Interview: PAWS

This article originally ran in The Herald Newspaper (Scotland) on Friday September 28, 2012.

They’re a well-named band, are PAWS. The Glasgow lo-fi power-pop trio are loveable, bounding and shaggy round the edges, yet there is fierceness to their songs, and their words can cut you to the quick.

If their upper-case soubriquet indicates shouting, well that’s apt too: PAWS could draw blood with their thrash-pop ruckus. Their cross of huggable punk with primal roar has seen the band share bills with Buzzcocks, No Age and Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, and sign to Brighton indie powerhouse Fat Cat (Frightened Rabbit, The Twilight Sad, We Were Promised Jetpacks).

We find them in a Copenhagen dressing room, on the second-last night of a tour supporting Canadian noise-pop duo Japandroids. PAWS frontman Phillip Taylor is just off stage and frazzled, but characteristically ebullient. “This is our first-ever European tour and the whole thing’s been totally amazing,” says the singer, songwriter and guitarist. PAWS are completed by drummer Joshua Swinney and bassist Matthew Scott: they emerged as a trio in 2010, after the split of their former four-piece, A Copenhagen Hope.

PAWS are returning to Scotland to celebrate the release of their debut album, Cokefloat!. The follow-up to this year’s Misled Youth cassette EP, it’s an effervescent sugar-rush of fun-time punk and melodic scuzz – as illustrated by current single and alternative radio favourite, Sore Tummy (featuring Big Deal’s Alice Costelloe), whose dreamy distortion and harmonies soar like early Teenage Fanclub. “We like Teenage Fanclub, but I’d say other Scottish artists have influenced us more,” offers Taylor, “folks like Y’all Is Fantasy Island, Bronto Skylift, Sean Armstrong, Aereogramme, Arab Strap and Belle and Sebastian.”

The trio stoke this home-grown love-in with the incendiary alt-rock beloved of stables like Sub Pop (Sebadoh), Blast First (Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr) and Epitaph (Rancid). “Oh yeah, Matt really loves Rancid,” raves Taylor. Dinosaur Jr once said they filled their sound out as a trio by smashing cymbals across the music, to noise it all up – do PAWS employ any similar devices to amplify their three-way charms? “We’ve always just made what we can with what we have,” says Taylor. “Or, to quote Matt, ‘There has never been a conscious decision to thrash,’” he laughs.

Perhaps PAWS’ biggest influence of all is the Royal Highland Burgh of Tain, where Taylor and (later) Swinney were raised. “Growing up in Tain has impacted on my songwriting in every way possible,” reflects Taylor. “I lived there for 18 years and it’s pretty sparse up there when it comes to music, so everything I got into was more or less through my oldest brother Paul – he brought me up on a steady diet of R.E.M. The only shows happening were the ones that we put on when we were kids, in Brownie halls and people’s bedrooms, and there are references to Tain and the people that live there in every song on the record.”

Most of all, there are references to Taylor’s late mother, whose death from cancer last year resonates throughout, not least on fuzz-rock album opener Catherine, 1956 (“I would trade anything for one full day to just sit and hear her voice again”), the immortalising punk-pop of Bloodline (“I know that you’ll never die, I’ve got your nose, I’ve got your eyes”) and the lo-fi label, Cath Records, that Taylor runs with friends. He acknowledges the cathartic power of these songs and endeavours, but they’re also forward-looking and optimistic. “When my mum passed away I wanted something to focus on to keep me busy, and I felt the urge to try and be as positive as I could,” he says.

From comic artist Jessica Penfold’s dayglo artwork to the exclamation-toting title, Cokefloat! hits like the “dizzying high with harmless sugar comedown,” that Taylor suggests. It rocks in all senses, and little wonder: their album was made on a London boat. “Yeah, Rory Attwell [Test Icicles / Warm Brains] recorded the record for us and he’d recently relocated to a boat to work. It swayed so much, twice a day with the tide, but that added to the vibe. It was the most fun ever and nobody got seasick. Recording on a boat felt totally right for us – our recording environments have always been a bit bizarre.”

By which he means: making records in log cabins and bedrooms; performing in bathrooms, skate shops and double decker buses; generally revelling in the can-do, ad-hoc spirit of DIY. Indeed, it was DIY art-pop sage Adam Stafford who galvanised the nascent PAWS into making their debut single, 2010’s digital-only Violent Vicky Violet, for his Wise Blood Industries imprint. “Yeah, that was really important for us,” says Taylor. “After our friend Nick left A Copenhagen Hope, the three of us kept jamming, and Adam asked us to come up with something for Wise Blood. It was a nice bit of momentum for us, having a deadline to work towards, and we started playing shows shortly after that.” (Their first-ever gig was supporting Dum Dum Girls in May 2010).

PAWS’ grassroots trajectory continued with self-releases and a split seven-inch (alongside Lady North) on every local format fetishist’s fantasy imprint, Gerry Loves Records – an Edinburgh DIY label whose eye for stunning design is matched by their impeccable A&R (alumni include Conquering Animal Sound, Miaoux Miaoux and The Phantom Band’s Rick Redbeard). “They really cared about it as much as we did – that means the world to us,” says Taylor. “The only goal we had when we started the band was to maybe get a seven-inch out, so that was a dream come true.”

There’s also a live session split-vinyl on Edinburgh’s excellent Song, By Toad Records on the cards, but for now, PAWS are high on the buzz of Cokefloat!. “This record is really important to us,” says Taylor. “It captures the punch of our live shows and it’s the sound we’ve been after for the past three years.” With that, he heads into the Danish night, seeking out punk-rock, fun times and a sugar-rush, charged with excitement and Copenhagen hope.

Cokefloat! is out on Monday October 1st via Fat Cat. PAWS album launch show, CCA, Glasgow, October 4.

Related articles:
Adam Stafford interview (The Herald, August 2011)
Label of Love profile: Wise Blood Industries (The List, Sept 2010)
Label of Love profile: Gerry Loves Records (The List, Dec 2010)
Label of Love profile: Song, by Toad Records (The List, Jan 2010)

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