Meet Black Belt Eagle Scout. The Portland, Ore., multi-instrumentalist (née Katherine Paul) first made waves with the release of her debut LP, Mother of My Children, in 2017. The introspective set — re-released by Saddle Creek Records the following year — is a meditation on love and loss, as seen through the prism of Paul’s complex identity as an indigenous, queer woman.
For Billboard’s Summer of Pride, the indie newcomer crafted a mix dedicated to “womxn who tour” and featuring tracks by fellow indie talents Waxahatchee, Palehound, Vagabon and more — a nod to the “womxn” she admires “through their music, their art, their tour strength and their friendship.”
“When you’re on the road constantly like me, one of the only ways to get through a long and grueling drive is the jams,” she says. “Being a womxn and especially a queer womxn, there’s a sense of looking out for one another on the road — whether it’s checking in with your friend who is touring around the same time or helping promote what your buds are doing on your socials to ensure their tour is a success. I’ve been fortunate enough to have fellow touring musicians find me on social media and instantly become friends because they’re doing the same thing with their lives and can relate.”
Raised in the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community in Northwest Washington, the self-taught musician learned to play piano, guitar and drums in her adolescent years. “The very first form of music that I can remember experiencing was the sound of my dad singing native chants to coo me to sleep as a baby,” she says. “I grew up around powwows and the songs my grandfather and grandmother sang with my family in their drum group. This is what shapes how I create music: with passion and from the heart.”
She cites the “unique” nearby Anacortes, Wash., alternative music scene as crucial in the development of her innovative sound. “When people talk about Pacific NW music, I feel like I’m the definition of it being indigenous and all,” she says. “I grew up going to shows by bands like Mount Eerie, the Blow and Mecca Normal.” The LGBTQ community within that local scene helped her own process of self-acceptance. “Queer identity within music was always available to me and I think that helped me feel more at home in my expression of being a queer artist,” she says. “One of the things I’m trying to be open and available for is supporting other musicians and youth who listen to my music by saying, ‘It’s okay to be who you are. It’s okay to be queer — there’s strength in that.’”
After the release of her debut set, Paul returns fully formed with the release of her sophomore LP, At the Party With My Brown Friends, out Sept. 14 via Saddle Creek. The album finds Paul recalling specific memories — from “an impromptu beach trip” with her friend, fellow Portland indie musician Haley Heynderickx (“Going to the Beach With Haley”) — to her “eternal love for her mother” (“You’re Me and I’m You”) and more. “In the past few years, the reciprocal love I experienced within friendships is what has been keeping me going,” she says. “A lot of what is in this album deals with love, desire and friendship.”
First single “At the Party” is a reflection on the comfort that a close-knit community has offered her. “Within my conscious self, there is always a sense of questioning the legitimacy of the world when you grow up on an Indian reservation,” says Paul. “We are all at the party (the world), trying to navigate ourselves within a good or bad situation. I happen to be at the party with my brown friends — Indigenous, Black, POC who always have my back while we walk throughout this event called life.”
Throughout the songwriting process, Paul tapped into everything from her anthropology degree to coming out to her family, which was surprisingly a “good experience,” she says. “While I know it is not always that way when kids decide to tell their family, I think that we can open our hearts more for that,” she adds. “I would watch YouTube videos of moms being proud of their kids surrounding their sexuality and gender identity and I really wanted to raise my voice to say, ‘my family too!’”
As for her ‘dream’ for the future? “To create space for indigenous womxn, queers, two-spirit, trans, non-binary, femme and the body positive community to come to our shows and feel empowered so that space is for them,” she wrote in a March Instagram post. “Today is national awareness day for missing and murdered indigenous womxn, girls, and relatives. I want a space where indigenous womxn in particular can thrive and feel alive.”
The post tackled the “backlash” she faced on socials after admitting that she felt “uncomfortable” with white men at her shows. “If my uncomfort hits a negative chord with you, you don’t belong here. This space is first and foremost for my family named above,” she added. “I suggest looking up how much harm and violence white men cause on indigenous womxn and educate yourself rather than shedding white tears on this page.”
At the Party With My Brown Friends is available for pre-order here and will be available on CD, cassette, digital, LP, plus two limited edition vinyl. Black Belt Eagle Scout will hit the festival circuit this summer with stops at Sled Island, Newport Folk Festival and Pickathon, before a North American tour in support of folk talent Devendra Banhart this fall.