Katherine “KP” Paul, best known by her stage moniker Black Belt Eagle Scout, is unapologetically shaking up the indie scene. Her 2018 debut, Mother of My Children, was hailed by the likes of NPR, Pitchfork, and Stereogum for its versatile rock riffs and powerful imagery from the perspective of an indigenous woman. Fast forward to 2019, KP has released her sophomore record, At the Party With My Brown Friends, and is shifting her focus to love, friendship, and desire. We had the opportunity to speak with the Washington native about what inspires her musically, how the Ernie Ball Music Man St. Vincent guitar helps capture her sound, and much more.
Q&A with Katherine Paul
EBMM: We appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to speak with us. How’s tour going so far?
KP: It’s going alright. It’s just the beginning and we still have a long way ahead of us!
EBMM: You grew up on Swinomish Indian Reservation in Washington. How has this upbringing inspired you musically?
KP: I grew up in a really musical family. My dad and a bunch of my aunts, uncles, and grandparents had a drum group that sang pow wow songs when I was growing up so I was always going to pow wows. Also, my dad would write his own Native American songs and chants and stuff like that. He was just very active about his creative music within our household, so I grew up within that beautiful structure.
EBMM: So you grew up around plenty of drums. When did you become interested in playing guitar?
KP: I first started playing guitar when I was 13 or 14 years old. Growing up in Washington, you just sort of hear about the grunge scene and the Pacific Northwest music. Essentially, I got really into it and I just really wanted to play angsty music… I wanted to play a really loud guitar. I think my first guitar was a Jag-Stang, which was the guitar that Kurt Cobain made and it was really heavy. I just remember it being so, so heavy it hurt my shoulders playing it. I played it for a couple years and eventually sold it.
EBMM: You currently rock an Ernie Ball Music Man St. Vincent. What drew you to this guitar?
KP: I first heard about it through She Shreds magazine and I was like, ‘This is so cool!’ I’m a fan of St. Vincent and her music and was just drawn to the fact that a woman made a guitar, and I wanted to support that. Then my friend Fabi [Reyna], who runs She Shreds, had a couple of the guitars at her headquarters in Portland and I was able to try them out. I first tried the Stealth Black one and played it for a couple of shows and finally was like, ‘I want one of these!’
EBMM: You eventually settled on the triple-hum in Polaris White. How has this guitar helped you capture your sound?
KP: It feels really nice and it fits really nice on my body, plus it sounds really good. There’s a lot of choices in terms of the pickups and I think that I’m still trying to figure out all of the different choices. It’s really cool to have a guitar that you can do a lot with. It’s funny because I never really played with a whammy bar until I had this guitar, and now I do a bunch of things with the whammy bar.
EBMM: At what point did you realize you wanted to pursue music full-time?
KP: I think it’s always been a hobby of mine and I’ve always known that I’ve wanted to play in bands and keep creating music, but it wasn’t really until the past few years that I realized I could make music be my job. I think that was when I started working with Saddle Creek and I started going on more tours and I started investing more of my energy into music. So I quit my day job this past year and have been focusing solely on the band and it’s really nice to be able to not have to worry about going back to other things when I get home. I have the freedom to solely create.
EBMM: You’re 2018 debut has been praised by the like of NPR, Stereogum, and Pitchfork. How have you grown musically over the past year? Did it affect how you approached your second record?
KP: I think there’s been a lot more opportunities for me to share my music with a lot of different kinds of people from various cities and communities and I think it’s really great to be able to have the time to do that.
EBMM: What artists do you draw inspiration from?
KP: I draw a lot of inspiration from my friends and my community. My friend Hayley Heynderickx is a really amazing songwriter and guitarist and I love her music so much and she’s so inspiring. Also my friend Fabi. Particularly in the Portland community, you get to know a lot of people, especially if you’re a woman of color and as a queer person, you get to know these communities. There’s a lot in these communities that inspires me.
EBMM: What song on At the Party With My Brown Friends are you particularly proud of?
KP: Either “At the Party” or “Going to the Beach With Hayley”. They’re sort of similar but I put a lot of effort into building those songs in different ways and different areas. But I’m incredibly proud of them.
EBMM: Can you break down your creative process to us?
KP: Usually it happens on the guitar first and then it sort of morphs from there. I’ll loop a guitar part and then start adding from there. Sometimes I have different instruments set up and I’ll kind of play along to the guitar loops. So most of it is foundationally the guitar and then I’ll take notes on ideas I have, and take those into the studio.
EBMM: What do you hope audiences gain from your music?
KP: I think that it’s really apparent that I’m an indigenous person and so I hope people realize I’m probably not the only one and that other people are creating music like I am. I hope that listening to my records people get inspired to check out other indigenous artists.
EBMM: What advice would you give to aspiring musicians?
KP: I would say to just not give up. If you feel down and if you feel like you’re having an off day, it’s ok to feel like that. Just keep your head up and keep going, even if it seems hard.
**Header Image c/o: Lindsey Byrnes