seattle hip-hop duo THEESatisfaction in 2008 and Agustiano is a relative newcomer who has quickly risen in the scene with her exciting take on electronic music and buzzworthy sets at Capitol Hill Block Party and Sasquatch! Music Festival. Now the two are finally coming together with a remarkable split vinyl release on Crane City Music, pairing Irons’ 2017 LP S’Women with Agustiano’s 2018 EP Love Memo.

When I sat down with these two wunderkind producers and beatmakers, I was surprised how quickly the conversation turned to cooking and how it would come up again and again throughout our chat. But it’s an apt metaphor. There’s maybe the obvious of mixing in different sonic ingredients like you would making ramen (Agustiano works as a line cook at a ramen shop and even recently made a beat with sounds from the kitchen), but there are the more ephemeral aspects as well. There’s the physical muscle memory of monitoring different recipes simultaneously, the idea of making something “with love,” and the creative juices that flow from the process. It’s one of the many vibrant anecdotes the two connect on throughout our talk.

Even working in different genres and on different timelines, there’s a universality to their craft that clearly bonds the two. They speak each other’s musical languages fluently, excitedly jumping in and finishing each other’s sentences about the creative process. Somewhat serendipitously, the two began to find similarities between each of their records the longer we talk. The heartbreak and cathartic release that led to both S’Women and Love Memo is a parallel neither could have anticipated. Both when you hear both these records back-to-back, it feels like they were fated to be paired together.

Tonight (Oct. 11), the two will share the stage together at Nectar Lounge for the S’Women / Love Memo vinyl release party alongside DoNormaal and Kung Foo Grip. Before the show, get to know more about these pivotal artists to Seattle’s scene, they’re DJing philosophies and the magic of finding the perfect mix.


KEXP: Did you two know each other before this split release?

Stasia Irons: We'd done maybe one or two gigs, day parties and shit together.

Alda Agustiano: When I was signed to [Build Strong management], I think it was my first official gig from [them]. It was the Capitol Hill Block Party poster show. That's where we first met.

SI: I had no idea about her. I was like, "Oh shit!" [laughs].

AA: I was kind of freaking out. I was like, "Oh shit! Oh God! I listen to your show." I knew about you and everyone listens to you.

SI: She really brought it.

AA: Oh yeah, I went insane that. It was after the [Beat Match] competition I was in and it was my first official gig.

KEXP: Did you keep in contact after that?

SI: Not much, I see her around and shit.

AA: Yeah, we see each other around town.

AA: I saw you at Sasquatch, which was so dope [laughs]. It was in the VIP section and I was with my girlfriend and everything and I was already feeling pretty cool cause it was my first Sasquatch and I actually got to do the backstage stuff. You were there and I was like, "Oh shit!"

KEXP: When did you decide to do this split release? When did it come about?

SI: Gary [Campbell] from Crane City Music approached us months ago about it. He was like "Y'all are both awesome producers, DJs, and women of color and queer and that is very rare to have all of that [laughs]. And y'all both have really good records. So let's do a vinyl split." I don't have any vinyl for myself. I had it in THEESatisfaction, I had no physical copies for S'Women. So to have that with Love Memo, I was like, "Yeah, we gotta do that shit."

AA: It makes sense. Gary approached me in the middle of April and it was kind of more of a concept, like, "How do you feel about this? Like, double up with another Seattle artist like Stas or ParisAlexa?" I was like [laughs] "Yeah!" Having vinyl, it's gonna all come in different colors too. Each copy will be individual colors.


KEXP: This is a pretty broad question, but how did you each get started DJing and producing?

AA: I've been producing music since I was 14. I picked up FruityLoops with my friends and kind of went from there. But at 16 I had a crush on someone who was in the breakdance club and – he knows who he is – I wasn't out yet [laughs]. To impress him I was, "You know, maybe I should give DJing a try." And then I ended up loving it. I was DJing breakbeats during the breakdance club and took it from there. Got Virtual DJ and started messing around with my own mixes and fell in love with house music and electronic music and all that. I started actually getting gigs a year and a half ago. Pretty recent. It was always a hobby and then a recent endeavor.

KEXP: What did you like about DJing when you started?

AA: The response. That was when I found out I was excited to show people new music and introduce and find and crate dig and learn the history of what I'm playing. All of that was fascinating to me.

KEXP: What about you Stas?

