Here at PHILTHY MAG, we’re big fans of Saddle Creek Records, home to Ada Lea, Big Thief, Indigo De Souza, Land of Talk, and The Rural Alberta Advantage. And last month I got a chance to get to know Katherine Paul (or KP), better known as Black Belt Eagle Scout, who has been on the Nebraska-based label since 2018, when they re-released her debut studio album, Mother of My Children, originally released on Portland tape label Good Cheer Records the previous year. “It’s weird working with a major indie label! I never thought I’d do that! I’m still trying to navigate what that means!” KP tells me during a recent phone chat.
This February Paul released The Land, The Water, The Sky, the third LP from Black Belt Eagle Scout. The album was inspired by the Swinomish artist’s journey from her longtime home of Portland, OR back to the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community of her family. The new music has been getting great reviews from the likes of Pitchfork, Stereogum, and American Songwriter, but when I ask her if she’s had any personal favorite reactions to it, she’s a bit taken aback: “I’ve never been asked that question! I have some really good friends that have told me how much it means to them. Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but one of my friends told me she bawled her eyes out to it [laughs].”
Katherine Paul co-produced The Land, The Water, The Sky with close personal friend Takiaya Reed of Divide and Dissolve, who you may have had the privilege to see last March opening for slowcore legends Low at World Café Live. KP admits that working with other people on this record was something new to her, but tells me that Reed helped her with “taking creative risks” and bringing in outside musicians without a fear that would have previously overwhelmed her: “Takiaya would be so supportive!”
Although working with other musicians on music wasn’t something Paul had done much of before, she does have some pretty impressive connections, notably the Sleater-Kinney (her favorite high school band) crew, with whom she used to work at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls in Portland. KP started at the Portland institution at 17 (“which was the oldest you could be as a camper”), before going on to be an intern and volunteer, and then a drum instructor at Girls Rock Institute, and eventually their office manager and one of the co-chairs of their board of directors. And although she’s moved on from the camp, largely because of a positive change in the world of music (“At one point they were wondering ‘Have we done our job?’ There’s been a huge shift in music for women and queer people and the LGBTQ community.”), last year she was asked to contribute a cover of “It’s Enough” to Dig Me In: A Dig Me Out Covers Album, which she tells me was basically a dream come true for her high school self.
Black Belt Eagle Scout will be bringing the sounds of The Land, The Water, The Sky to Johnny Brenda’s Monday, April 17th. Paul’s been touring the album since February, which has already provided a few major career highlights, including an exceptionally big Portland Release Show (“I had never really played at the Aladdin Theater, and it’s bigger than places I normally play, and it sold out! I lived there, so I had lots of friends and family there.”) and a European tour (“I got to do something I’ve always wanted to do, which is tour Europe.”)
KP also tells me she has a handful of upcoming shows that she’s exceptionally excited about, in addition to her dates in our neck of the woods (“I love playing shows on the East Coast!”), including a date this Thursday as direct support for Cat Power (another high school favorite of hers) at Mission Creek Festival in Iowa City, and an extra special show in Albuquerque: “I’m really looking forward to our Albuquerque show, which is maybe the only show where close to 100% of the audience is Native, so that’s always my favorite show. We’re gonna try to film that and make a little docu-series about it.” But when I ask her what she’s hoping and planning for the rest of 2023, she tells me she has some practical concerns she needs to address: “To be honest, I’m trying to work really hard this year, because I’m trying to buy a house, and then after I buy a house, I wanna buy houses for my family, so they can all have houses on a reservation, where there’s a housing crisis. So, I’m gonna be working my little ass off!”
*Get your tickets here.