Black Belt Eagle Scout Combines Grunge and Dream-Pop to Heal Wounds Both Personal and Ancestral

Katherine Paul's stage name is a symbol of striving to be her best self.

IMAGE: Abby Gordon.

2. Black Belt Eagle Scout (58.5 pts.)

SOUNDS LIKE: Mazzy Star and Nirvana coming together to exorcise the wounds of history.

NOTABLE VOTES: Sávila's Fabi Reyna, Wild Ones' Thomas Himes, Jeni Wren Stottrup of the Gritty Birds podcast, Eleven PDX magazine founder Dustin Mills.

Katherine Paul has always had music to comfort her. She's needed it often.

As an indigenous woman, she's found herself constantly fighting inner battles, both those personal to her and passed down through shared history. Music is where she's found her strength. Suitably, her stage name, Black Belt Eagle Scout, is a symbol of striving to be her best self.

"Identity is a big part of my music. It's one of the only reasons I play music," Paul says. "There's a lot of trauma within Native communities—genocide, displacement from the United States—and even growing up in this time, I end up being affected by it and needing to get it out of me. So I end up writing music as a way to try and be happy."

Raised on the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community reservation outside Anacortes, Wash., Paul grew up surrounded by music. It's often how she engaged with her heritage. She was dancing and singing in powwows from a young age. Her father led a drum circle, and her grandmother was even known as "Lady of the Drum." In third grade, Paul started learning piano, and played flute in her school band.

It wasn't until her teenage years that she picked up guitar and drums, drawing inspiration from the murky angst of Nirvana and the fiercely feminist bands of the riot grrrl movement. Around that time, Paul started writing her own music, channeling both traditional Native American and alt-rock influences, while processing the painful history embedded in her culture.

But it's not just generational demons she's needed to exorcise. Over the course of a few months in 2016, Paul endured some harsh losses. Her relationship with the woman she thought would be "the mother of my children" deteriorated. Then, her mentor, Anacortes musician and illustrator Geneviève Castrée, who was one of the first people to encourage Paul to pursue her own musical endeavors, succumbed to pancreatic cancer. Both losses hit her hard.

"I just felt like I was living in hell," Paul says, her voice softening to a pained lull. "I was waking up every day, crying in the shower. I needed to do something about it. So, I played music. Music makes me feel better."

In a classic case of transforming ache into art, Paul's debut album, Mother of My Children, is a reflection of turmoil both personal and historical. Though she had long moved off the reservation, relocating to Portland in 2007 to study anthropology at Lewis and Clark College, it was important to her that she return home to make the album. She took a trip back for the holidays, holing up at Anacortes Unknown recording studio, and recorded the entire record in just a week. She recalls the process as tedious and exhausting, but ultimately rewarding. The end result is a tapestry of atmospheric grunge steeped in dreamy vocals, folk percussion and angry guitar riffs. She sang every note, wrote every lyric, and played every instrument herself.

"It's really important for me to be able to do it all myself. Especially as an indigenous woman." she says. "It's not something I feel like I have to prove. It's more like, 'This is mine, this is what I do.'"

That sense of self-empowerment Paul finds in her music is what she wants instill in all women—namely, indigenous, queer women of color like herself.

"There aren't very many Native and indigenous women being recognized," she says. "I want to be able to carve out a way for women like me to be able to have this platform, and know that they can be successful."

NEXT SHOW: March 29 at Revolution Hall.

Best New Band Intro | No. 1: Sávila | No 2: Black Belt Eagle Scout | No. 3: Frankie Simone | No. 4: Amenta AbiotoNo. 5: MaarquiiNo. 6: Brown CalculusNo 7: SunbatheNo 8: Blackwater HolylightNo. 9: AutonomicsNo. 10 (tie): Public Eye and WynneWho's Got Next? No. 11-20 | The Complete Ballots

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