SI: I'm old [laughs]. I started producing before I started DJing. I started producing maybe 11 years ago with THEESatisfaction. Started on GarageBand, FruityLoops, and stuck with Reason – still use Reason. Made all of the THEESatisfaction beats. I made beats for other artists. I don't really like to use other people's beats. I've started to open up to that now. I just love hearing myself climb into something that I made. There's nothing like it. DJing was something that I didn't know that I was going to be doing or good at. It was kind of like the homies would come over and I'd play some shit or whatever, mix it in.

So I started throwing parties in 2012, Black Weirdo parties. In these parties we would bring in – it was me and Kat from THEESatisfaction and we'd bring in two or three other DJs. Black DJs. And play "not Top 40." Anything but. We took that party all over the country. Up into Canada, too. From then on I was like, "Ok, I like DJing. I'm actually ok at this." From then on, just kept it going. Moved to New York, had a gig out there monthly, then moved back to Seattle. Now people don't even know that I make music, they just say, "You're the DJ!" And I'm like, "What?!" I did not even set to do this. I really enjoy it and it's brought me a lot of pleasure and purpose.

AA: And belonging.

SI: Yeah. Yeah, for sure.

KEXP: I feel like depending on who I talk to, people know you from something different. It's cool that you have these different sides of yourself that you can experience in music.

SI: Wait till I start cooking. Stas THEE Chef! [laughs]

AA: Making music is a lot like cooking. It's so much like cooking.

SI: I know!

AA: I'm a line cook, I just got back from the kitchen.

SI: I didn't know that! That's dope.

AA: Yeah at the Kizuki Ramen on Cap Hill. That's my day job.

SI: I'm trying to get in the game. I need to figure out how I can jump into that business. I really just wanna cook. That's all I wanna do.

KEXP: Do you feel like there's a lot transferable between DJing and cooking?

AA: I think, on a line cook level – that's what I do, I'm not a chef or anything – the muscle memory I have to acquire helps so much with just everyday musician things. Whether it's memorizing a melodic line or beatboxing, even. Doing multiple things at once in your head. I apply that to music all the time.

KEXP: Wait, Stas, was THEESatisfaction the first thing you produced?

SI: Yes.

KEXP: That's crazy [group laughs]. You started at such a high point and kept going up.

SI: Sometimes I go back and listen to [THEESatisfaction] and I'm like, "Damn, where was I in my mind to make that?" Because right now it's totally different, I'm in a different space. It was a lot of things that lined up cosmically.


KEXP: So you are both DJs but you both make original music too. Do you feel like you're exercising muscles between the two? Where do those crossover and overlap? What's that like?

SI: I've made them overlap because I'm obsessed with producing so when I am DJing I'm looking for loops, I'm looking for different sounds that I might throw into a beat. I'm producing and DJing at the same time. It's incorporating both.

AA: The best sets are when you treat it like you're creating. I kind of lose that headspace a lot because I try to differentiate my DJing and producing. But I think, at the end of the day, what you are and can do musically eventually turns into what you're DJing.

SI: Find that snare from [Michael Jackson’s] "Rock With You" or something and then you mix it in with some [A Tribe Called Quest]. You can do whatever. It is producing. The best DJs are really good producers, I think.

KEXP: You're basically creating live in front of people. Is that intense at all with an audience or do you thrive on it?

SI: I need it. I love it.

AA: I feel like it's cliche to say it's a high, but.. made an edit for "In My Feelings" by Drake and then I had a hard transition to Missy Elliott's "Work It" and the response from that, just the, "Ahhhh!" That doesn't get old [Stas laughs]. That's the shit that makes me giddy about DJing. Knowing and creating ideas that create a response, a very strong response.

SI: The mix. That good mix. Just blended so perfectly. Motherfuckers, they don't even hear it. They're just so stuck into the groove. That's what I strive for every time.

KEXP: What about when you're composing a track for one of your solo releases? I imagine the vibe is pretty different. What's the headspace difference there?

AA: It's just as chaotic, but you're alone [both laugh]. What's going on in my head is kind of like the same rush and urgency, but I'm in my room and I'm not sweaty and gross.

SI: It's a bit more relaxed. I think I'm able to have multiple things going on. When I produce, I like to have a movie or something on to watch. The incense. Some smoking. Drinking. Walking around. There's more time.

AA: At that point, it becomes muscle memory. You just let it chill into your workflow.

KEXP: I've listened to you both DJ, listened to your mixes, and listen to your records too. The recordings can sometimes feel more introspective, maybe. Is that an intentional thing? When you're making something that's going to be on a record, is that an emotion you're more willing to tap into than if you have a crowd that you're trying to play off of?

