“This album itself is a healing thing.”
The songs on Mother of My Children, the debut album from Katherine Paul, who performs as Black Belt Eagle Scout, have a way of opening up, brightening as they gain momentum. Starting from a place of sparseness, like a fuzzed-out melody and Paul’s cool, lonesome voice, they accrue harmony and ornamentation, building to fullness. She will perform at Spirit Lodge on September 4.
Paul writes with the confidence given by life experience, a consolation prize of dubious value when it’s won through pain and loss. Nonetheless, she puts it to great use on Mother of My Children, which chronicles the period of her life in which she lost her mentor, Canadian artist and musician Geneviève Castrée, to pancreatic cancer; meanwhile her relationship with the first woman she loved diminished.
“That period in my life was a pretty hard time to me and there was a lot of emotional stuff going on and if you hear the album, the album is pretty emotional. There are a lot of emotional lyrics and angry lyrics and wondrous lyrics,” Paul tells the Pittsburgh Curent.
To say Paul considers music a calling would be an understatement. She sees her artistry as part of her lineage, as intrinsic to her identity as her radicalism, her queerness, and her Indigenous heritage.
“I think that I’ve always considered myself an artist, even from an early age. I come from a very creative family,” explains Paul, who grew up on an Indian reservation in Northwest Washington State. “Within my Indian reservation there are specific families that have a role within the community and my family’s role is [to be] the musicians and the artists, the creative types, so I feel like I’ve always had that within myself.”
This confluence of identities is apparent in the song “Indians Never Die,” a slow, cutting meditation about Indigenous people taking on the thankless task of protecting the land in the Standing Rock struggle and beyond. “Wasting, wasting, wasting away/Do you ever notice what surrounds you, when it’s all bright and tucked under,” she asks.
Because her songwriting hinges on such personal, specific events, it would be easy to qualify that aforementioned quality of opening up as a window into the intimacies of her experience. Closer listening makes it feel more like an opening outward, though, underscoring the universality of experience and the vast spectrum of stakes in our day-to-day struggles.
“I think that within the LGBTQ community there’s a lot of hardships, like people not being accepted, in the lighter of scheme of things; in the darker scheme, people being murdered,” she says.
“Everyone has a hardship in their life, even if they’re not queer or they’re not native. If there’s something that’s hard going on, I feel like with this album, they can still be able to relate to it. This album, itself, is a healing thing, it’s trying to process what’s going on.”
BLACK BELT EAGLE SCOUT with SAINTSENECA. 9 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 4. Spirit, 242 51st St., Lawrenceville. $12-14. www.spiritpgh.com