Black Belt Eagle Scout on Performing at Sydney’s first Volume Festival at Art Gallery of NSW | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Wednesday, July 17th, 2024  

Black Belt Eagle Scout on Performing at Sydney’s first Volume Festival at Art Gallery of NSW

The Festival Will Also Feature Mount Eerie, Solange, and Sampa The Great

Sep 26, 2023 Photography by Nate Lemuel of Darlisted Photography Bookmark and Share


Indie rock act Black Belt Eagle Scout, who released their third album, The Land, The Sea, The Sky, in February this year, will be one of many indigenous artist to headline Australia’s first Volume festival, a music event presented by Sydney’s Art Gallery of NSW. To be held across the gallery’s new building, from Sept 22 to Oct 8, the festival will include a host of free events, and ticketed concerts for Solange, Sampa The Great, and Inuit contemporary musician Sonya Holowell.

“I am really happy to be part of this festival and to see the diversity of the acts and so many indigenous artist. At one point, I thought Volume was an indigenous festival!” exclaims Black Belt Eagle Scout’s Katherine Paul (or KP as she’s known to friends). Speaking over Zoom, Paul was excited about her first trip to Australia, where she will also be performing as part of Phil Everum’s band Mount Eerie, on their Australia and New Zealand tour.

“Phil is from the same town that my people come from and he played on my song ‘Salmon Stinta,’” she explains. “Black Belt Eagle Scout will open for Mount Eerie on their tour, we will present our own show at Volume, and my husband and I will play as part of Phil’s band as well.”

She adds that since the release of The Land, The Sea, The Sky, Black Belt Eagle Scout has performed shows in many configurations with a small band, on her own, and as a fully kit rock outfit. On her antipodean jaunt she will perform with her husband who usually plays drums in her band. “We will play our guitars and tease out those melodies,” she says.

Black Belt Eagle Scout followed up the their 2017 debut, Mother of My Children, with At the Party with My Brown Friends two years later. In that time, Paul who is part of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and grew up on a reservation in La Conner, Washington, spoke out about not seeing other brown faces at her shows. She received blowback for her comments and discussed this and other aspects of representation on the Under the Radar podcast where she was our first guest. In recent years and post-pandemic, Paul reveals that she’s noticed a seismic shift in the culture.

“Since we last spoke, I have definitely had more opportunities to do amazing things,” she explains. “One of them was being invited to be part of an indigenous festival in Juno. And another one in Victoria B.C.” This year, she also played Pitchfork’s three-day music festival, a longtime dream of hers. And two of her songs “Soft Stud” from her debut and “Salmon Stinta” from The Land, The Sea, The Sky were also featured in Taika Waititi’s critically acclaimed teen drama, Reservation Dogs. Plus she was on the cover of our print magazine.

It’s been quite the ride considering that during the pandemic when all tours were cancelled, Paul wondered if her career would ever recover from the setbacks brought on by COVID. She had relocated from Portland, Oregon where she was based and returned to Swinomish country where she got a day job at a non-profit. Paul would retreat to nature, going on walks along the Skagit River and its surrounding forest, eventually returning to her guitar and songwriting to make sense of the isolation and stress of the pandemic. Those ruminations became her third album.

“I like her records a lot,” says Art Gallery of NSW’s Music and Community Curator, Jonathan Wilson, of Black Belt Eagle Scout’s ouevre, “and I was super interested that this new record was done with Takiaya Reed, of Divide & Dissolve, a doom metal band.” Paul seeked out Reed, a Native-Texan of Cherokee descent who is currently based in Melbourne, to produce The Land, The Sea, The Sky.

Divide & Dissolve’s heavy assaulting sound is not traditionally associated with soft, indie rock. “But it’s beautiful,” says Wilson. “I like their positioning around First Nations perspectives, and pushing that out into the ether is really unique. And that’s the point! All these conversations are super nuanced. We live in a really bizarre world where everything is so black and white… but music spaces have been democratized endlessly.”

Volume’s program reflects Wilson’s wide cast of the net. “I hit a whole bunch of different art forms and musical genres. That’s why you have everything from like experimental jazz, sound art, ambient, indie rock, pop, soul, and R& B all sort of floating all together. We don’t have that as much in music—those big music festivals that travel around, they’re just whatever’s hot that particular moment.”

Wilson preferred to focus on the inter-generational aspect of the festival. “We have Amby Downs—she’s 26—and Annea Lockwood, she’s 83, playing the same night. And I love that kind of connective tissue—a young indigenous, electronic musician and an elder, who is an incredible master.”

The festival will give the audience a chance to experience music in communion with the exquisite artwork on the walls. They can wander around and see the various live performances, with activations like video-art projections dreamt up specifically for the space. It’s less transactional than just showing up at a rock show. For example, Sampa The Great will perform in different designated areas and her voice will carry throughout the modern, multi-level space. Volume does well to situate the music deeply within the gallery, changing the context of how the audience will relate to it.

Then there’s the Tank, a cavernous space beneath the gallery. It’s a disused oil tank and has unique acoustics properties and potential for live shows. Now converted into an art space, Solange will play three sold out nights there. Mount Eerie, who has experimented with doom metal previously, will also perform a site-specific show in the space.

“I thought the tank in particular would work really brilliantly for Mount Eerie,” says Wilson, who was pleasantly surprise when he realized that Paul and Elverum were friends, connected through the artistic community in Anacortes, and through his wife, artist Genevieve Castree, who had died from cancer in 2016.

“Now, they’re playing together as a band!” Wilson remarks. “I love that conversation too—this incredible Swinomish Native American woman performing with an Anglo American man because they’re linked, connected through music as well as space… which is what Volume’s supposed to be about, trying to weave these tiny little webs of artists that all kind of live on the peripheries of something that’s similar.”

The Tank has featured prominently in the way Volume was dreamt up in Wilson’s mind. “It used to have 14,000 tons of oil in it. I was thinking about that volume, right? This immense overwhelming amount—that’s kind of where the name came from.”

But Wilson acknowledges that it’s also a knowing wink to broader conversations that we need to have today about art, history and culture. “With volume, the maximum thing you can do is turn it way up,” Wilson adds, “It’s a bit of a cheeky nod I think, to like institutions where sound and things like that, aren’t necessarily present at the scale which it should be.”

Volume began last Friday, Sept 22. Black Belt Eagle Scout and Mount Eerie will perform on Oct 5. For tickets and further program details, please head to https://volume.sydney.

Read our interview with Black Belt Eagle Scout on her debut album, Mother of My Children, along with our 2018 politically themed interview with her.

Black Belt Eagle Scout was featured on our Covers of Covers compilation, which came out in 2022 via American Laundromat.

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