AA: I feel like you just dive deeper, really. I mean, you have time to develop and pursue more ideas. Especially when I'm playing to a good crowd I have a crazy high, rush that goes through me. But when I'm alone and I have something that I'm really working on and I know that I'm on to something, I get the same rush but in a different sense. It's just more like, I gotta keep going until I have to stop. It's definitely a different headspace but, very similar reactions from me.

KEXP: It's cool how much that emotion translates. Totally different environments, but you still get that rush.

SI: I think I'm harder on myself when it's just me. I'm more of a perfectionist.

AA: When you're performing, it's like you're with friends.

SI: Yeah. But you're also like, "It's out there. I can't take it back. Producing, it literally takes so much more time and I think more focus. It's rewarding when you don't force it.

KEXP: One of the things I think you both do so well is that you each have such a distinct, personal style with your music and your DJing. How do you develop that? How do you start to find your voice as a producer and as a DJ?

SI: I'm constantly trying to find and get better and be influenced by other things. But I know that there are certain things that are me. I love loops. I love soul, jazz, and funk so that's always gonna be there. I love monotone. I love 808 drums. That's just developed over time and traveling and being exposed to certain things and growing up with the sounds that my family placed on me. It took a minute and it's going to take forever. I'm always going to be evolving my sound, but it's always going to be me. And you're gonna know it's me.

AA: I don't know if I can top that [laughs]. That was really good. It's always a reflective process. I always think back to the last show and think to myself, "What can I do better from what I learned there?" It's always just staying true to who I am and doing what I love and want to do at the time and keep doing it and being creative. It's an ever-growing and nonstop process as an artist. Finding your style... you're always trying to find it. Coming up with an image for yourself as an artist, I always try to make it an afterthought and let the music speak for itself.


KEXP: Alda, when did you start working on Love Memo?

AA: It was the summer after Austin [Santiago] signed me. I was going through a transition in my life. I was single for the first time and all those feelings I've had captured in that summer and that fall and winter kind of collided and it was such a contrast, like a flipped switch in my life. There's not a lot of peppy, poppy, house-y stuff that I was writing at the time in Love Memo for that reason. It was an outlet. It was supposed to be just a beat that I would upload on SoundCloud and call it a good day. But Austin heard the single "in conclusion" and he said, "Let's release this whole thing and just make it your first official release." I was terrified because I don't think I've ever been so vulnerable writing music ever, really.

It was just late, 4:30. I work a double, the next day I worked a double that day, and just using the time in between to just compose and make beats and fuck around. Fuck around because I was lonely. Yeah, it's personal [laughs]. I'm glad a lot of people don't know it's personal – well, they're gonna know now [laughs]. I don't know how obvious I made it. I did have some of the tails and intros for the tracks, my queer friends – all people of color – telling me things that they wish they could have said to someone they love but never had a chance to. And I was like "I think I got the point here." How I was feeling at that time. I'm happy with it. I'm so excited for the vinyl. I think hearing it for the first time was just "Woah!" I was with Austin and Gary and I was kind of freaking out. I was like, "These sound better than the original masters!"

KEXP: I think that's cool. Being vulnerable in your music is one of the most powerful things you can do.

AA: Yeah and I learned so much. I learned a lot about my production style and where I want to go forward. It was healing.

SI: I didn't realize how similar…

AA: That's why I thought it was crazy [Campbell] linked it up with [your record]. When I listened to yours, I was like "Ah-ha-ha! Same.".

SI: So S'Women was beats that I had made in mind for THEESatisfaction. A lot of them were. So I'd made these beats over the last six years. Sat on them. THEESatisfaction broke up. I broke up with someone who I'd moved away from Seattle to be with. And I was like, "I need to write music right now." I moved to Seattle, moved back home. I got into another relationship that ended too. So it was about three women and dealing with heartbreak and transitioning and things like that. But it was a long process. I was not going to put it out. I just put it out randomly on Soundcloud. Pitchfork wrote about it. People telling me they love it, all across the gamut. Erykah Badu's quoting the lyrics on her Instagram and I'm just like "What! I didn't who was gonna fuck with it like this." All my exes hitting me up like, "Yeah! I know you're talking about me but it's still good" [laughs]. Then Gary approached me about the vinyl. 'Cause I was like, "Man, I don't want to waste time on getting it printed up." I didn't get it mastered, mixed. Nothing.

