Love Local Nashville
Out of the mists of dank Nashville bars and up through the stratosphere, LITTLE PAWS punches their way through punk-assed stories seared with Blake Conley's guitar work and delivered with gusto by singer/drummer Raygun.
We were fortunate enough to get to interview the band (Blake and Raygun, along with bassist Sarah) and now you're fortunate enough to be reading it.
WHAT ARE YOU SETTING OUT TO DO? WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH WITH YOUR MUSIC?
Raygun: I think we're setting out to inspire more DIY music, especially in Nashville. It's so saturated with "professional" rock and roll shows, that I think people sometimes forget that they can make music about whatever they want and it doesn't always have to be nice or perfect.
Blake: Play good music, get some bruises, be loud. I hope people see us as a fun band that’s at times funny, insightful, and moving. This is decidedly a more straightforward band than what I usually play in, and one where I’m not having to sing most of the time or come up with a good share of the lyrical concepts, so I’m enjoying the pleasure/freedom of being able to focus on playing guitar and shaking my ass. We're hoping to tour and play some cool shows with bands I like and respect. You know, band stuff.
Sarah: Little Paws is all about being free and exploring ideas and physicality that might not fit the status quo. We aim to push boundaries and create dialogue that is not usually allowed or permitted by the misogynist, homogenized perspective that people unfortunately often feel imprisoned by. Hopefully this will pave a path for other artists to be brave and put their strangest feet forward. Outsider artists in the Nashville scene currently don't get as much credit as they deserve. Maybe we can change this.
WHAT IS LITTLE PAWS DOING THAT NO ONE ELSE IS? OR WHAT SETS YOU APART AS A MUSICAL EXPERIENCE?
Raygun: We're just a really strange and straightforward act. There's one song we have called "I Can't Believe I Shaved My Vagina For This" in which all the lyrics are ad-libbed spoken word about a time I had a really bad sexual experience. Not too many people are being that blunt and honest about their sexual lives and I think that they should; it would help erase the stigma of sex being dirty or taboo.
Blake: I hope, based on how practices are going, that we will be a fun band to watch and listen to. The exciting, chaotic energy we generate is rather infectious. We practiced at Raygun’s place and all her roomies came rushing in to dance/rock out and that felt incredible. I’m all for serious bands, and we have moments/elements of seriousness, but we coat them with something that’s pure fun and high energy. Plus the talent in this band is amazing to be around. Raygun sings like a terrifying angel and lays the heavy beats. Sarah’s bass playing is staggering blend of technicality and tastefulness. She’s always playing what the song needs, whether that means straightforward 4 to the floor runs or smooth jazzy flourishes. I’m just there to make squall and be in awe. I’m a lucky guy to just be involved in this band.
Sarah: I feel like Little Paws have musical chemistry together. We have a combined weirdness which is an excellent ingredient for an outsider artist collaboration. We're also great buddies so our energies combined create something special for our audience. We try to let go of preconceptions of what is allowed on stage and just let it all hang out.
YOU DESCRIBE YOURSELF AS "RIOT GRRRL STONER PUNK." CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR INFLUENCES AND HOW THEY SHAPE THE SOUND OF THE GROUP?
Raygun: We listen to a lot of riot grrrl bands, punk music and such, and we smoke a lot of weed, so the conglomerate genre name seemed to adequately represent us better than just pegging ourselves as "riot grrrl" or "girl punk." Lately we've been getting into a group called "Childbirth" which has definitely influenced us to write more songs about being a modern woman, tearing down the pedestal we're supposed to sit on, and taking the veil off of the horror that is the dating world.
Blake: I’m approaching this from a straightforward minimalist rock approach a la Queens of the Stone Age, Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Beat Happening, the Minutemen, Neu!, Low, and Wire. I subscribe to the idea that punk is a spirit, not a sound. Don’t overthink what you're doing. If a song ends up with only 2 parts, so be it. Wire once mentioned that their approach to their Pink Flag album was ‘as soon as the words run out, the song ends’, and the idea of less is more, that the minimum equals the maximum is something I consider when writing for this band. The idea of negative space in music fascinates me and I try to present that. The negative space that comes up when a guitarist in a power trio takes a solo and it’s just a pure rhythm section pumping away underneath, that’s a beautiful thing to me. I try to combine this with more discordant moments and bits of noise/feedback/pedal-fuckery as I always like a bit of ugliness mixed in beauty. The passion of a few ‘bum’ notes played from the heart of a guitarist grab me more than anything technical or flashy and I try to play in that fashion as well.
