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Black Belt Eagle Scout opens Iowa City’s Mission Creek Festival
Paul finds new beauty in land, water, sky after moving back to Swinomish Reservation of her youth
As a child of the late ’90s and early 2000s, Katharine Paul was a huge Cat Power (Chan Marshall) fan.
“I love her music,” Paul said while calling from her home on the Swinomish Reservation, an hour north of Seattle. “I’m excited about being part of a festival in which she is performing.”
Paul, 33, aka Black Belt Eagle Scout, will perform at Hancher Auditorium on April 6, opening night of Iowa City’s Mission Creek Festival. Michelle Zauner, who performs as Japanese Breakfast, will launch the evening with a reading from her memoir, “Crying in H Mart,” followed by music from Paul at 7:15 p.m. and Cat Power at 8:30 p.m.
Paul also is a big fan of such ’90s icons as Nirvana and Hole. Those influences are evident throughout her breakthrough single, the infectious, grunge-impacted “Soft Stud.”
“I was only 4 or 5 when Kurt Cobain died,” Paul said. “I remember my parents talking about it. I gravitated toward Nirvana’s music when I was around 11 or 12, since it felt like local music, which it was. Nirvana’s music is real.”
If you go
What: Black Belt Eagle Scout
Where: Mission Creek Festival at Hancher Auditorium, 141 E. Park Rd., Iowa City
When: 7:15 p.m. April 6, 2023; with Michelle Zauner reading at 5:45 p.m., Cat Power performance at 8:30 p.m.
Cost: $50 Thursday Pass or $110 Full Festival Pass; click on the Get Access link at missioncreekfestival.com/
Artist’s website: blackbelteaglescout.com/
The same can be said for Paul’s latest album, the heartfelt “The Land, The Water, The Sky,” released in February. Much of the album is dreamy, melancholy and elegant, but it also is intense and introspective at points.
Paul sets the tone with the moody, droning shoe-gazer “My Blood Runs Through This Land.”
“That song is a true statement of where I am right now,” she said. "That phrase came to me right here. That song captured the moment.“
If it weren’t for the pandemic, Paul never would have written “The Land, The Water, The Sky.” Before lockdown, she was living in Portland, but returned to where she grew up after the coronavirus spread.
“I moved back home and started processing everything that happened,” she said. “I started writing about what was going on in my mind and in my life, and all of a sudden, I had an album’s worth of material.”
Nature inspired much of the album. Songs like “On the River,” “Salmon Stinta,” which means salmon love, and “Treeline.”
“The great outdoors moved me,” she said. “It’s part of me. The land depends on us to do the right thing. It’s about our stewardship.”
Paul couldn’t be happier living where she grew up, and has no plans to return to Portland.
“I’m going to stay here forever,” she said. “It’s a small community — 1,400 people — but I have all that I need. I had the opportunity to leave and I took it. I went to college and then I lived in Portland. Some people never leave the reservation, but I have a fresh appreciation for it, so I’m staying. I was going to come back here at some point anyway. The pandemic just drew me back here sooner.”
Much of the time Paul is on the road anyway.
“So I’m in a great situation,” she said. “I get to see the country. I get to see the world and I have the opportunity to return to the place I love the most. It’s beautiful here. There’s space and I stay connected to my culture.”
“The Land, The Water, The Sky” ends with the optimistic “Don't Give Up.”
“That song honors the connection to where I’m from,” she said. “It’s upbeat and it connects with what’s so wonderful here. It also connects with what’s powerful, what’s heartbreaking and romantic. That song covers a lot of ground.
“When I look back at the entire album, the message is that it’s important to go back to all of the things that are important to you. What’s important to me is on the album. It’s about the land, the water and the sky. Don’t take those things or anything for granted. I think people can relate to my message since there is a place for everyone.”
Paul hopes to inspire Indigenous people to follow in her creative footsteps.
“When I was growing up, I really didn’t have anyone to relate to in terms of recording artists,” she said. “There was Buffy St. Marie and Redbone, but both of those were from a previous time. I hope people see that I can do this and maybe they’ll try to make music, as well. I was always passionate about music, and you should follow your passion in life.”