AA: No way!

SI: It was completely bare bones, almost rough draft type of shit.

AA: That's incredible.

SI: So he approached me about getting it mastered and up on vinyl. And I was like "Yeah, I'd love to hear what it sounds like actually done right." So my first hearing of the mastered versions, it's like, this is how I wanted it to sound.

KEXP: I've been listening to the records back-to-back and I I knew a little bit about the background on S'Women and not as much on Love Memo. But the vibe and the feeling, even with the different styles, there's something you can't describe that connects both records. Stas, this was your first album in a while.

SI: Yeah, the first one that I was rapping on. I put out a beat tape called Stas For Hire in 2016. But that was just on Soundcloud or whatever.

KEXP: Did it feel good to be rapping again on your own record?

SI: Yeah, it felt hella good. And just not having to bounce ideas off anyone, it's just me [laughs]. I can just have my own thoughts and my own arrangements and all that.

KEXP: What made decide now was the time you were ready to release it?

SI: I'd gotten to a point where I had to write. I was just overflowing with ideas. I could remember times when I could not write, and I was like, "Now that I can write, I need to get on there and record." In the middle of the night, I'd wake up and just get on the mic. When I felt the spirit, I had to move. I know a lot of people were like, "Yo, where's the music? Come on, what are you doing?" And I don't really give a fuck about that. It'll come when it comes.


KEXP: Do you remember the first time when you heard each other's records?

AA: My manager Austin turned me on to Stas. He was trying to introduce me to the scene in Seattle because I was clueless. I was just stuck in my college music major bubble. And then conveniently all of this happened when I graduated. He was showing me all these artists like ParisAlexa and Stas.

SI: You went to Cornish, right?

AA: Yes, I did go to Cornish. Yeah, [Santiago] was turning me on to all these [artists] and I was like "Yo, shit! Female beatmaker and she's bumping her own shit. That's fucking dope" That's not common.

SI: It's not.

AA: It's probably more common than people think.

SI: No, it ain't. [laughs].

AA: That was a hope [laughs].

SI: No, whenever I find a woman of color that produces, I'm always just like obsessed. I want to know everything about you and where you're from and all that.

AA: [It's] one of the most supportive communities. It's the reason why I'm able to write as much... I write three times as much as I did three years ago. It's awesome [laughs]. I feel like I'm progressing.

photo by Niffer Calderwood


KEXP: I feel like you're both two of the go-to DJs in town. I see your names everywhere. What's that response been like? Stas, you've been doing it for a while now but I'm always baffled how you seem to be everywhere all of the time.

SI: It's ridiculous. And it's also like, I asked for this. There was a time when no one was booking me for anything. I was so frustrated. I was like, "Man, I'm not appreciated. I want to work. I've put in the hours but nothing's happening." Then just gaining the momentum, I really can't and don't complain. It's really cool to be able to curate and to be in all these different events and situations and parties and talking and building with people and meeting likeminded people. Finding a tribe. People have been way more supportive than ever before. It's a really good time right now.

AA: I think being thankful and always remembering to keep growing as well. Two years ago I was sitting in my apartment wondering, "What the fuck?" Shaking. Quivering. I've never really heard my parents say that they're proud of me and now I'm hearing that and that's a life change for me. I was never the good student in school. I was in my own headspace the entire time. I never really agreed with my parents with anything. I just wanted to sit with my laptop all day like any other teenager. Then I went to college. I'm very thankful. I still work a lot. I get tired a lot. But I just remember I asked for this. I remember before I even started Cornish, saying to myself, " Wouldn't it be cool if I got to DJ after College? Even once or twice." And I got to [perform at] Sasquatch! this year. I don't know what's going on half the time, but I'm just very thankful and I have to remember that.

KEXP: I remember your set at Capitol Hill Block Party had a crazy amount of buzz after.

SI: Legendary, shit man.

KEXP: You also incorporate a lot of different instruments in your sets. The ukulele, the harmonica...

