It’s the season of Cancer and I’m about to sit down with Katherine Paul, the mastermind behind Black Belt Eagle Scout. She has just returned from Rosekill, an artist collective where she played drums with Y La Bamba, who will be at Pickathon later this summer. My cosmic hostess has white wine and curry for us to enjoy as we started down the road of music, identity, sexuality, loss and so much more.
Eleven: You mixed your debut album Mother Of My Children with Nich Wilbur at Anacortes Unknown, and Good Cheer Records here in Portland are releasing it. Can you speak to the decision to work with those folks and process behind the album?
Katherine Paul: I was born in Anacortes, and for the record it was really important for me to go back. I really like the studio. It’s an old church and they have all these old sails. At one point they made these sails for ships and all the patterns to make the sails are still there. They have a ton of really amazing equipment. Nich has all these old school drum machines that we tried out and we were like “Which ones, which ones?” and we ended up using this Roland ‘80s-ish era one. They were all really cool though. Also my family still lives up there. I grew up on a reservation up there. I went home during Christmas break and got to spend time with my family. My mom loves to cook and take care of people so everyday she would send me with lunch.
11: When you say it was important to go back home to record, does that mean nostalgia is big a theme for the album?
KP: Hmm, I don’t know if nostalgia would work. Last year, something happened to me. I was experiencing a lot of loss and grief. This really amazing artist name Geneviève Castrée died. She was really important to me and someone who was really encouraging to me. I grew up in the Anacortes music scene, going to a place called the Department of Safety. It was the actual name of the building. She was very influential when I was growing up. She made really beautiful, experimental, heart-breaking music. Really, really beautiful. When I was growing up she was just so encouraging. One time she said to me “You really inspire me, you should make music.” She died last year and I took it really hard. I knew her, we weren’t super close, but still at the same time she was a mentor. She was the one person that made me think I could make music. That I could do it. So this album is really about loss and trying to process the feeling of going through grief and all these things. I also had a really hard time with a good friend of mine and a lot of the songs are about trying to process that relationship. Things that were just very complicated.
11: Is that who “Soft Stud” is about?
KP: No! Ha-ha that’s about something else. I identify as queer. So a lot of this is about how I feel about that. Someone recently asked Y La Bamba if we identify as queer and it was like “I’m queer, you’re queer, maybe we are a queer band?” So thinking about that in the terms of what I’m playing and the music that I put out. Having an identity is very important to me, and it could be empowering to other people to know that there are other queer musicians out there in the world. Or P.O.C [people of color] playing music.
11: Yes! I think it can also help people understand what is queer and help them identify. Like for me, I’m exploring polyamory and trying to figure out what that identity is all about.
KP: Yeah I mean queer can be whatever you want it to be, and actually that song “Soft Stud” is about an open relationship. So I get you. It’s so much to process.
11: It’s so empowering to be able to say “I love both of you!”
KP: Yeah and Portland has such a great community to explore that.
11: What was the creative process like in writing this album?
KP: It’s weird, I guess. Most of the time, especially with this album, the reason why a song exists is because I was trying to process feelings or whatever I was going through. Sometimes it can be a terribly emotional song or something awkward and I don’t want anyone to hear, so they don’t, but it can help. Or it can end up being this weird pop song that I like, like “Soft Stud.”
11: That wasn’t originally the opening track though, right?
KP: No, and I wanted to grab people’s attention and bring them in and have them chew through the rest and feel it out, and I feel like “Soft Stud” was an appropriate song to do that with. The next single I’m releasing is definitely less of a pop song. I really don’t know how to describe it. It’s melodic and pretty but it’s not as driving.
11: BBES is all you creatively but you do tour with a band. How did you pick the band?
KP: Well, I really wanted to play with women. I’ve played in bands with men, and this is not to be anti-men, but I love playing with women and this album is about my queer, indigenous identity and the people who are going to get that the most are women. I just don’t necessarily know if a man is going to get it as quickly as a woman will. And also it’s just a bunch of really amazing women. I’m pretty much playing with my best friends.
11: You’ve done a lot of stuff with She Shreds. Can you tell me more about that relationship?
KP: Fabi [Reyna] runs She Shreds and she’s in my favorite local band, Savila. It’s like very sexy cumbia psych rock music. I have a good girl gang of really solid women who are movers and shakers in the city. I was in this band called Forest Park and we were in the very first issue of She Shreds. So I’ve sort of been with them since the beginning. I have a poster of the first ever Shred Fest in my home. I think it’s so awesome that they are popular and they need to be well known. The music world needs them.
They also did the “Soft Stud” premier and invited us on the Sou’wester tour.
11: So why Good Cheer Records?
KP: They are really supportive of an all-ages music scene, which I think is so important because that’s what I grew up on. They just have an awesome mentality. My friend Maya started working with them and doing their marketing, and I wanted to work with a company that had good marketing, and Maya is a woman of color so I felt very comfortable with them.
11: And when is the release?
KP: August 25th!
11: Lastly, is there any gear you’re currently geeking out about?
KP: I have a pretty cool guitar that I’m really into. It’s a Silvertone, and this is going to sound ridiculous but it’s really pretty, but also it sounds really good. It’s vintage, from the ‘60s. I actually bought it at Black Book on Mississippi. I was just walking down the street and ventured in to see what it was about because I had never been in. My eyes centered on this guitar because it’s kind of sparkly. So I tried it out and I plugged into this amp and immediately, once I started playing it, I had this feeling in my chest like the feeling when you have a crush on somebody and your chest gets kind of warm. I was like “Whoa, this guitar is for me.” So I put some money down on the guitar. I’ve been playing that guitar for almost three years now. It also has this funky short scale neck.
11: Any last words for our readers?
KP: I just hope more P.O.C and more queer bands start making music because in our current political atmosphere we need to make art. I just want to encourage more. Everyone needs it. The more encouragement, the better.
Mother Of My Children is out Friday, August 25, but you can stream it exclusively in full ahead of the release below. Catch Black Belt Eagle Scout at the Freemont Theater on Thursday, September 9 for the album release celebration joined by BlackWater HolyLight and Shortline.