Rising indie-rock songwriter Katherine Paul signed with Saddle Creek to re-release her brokenhearted debut album, "Mother of My Children."
Like many of our region’s rockers, Katherine Paul’s musical coming of age was heavily informed by the legacies of grunge and riot grrrl. But long before discovering the guitar-fueled angst that once roared out of Seattle and Olympia — or even the “eye-opening” Anacortes DIY scene 15 minutes from where she grew up — the blossoming indie rocker was surrounded by another form of intrinsically Northwest music.
Paul, the songwriter behind Portland-based Black Belt Eagle Scout, grew up in a musical family on the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community reservation near La Conner. Indigenous music filled her house, and throughout her childhood, Paul traveled to pow wows across the region as a jingle dress dancer with her family’s drum group, the Skagit Valley Singers.
“It’s always been a part of my life and that sort of music was always present,” says Paul, who plays the Highline Indigenous Theater + Music Fest on Wednesday, Oct. 31, ahead of a tour with Tacocat that hits Real Art Tacoma on Nov. 17 and The Shakedown in Bellingham on Nov. 18. “I didn’t really think of it as music, I guess. Now I have this perspective of playing guitar in a band — like, that’s music. I just thought of it as this cultural thing that happens.”
Whether it’s Paul’s deep connection with Northwest music or her record’s somber, rainy-day vibe, Black Belt Eagle Scout’s debut full-length “Mother of My Children” feels inherently Pacific Northwest. Gently cresting guitars and shimmering drum rides wash over melancholic grooves like waves on a rocky beach, while deftly leveraged open space make her pensive indie-rock songs feel vaster than a gray sky over the Sound.
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Initially released through Portland tape label Good Cheer Records, the beautifully cathartic album reached a wider audience when Saddle Creek re-released it last month. Written during a particularly trying period, its overcast songs largely deal with loss and heartbreak on several fronts, getting personal and political with just the right amount of open-armed lyrical ambiguity. Near the end of 2016, a lengthy relationship Paul was in was painfully changing, right as the Dakota Access Pipeline protests at Standing Rock were unfolding. Album opener “Soft Stud,” which Paul has described as her “queer anthem,” addresses the emotional hardships of an open relationship over warmly fuzzy guitars and a plodding, downtrodden rhythm. Meanwhile, the following “Indians Never Die” (one of the album’s sparse and wounded highlights) came as a reaction to Standing Rock, as well as Portland gentrification, which “felt like the perpetuation of colonization and capitalism.”
“It was a hard time to be Native,” she says particularly of Standing Rock. “It was like reliving what colonization and what genocide was. As somebody in the present day, it was so heartbreaking seeing how much Native people weren’t supported and how much the government just didn’t care.”
At the same time, Paul was mourning the death of Geneviève Castrée, an Anacortes-based artist and musician who supported Paul during her teenage years. (After Castrée died of cancer in 2016, her husband, Phil Elverum of Mount Eerie, wrote two heart-wrenching and critically acclaimed albums about her death.) In high school, Paul discovered Anacortes’ small but vibrant DIY music scene and would drive her parents’ car to shows at the now-defunct Department of Safety, an all-ages venue in an old firehouse where she met Castrée. Castrée came to Paul’s earliest gigs, encouraging her and saying how inspiring her playing was.
“Being a young girl in kind of an awkward phase in your life, that’s a powerful thing to have someone that you look up to say that to you,” Paul says.
In some ways, Paul is now paying it forward as her music, which reflects her identity as a queer indigenous feminist, gains wider exposure. “I want more people who are like me, who have similar identities, to feel like they’re worth something — to feel like they’re validated and that they can see representation of themselves in music and art,” she says.
Black Belt Eagle Scout
Highline Indigenous Theater + Music Fest. 6-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 31, Highline Performing Arts Center, 401 S. 152nd St., Burien; free, highlineschools.org.
With Tacocat. 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17, Real Art Tacoma, 5412 S. Tacoma Way, Tacoma; $10, realarttacoma.com.
With Tacocat. 8 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 18, The Shakedown, 1212 N. State St., Bellingham; $12-$14, 360-778-1067, shakedownbellingham.com.