AA: Some shit I'm trying out for the first time nowadays and it's terrifying [laughs]. It's so scary. I'm a DJ and a producer and a composition major. All the things that avoid touching instruments but I think overcoming that brings some sort of thrill. I want to tackle that. I think you see ODESZA and Big Wild and these huge, wide orchestrations. And it's electronic music! And I'm like... That's cool. I want to do that. The best sets I see incorporate elements of DJing and live elements – or electronic, festival type sets – with the genre pool that I'm in. That's a relatively new thing. And it allows me to be more creative when I write out my sets. I think the scariest part is that I try my hardest to make it all my music. That's when my perfectionist kicks and it terrifies me. Because with beats and stuff that I go out to find, like, "Okay, I definitely know this bangs. I trust my music taste, but do I trust my own creative work?" It takes another level of mind obstacle-ness. It's a little scary. I'm not doing too much right now. I'm keeping. I'm keeping it at a place where I'm still comfortable on stage and not terrified. I'm realizing more and more that if I want to get more technical and complicated in my sets, then I'm going to have to learn technical and complicated things.

KEXP: Both of your albums talk about love or falling out of love. What I really like about both albums is that you really feel that in the beats, even when you're not singing or rapping. It comes through. How do you go about capturing that feeling?

SI: I think for me, I'm better at producing when I'm in love. I'm trying to impress this girl by making this beat. I'm trying to mix these sounds that I know she'll like. There's love that's put into it. For this record specifically, the beats that I made [were from when] I was in a relationship and in love and happy. But when I wrote over it, I was out of love and angry. It's kind of juxtaposed. It's the same way as cooking. You can tell if you make some really good shit, they say it's "made with love." I can feel that. It's the same as producing for me. The sounds feel that way. Off top.

AA: I think there was a time in early November and there was one day it snowed and I was like "This is crazy." I was going through this weird time. I just had a gig opening up for Toro y Moi. It was probably one of the better nights of my life and I was coming down from that. It was a really weird time, but that's when I started writing Love Memo and just all the feelings and emotions going into that. And it grew. I couldn't stop writing because I had so much I wanted to say. So much I wanted to say, so much I wanted to do. But I knew they were all stupid things to say. So I just wrote. It was very spontaneous. All these things happened to me out of nowhere, where I had thought I was fine with being single for a while and being chill. Being like, "Okay, I'll write this out." Then it was just like a snowball.

KEXP: Just embracing that moment, right?

AA: Yeah. I'm a very emotional person and when there's no outlet but art... You can't talk to people. Talking to people isn't enough. Laying in bed and watching TV all day isn't enough. The only thing is music that lets you filter everything through.

KEXP: Not to put you both on the spot, but what do you like about each other's music and records?

SI: I love the spacing. It sounds free but it also sounds like you can tell that you curated and cultivated in such a way. Just watching you perform and hearing it, that's all you. It's so you. So unique and original. Very brown [laughs].

AA: Listening to your show and being turned on to your music and everything, it just made me so excited be in this queer Seattle scene that I never knew of. I was really stoked. You were one of the first people – you, [SassyBlack] and a bunch more that aren't coming into my mind right now because I'm still learning every day.


KEXP: What do you think are the hardest and best parts about DJing around town?

SI: The hardest for me is when I have to do events where I don't really get to play what I want. I have to play to the crowd. If I'm playing to bigger clubs or private parties. They're going to want to hear Drake. They're going to want to hear things in a certain way. They're going to ask you to play...hold their phone up to you. That shit fucks with me because it's more like a job in that way and less like me doing my art and craft. That's difficult for me to deal with at times. That kind of gets to me. But then rewarding things about is when I am in a situation where all my homies are there and I'm playing some new shit and they're into it or there are people that are more receptive to hearing other things besides Top 40. I did a jazz set a couple nights ago at Cha-Cha Lounge. No hip-hop, it was all jazz and it was so fun. Just being able to do shit like that, it's really why I do it. To know that there are people that really love music enough to be open to hearing different genres and sounds that aren't as popular.

AA: I think when I first started off, I worried about crowd show too much and how many people were gonna be there and how many people were actually going to show up. I was fortunate enough to have my very first gig be an art show which a bunch of random people came to and it turned into a party. I was like, "This is awesome, I want to do this forever!" But the reality is that's not going to be every gig... I recently swore to myself to never play a high school gig ever again [Agustiano and Stas laugh].

KEXP: You've got your release show coming up. Do you have anything special planned?

SI: Gary's trying to make it anthemic and stadium-like. There will be visuals. Everybody's gonna bring their A-game. JusMoni and Crescendo are gonna be DJing between the sets. I'm pumped and ready to go. I can't wait.

AA: Also DoNormaal and Kung Foo Grip are opening which I'm like...holy shit. Like I should be opening up for you, to be honest. I'm excited they're a part of this. I'm very humbled. But I'm excited. 

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