Sarah: We all met through the Nashville Riot Grrrls collective. The Riot Grrrl manifesto is still incredibly relevant today and rather than a characterization of the sound of Little Paws, it more strongly correlates with the notion that we can make a difference and destroy misogyny. I am not a fan of Riot Grrrl being used as a descriptive for a musical genre. Any artist who seeks to autonomously identify with Riot Grrrl should be encouraged to participate in destroying negative stereotypes that inhibit all genders and identities without being limited to a genre. Having said that, punk rock and rock and roll have always been vehicles for change so Little Paws are jumpin' on the band wagon with their unique voice in this space.
HOW DO YOU WRITE? WHAT DO YOU FOCUS ON? HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN A SONG IS GOOD?
Raygun: Either one of us will come to the group with a riff or melody, or we just jam until we play something that makes us laugh. So far those are our two ways of writing new material. We try to focus on music that will be fun to listen to. If it makes us laugh or if we have fun playing it, it's good in our book.
Blake: Basically we get together, someone starts playing something and we all hop on it. I’ll often write a little something beforehand and am always amazed and pleased with how it locks in almost immediately and goes in unexpected directions. Sarah’s pretty perfect at coming up with a great bassline on the fly and Raygun will start a simple beat and then as we jam on it, she’ll modify as need be to make it more interesting. We focus on just how it feels. If everyone locks in on the groove/riff/whatever then the energy in the room is just palatable. We all kind of start smiling at each other or to ourselves. We start moving around while playing. You def know the song is on when Raygun starts improvising lyrics over what we are doing. She’s very adept at pulling clever, funny, cutting, or uniquely vulnerable lyrics out of the ether mid jam. We’ve only been a band a little over 2 months and already have a 6 song set and good starts to a few others. We wrote two last practice based on something one of us or someone around us said offhand. And that spontaneity is just magical to experience.
Sarah: If we aren't laughing when we make a song then it's probably not going to work out for us. Ha! We are all about creating unspoken dialogues that encourage other invisible identities and creatives to speak up. We like to have a positive, fun energy that makes us jump around on stage so if a song is too boring and drab it just ain't gonna fly.
DO YOU THINK THAT MUSICIANS HAVE SOCIAL AND POLITICAL OBLIGATION BEYOND WHAT'S CONTAINED IN THEIR MUSIC? SHOULD THEY BE CRITICIZES FOR REMAINING SILENT ON CRUCIAL ISSUES? WHY OR WHY NOT?
Raygun: It's certainly anyone's right to have their own opinions be private, but that's just not who we are. There are definitely artists who take advantage of being silent or taking a side as a means of profit, but that's really just pandering shoved into a business model. In my opinion, panderingshould be critiqued, but I don't think it's fair to criticize someone for wanting to sit out of a debate for personal reasons.
Blake: Ooooh…throwing the serious question there at the end. I think this type of thing depends on the person/artist. If they have something to say or a desire to say something, they certainly can utilize that platform. I don’t think we can or should expect our artists to be these grand fonts of social knowledge. Just because you can write a beautiful song doesn’t automatically make you an expert on women’s rights, politics, etc. Artists who use their positions to push social justice are great and certainly make me proud to be a fan. Even if they just use their position to raise awareness of issues that they may not have more than a base working knowledge of, that’s great, but I don’t think those that feel apolitical, or neutral on topics should be forced to comment if they don’t feel they have anything to say. I think the platform is simply there to use it as the person/artist feels comfortable using it. While we’re a band that comes from a feminist mindset, we often embed these topics in pointed, sly humour as a way to sneak them into the listener’s heads. We aren’t onstage constantly pontificating about these issues, though we will talk about them if we feel they need to be said.
Sarah: It's incredibly personal whether or not an artist wants to engage in social and political issues. To be an artist in the first place is a physical and emotional outlet directly linked to the identity of the individual. It takes incredible strength and bravery to perform let alone have the courage to take a stance. Also, any artist needs to be super aware of their audience for their work to have any impact. So with this in mind, if an artist has the strength and appropriate platform to speak up about social and political issues, they are incredibly brave and should be endorsed, supported, and valued for their selfless contribution. If an artist does not, their creative expression should not be devalued for this absence but valued for what the art is trying to say. The audience ultimately decides what they want to value. All artists at all levels should have the opportunity to perform and receive constructive dialogue about their art. [BRANDON DE LA CRUZ]