BBES Frontwoman, Katherine Paul, shows an unfaltering strength in the vulnerability of her artistry. Identifying as a queer, indigenous womxn, she conveys that music can be an integral outlet for marginalized artists and creators to speak their truth while deservingly being recognized for their artistic pursuits. The stories told by Black Belt Eagle Scout inspire listeners in the LGBTQ, feminist communities, and beyond.
With exquisite, hushed vocals and profound lyrics, each song crafted by Portland’s Black Belt Eagle Scout depicts its own story of haunting loss, self-discovery, and unwavering perseverance.
The rising indie rock band’s debut album, Mother of My Children, is a striking account of lost love and navigating life as an indigenous woman, told by lead singer Katherine Paul. With delicate melodies, intimate sentiments, and impassioned electric guitar shreds, the 2018 LP tells stories from a vital perspective that modern rock listeners and society as a whole should lend their ears and open their minds to.
From the heavy, pulsating distortion on “Soft Stud,” to the intricate and wispy vocal melody on “Yard,” Black Belt Eagle Scout’s tracks have influenced, roused, and impressed listeners worldwide while garnering critical acclaim. To see what we mean, spin the new single written by Katherine Paul. “Loss and Relax,” is now available on a 7-inch via Saddle Creek, the record label she is signed to! Check out how it showcases her moving words, emotive guitar playing, and poignant storytelling.
We spoke to the frontwoman of Black Belt Eagle Scout before her April 24 performance at Bowery Ballroom— a venue she hit on her current tour with indie folk singer-songwriter Julia Jacklin!
As female, nonbinary, and womxn listeners, we first fell in love with your strong, vulnerable, and poignant lyricism on your debut album last year. How has 2019 been treating you since releasing Mother of My Children?
2019 has been great and not great. I have had many opportunities to pursue my music in this colonized land and have played many venues and met many wonderful people. I have also realized how stark this country is and what cities I don’t want to play anymore due to lack of diversity there. Some people have even gotten mad at me when I bring up my dismay but to be an indigenous queer womxn is to be hated by white racist men and I get up and face that every day when I tour my band around the country. So, 2019 has not been great in this way and it has made me need to fight to find space where this doesn’t happen. We have had great opportunity to tour with big bands but our audience isn’t always there so 2019 is also going to be a year of shift where I continue to fight for more diversity at our shows.
We love the album art for Mother of My Children and Loss and Relax, can you tell us a little bit about the design process for them?
Thank you. With MOMC, I first put it out by myself and with the help of a small local label. I didn’t know the attention it would get with the reissue by Saddle Creek. I worked with my friends to create the album art. My friend Nitro is a wonderful photographer and was recently showing me photos she took and the photo of the flower stood out to me so I chose that one to work with. Next, my friend Tyler had been working on his skills in design and I asked if he would help put together the layout. This all happened in happenstance and there was no real intention behind it - just desire to work with what I had at the time and I think it turned out really beautiful. For Loss & Relax, I wanted to use a painting that my drummer, Klamath-Modoc artist Camas Logue, created when we first met one another. It is a beautiful landscape painting titled “Swinomish Stinta,” and is about the love for my homeland, Swinomish.
In the “Loss and Relax” music video, your words, “Bring me back,” coinciding with shots of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and Samish Indian Nation lands was very powerful. What’s one memory from that shoot that you’ll remember forever?
I think that I will remember everything from the time me and film director Angel Two Bulls traveled to my homeland to shoot this video but one in particular is when we drove out to my ancestral fishing grounds at Lone Tree to set up the truck and music equipment to film. I had never driven a vehicle out there but knew that we could. I always went with my dad or other family so going out there just me and Angel felt nerve wracking but also empowering. I wanted to be respectful to the land since this particular space is where many of my ancestors fished and lived for so long.
We’ve seen you play many shows with a white Music Man guitar and Ernie Ball strap. Does this particular model hold significance for you as a guitarist?
I play the guitar that Annie Clark of St. Vincent made with Ernie Ball. I first learned of this guitar from She Shreds Magazine. My friend Fabi founded the magazine and reviewed the guitar beautifully. She had an extra one that was meant for people to try out so I asked to borrow it and fell in love. I ended up buying the white one because it was the only affordable one from their brand that looked and felt good. I secretly wanted the matte black one but that was a bit over my price range. The guitar plays super smooth and isn’t insanely heavy like some. It’s just easy to play and sounds great.
We’re ecstatic to catch you live in New York’s Bowery Ballroom on the 24th. Are there any stops on your tour with Julia Jacklin that you’re looking forward to specifically?
Thanks! I’m looking forward to all of it but some places that I’ve never been like Montreal or Toronto or even venues I’ve never played like Schubas in Chicago are ones I’m intrigued to learn about, get some more experience under my belt.
What is your favorite self-penned song to play live?
My favorite song to play live recently has been “Sam, A Dream.” The band dynamic now includes one extra guitarist and so having that has made more space for me to be able to play lead parts with more confidence. We have an extended solo at the end of the song and it’s just super fun to be able to do in this way.
Who is your dream artist or group to tour with?
So many but a few that come to mind are Mitski, Weedrat (even tho we already toured together but I wanna do a more lengthy tour), Fuck U Pay Us, St. Vincent and Tanya Tagaq.
We’re eager to see your name on lineups of many festivals this year. When performing, do you prefer smaller, intimate shows or larger festival crowds?
Definitely smaller, intimate shows. Larger festival crowds just tend to have this scene where people are there to party and post instagram stories too much. I want a listening room and a respectful audience.
We read that you’re a fan of riot grrrl bands and artists that promote womxn empowerment. Is there a favorite song of yours that you wish you wrote?
You know, I have been re-thinking my stance on riot grrrl so much lately. I’ve realized that the quintessential riot grrrl community was mainly a white womxn space and the kinds of politics they stood for did not include POC as much. I grew up listening to riot grrrl music because I lived in Washington state and it was easy to learn about being so close to Olympia, WA. I loved it as a kid since it was the only kind of music that spoke to an identity of mine - a queer womxn. Lately, I’ve been enthralled with all of the amazing indigenous artists I’ve seen and how much I wished that was a part of my adolescence. My favorite punk artist right now is Weedrat. They are a Diné group out of Albuquerque, NM and sing a lot about indigenous issues. It’s super empowering to see them play and especially to be able to get to know Becki, who is the guitarist and singer of the band. They have been so inspirational to me as an indigenous womxn, to keep fighting for my music rights.
Your eloquent lyricism and powerful messages have resonated with feminist movements,the LGBTQ community, and social justice advocates. Are there any other modern queer or indigenous artists who inspire you to speak (and sing) your truth?
Other than Weedrat, there are a lot and to name a few- My friend Demian DinéYazhi' is someone I look up to in their poetry and visual art and how radical indigenous stances can be so empowering to us as native people. I’m a fan of With War,a band lead by an amazing Diné musician named Tish. Tanya Tagaq is super amazing and recently I’ve learned about the incredible two spirit-indigiqueer writers Billy-Ray Belcourt and Joshua Whitehead who take on indigenous queer writing in academia.
What advice would you give to emerging queer musicians and artists of color in this political climate?
Do it in your own way. Don’t let anyone sway how you want to create. Maybe it’s funny how I’m telling someone to do it in their own way but I’ve found that if I stick to my own heart and not let anyone try to run my musical life, I am a much happier person.
We’re so excited to hear your upcoming single, “Half Colored Hair.” Can you tell us anything about it?
Thanks! This is a love song that conveys the delicateness of love and desire. :)