Who are the contemporary indie musicians truly making music of the Pacific Northwest?
For stormy melancholy, an independent sensibility and a deep reverence for place, we have Astoria’s Grouper, or the various projects of Phil Elvrum from Anacortes, Washington. Now we can add to that list Katherine Paul’s recording project, Black Belt Eagle Scout.
Behind the new full-length album The Land, The Water, The Sky, out on influential Midwest indie label Saddle Creek Records, Black Belt Eagle Scout performs in Eugene, Friday, March 31, in the Hult Center’s Soreng Theater as part of the Hult’s 10 x 10 concert series. It’s the first stop on a nationwide tour.
As Black Belt Eagle Scout, Paul, who is of Swinomish ancestry, an Indigenous population of western Washington State, became active in Portland’s mid-2010s indie rock boom. During the pandemic, Paul returned to her family in the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community on Fidalgo Island in Puget Sound.
The Land, The Water, The Sky chronicles that journey, featuring Paul’s delicate singing voice, stark and minimal electric guitar work, surprising additions of acoustic instruments and surging dynamics that ebb and flow like tidal waters.
The project began life as an EP, but the record’s producer, Takiaya Reed from the Australian Indigenous metal band Divide and Dissolve, urged Paul to flesh it out into a full-length album.
Following Reed’s suggestion, Paul searched through incomplete thoughts and assorted fragments of music accumulated over time, and a storyline emerged. She had enough material for a full-length release.
The album starts with the driving-rain, minor-key “My Blood Runs Through this Land,” Paul’s singing voice submerging at points and emerging at others as drums and cymbals join the fray and a searching electric guitar line skims the horizon.
Many moments of peace are to be found on The Land, The Water, The Sky, such as “Salmon Stinta” or “On the River,” while the appropriately enough titled “Fancy Dance” is among the record’s most conventionally structured indie rock tunes, and a sweet tribute to movement.
A bit like experimental singer-songwriter Liz Harris of Grouper, Paul’s voice seems filtered through a rain-flecked window pane. Where Harris stays indoors, Paul chooses to embrace the storm.
Throughout it all, Paul seems to ruminate on love, the importance of home and the power of nature as well as embracing the interior journey through exterior forces while always trusting your instincts.
As a girl, Paul — who plays guitar, drums and piano and writes her music on her own before she brings in accompaniment — learned the traditional drumming of her Swinomish people. Her music often has that essential drive to it. When the songs translate to a full guitar-bass-drums band arrangement, such as they will be performed in Eugene, that tone becomes something heavier.
“Sometimes my songs are really quiet and delicate, but when I have people play them live everything just gets amplified in a way,” Paul tells Eugene Weekly in a phone call.
“I tend to write about certain periods of my life,” Paul says, such as the move back home to northwest Washington.
On that note, “This record is about a journey home. Through that journey there’s a lot of healing and a lot of love,” Paul says. “At first it was the journey, it just kept changing. And it ended up being this record.”
Black Belt Eagle Scout performs 8 pm Friday, March 31, at the Hult Center; $10, all-ages. More at HultCenter.org.