“Having this identity—radical indigenous queer feminist—keeps me going. My music and my identity come from the same foundation of being a Native woman.” Katherine Paul is Black Belt Eagle Scout, and after releasing an EP in 2014 Paul has wrapped up the band’s first full-length. Recorded in the middle of winter near her hometown in Northwest Washington, the landscape’s eerie beauty and Paul’s connection to it are palpable on Mother of My Children. Stemming from this place, the album traces the full spectrum of confronting buried feelings and the loss of what life was supposed to look like.
Paul grew up in a small Indian reservation, the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, surrounded by family focused on native drumming, singing, and arts. “Indigenous music is the foundation for all of my music,” Paul explains. From an early age, Paul was singing and dancing at powwows with one of her strongest memories at her family’s own powwow, called the All My Relations Powwow. Paul reminisces, “When I was younger, my only form of music was through the songs my ancestors taught the generations of my family. Singing in our language is a spiritual process and it carries on through me in how I create music today.”
With the support of her family and a handful of bootleg Hole and Nirvana VHS tapes, Paul taught herself how to play guitar and drums as a teenager. In 2007, Paul moved to Portland, OR, to attend college and get involved with the Rock’n’Roll Camp for Girls. Inspired by Riot Grrrl and Post-Rock bands like Sleater-Kinney and Do Make Say Think, Paul dove deep into the Portland music scene, playing guitar and drums in a bunch of bands while evolving her artistry into what would later be Black Belt Eagle Scout.
On Mother of My Children, the songs weave together to capture both the enduring and fleeting experiences of loss, frustration, and dreaming. The structures are traditional, but the lyrics don’t adhere to any format other than what feels right in the moment. “I don’t play music to write songs,” Paul explains, “I play music to process feelings, and sometimes what comes out of that is a song.” Paired with Paul’s clear and measured voice, each song leaves the listener feeling as if they were there when the song was written, the immediate, candid emotion tangible.
The album begins with the singles “Soft Stud” and “Indians Never Die.” Paul calls “Soft Stud” her “queer anthem,” saying that it is “about the hardships of queer desire within an open relationship, which I think a lot of the queer community can relate to.” The choruses in the song start soft with lyrics, “need you, want you, I know you’re taken” and develop into louder choruses and heavy guitar solos.
When reflecting more on her writing process, Paul admits “I wrote this album in the fall of 2016 after two pretty big losses in my life. My mentor, Geneviève Castrée, had just died from pancreatic cancer and the relationship I had with the first woman I loved had drastically lessened and changed.” Heavy and heartbroken, Paul found respite from the weight of such loss in the creation of these songs that “are about grief and love for people,” she says, “but also about being a native person in what is the United States today.”
As Standing Rock was happening, many people in Paul’s life were coming together and fighting for the most basic thing necessary to sustain human life: water. “Our treaty rights weren’t being honoured,” Paul laments, “Imagine hearing on the news that the government doesn’t support you as a human being and never has.” Paul goes on stating, “’Indians Never Die’ is a call out to colonizers and those who don’t respect the Earth; they don’t care about the water, they don’t care about how they are destroying what is around them. Indigenous people are the protectors of this land. Indians never die because this is our land that we will forever protect in the present and the afterlife.”
The album in itself is sprinkled with guitar solos, some heavy and some woven hooks. “Just Lie Down” starts with a heavy nature of distorted feedback and wild drums that sound like violent waves on a rainy coastal night. The song embodies what anger looks like when mixed with sadness. Lyrics like, “You aren’t yourself, what’s wrong, it’s in your head, it’s in your heart” are what Paul calls, “a point in grief where you don’t feel at all like yourself and you wonder if you’re going mad. The stage of grief and sadness that turns to anger, while it is a terrible thing, can also bring out a sense of relief that the process is coming to a healing point soon.”
Mother of My Children is a life chapter gently preserved, and the access listeners have to such vulnerability feels special and generous. We are left wanting more, and all signs point to Black Belt Eagle Scout just getting started.