Black Belt Eagle Scout’s Sense of Home

The musician—whose songs have made their way onto the FX hit Reservation Dogs as well as the Ulla Johnson fall 2023 runway—has a brand-new album that pays tribute to the land of their ancestors.

Black Belt Eagle Scout posing under blue light
Photograph by Matika Wilbur

KP’s whole bathroom is labeled with little tags indicating the Lushootseed words for objects, furniture, and relevant verbs. “People would come over and they’d be, like, ‘I know how to say ‘to poop’ in Lushootseed,’” they say, laughing, over Zoom at the beginning of January. KP, a.k.a. Katherine Paul, a.k.a. the musician behind Black Belt Eagle Scout, was at home in La Conner, Washington when we spoke—they’d moved there from Portland in the middle of 2020. (KP uses she and they pronouns.)

KP had grown up nearby, on the Swinomish reservation. Not long after moving back, they started taking online lessons in Lushootseed, their native language. “That really unlocked a door for me,” they say. “I’m going to get a little spiritual here”—their voice shrugging slightly—“because I feel like when I speak my native language, something happens around me. My ancestors are like, ‘He-e-ey! We know what you’re saying! We can understand you!’”

That experience, they say, provided an unexpectedly grounding experience. They hadn’t come back to Washington planning to write a record about it, but that’s what ended up happening: their new album, The Land, The Water, The Sky, out Feb. 10, depicts their deepening, evolving connection to the idea of home and its physical place. The project is their third album on the indie label Saddle Creek (the onetime home of Bright Eyes and Rilo Kiley); last summer, the Black Belt Eagle Scout songs “Soft Stud” (from 2018’s Mother of My Children) and “Salmon Stinta” (a yet-unreleased track from The Land, The Water, The Sky) also appeared on the second season of the FX series Reservation Dogs. One song, “Sčičudᶻ (A Narrow Place),” is titled after the Lushootseed word for a particular spot on a nearby jetty that they visited “pretty much every day” between 2020 and 2021. “I realized this was something that my ancestors did, and something I’m still doing: I’m having a relationship with and taking care of a place,” they say. “This record morphed into, What did journeying home give me? And I found out this is the place that I belong.”

What time do you wake up in the morning and what is the first thing that you do?

Generally, I wake up between 7 and 7:30 AM, and I go downstairs. I make myself a cup of water with lemon in it; I make myself a cup of coffee. And I sit by my fireplace. I’m really into the Calm app, which has all these soundscapes; I love the tropical one. I also smudge in the morning and say a little prayer—this is my very specific routine.

What is the first thing that you read in the morning?

For a while, I was going on Airbnb and looking at vacations in Costa Rica or Brazil. That’s why I was listening to the tropical sounds. The last couple of weeks, I’ve just been looking at my email. I wish I had a better way of being.

What books are on your bedside table right now?

I’m really into The Art of Touring. It’s this book of touring diaries, with musicians like Electrelane, Erase Errata, and Devendra Banhart. I started reading it because I was getting excited to go on tour. I’m also trying to get through Sasha Lapointe’s Red Paint, slowly—it’s a dark book. My partner and I will sometimes read to each other at night, and that’s one of the books we’re reading to each other now.

What is the last thing that you Googled on your phone?

Jamie Okuma. She’s a Native fashion designer; I was trying to look for a dress to buy, thinking that maybe I should have something readily available in case I have to do a photo shoot.

Black Belt Eagle Scout performs during Ulla Johnson’s fall 2023 runway show during New York Fashion Week on February 12, 2023.

Photo by ANDREA RENAULT/AFP via Getty Images

What albums or playlists are you listening to right now?

I’ve been listening to a playlist that I made, called “yəhaẃ inspiration.” Yəhaẃ is a Lushootseed word; it means “to proceed.” It’s basically a collection of high vibrational songs I’ll put on if I’m feeling down. Mariah Carey, Lizzo, The Gossip are all on there.

Do you have a go-to karaoke song?

I do. I like to sing Mariah Carey—or, I mean, I try to sing Mariah Carey, and it just ends up sounding really bad. “Always Be My Baby” and “We Belong Together” are pretty good.

How did your songs end up on Reservation Dogs?

I know the show creator, Sterlin Harjo—we’re friends. They asked me to have one song in there. Then, we pitched two. When I first started playing music and going on tour, I didn’t see a lot of Indigenous artists doing the same kind of tours that I was doing. Over the last couple of years, there’s suddenly been so much more representation in music and television. I was like, I love this show, I love what they’re doing with it, I want to be a part of that—can we try and submit? That’s when we got the second song in there, “Salmon Stinta.”

Do you follow visual art? What artists do you like?

There’s a huge Native art world and a lot of artists who are just my friends. My friend Cannupa Hanska Luger is popping into my head; he does really awesome sculpture art.

What was the last piece of art that you bought?

I bought a bolo tie for my partner for Christmas by Tay Hensel, who is Brit Hensel’s sister—Brit works on Reservation Dogs. I actually found out because Brit posted about it: She was like, my sister makes these bolos!

What was the last museum exhibit you loved?

Jeffrey Gibson did a show at Art Omi in upstate New York in September 2021, and he invited me to play. He makes these really interesting-looking garments that are like, painted fabric. One of the things he’s famous for is these beaded punching bags, too.

What is the last thing you do before you go to bed?

I put lotion on my hands.