When life throws curveballs, you can chuck in the towel or stick two fingers up at what’s come before you and turn it into something better. Scotland’s own PAWS faced that decision in winter 2014 at of their toughest points as a band, though as we chat in spring 2016 ahead of their new album ‘No Grace’, it will come as no surprise which road they opted for.
”We came back from a two month tour of America that was particularly, not difficult, but it was quite a challenging tour,” explains vocalist Phillip Taylor. “Promoters hadn’t promoted certain shows well, our van was robbed at one point and we lost a lot of wee precious things to the band. It was a big downer on morale.”
But it became a learning experience. “A lot of bands would have probably given up half way through it,” he continues. “It was really hard, emotionally, with everyone just trying to keep a level head, with certain things going wrong all the time and feeling let down by certain people along the way.
”There’s only really two ways you can do it: quit and go home, or keep doing it and try get something out the end of it. I think what came out of it was a kind of attitude that if we can get through that, then we weren’t going to give up easily, we’d just keep going.”
And keep going they did, with a surprising guest in tow: Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus. One day he declared on Twitter that he was a fan of Paws, and the next he was producing their album. “We had no idea that he even knew who we were, so that was cool. We started talking and joking back and forth on Twitter and that turned into him sending his email. I think we basically just became kind of internet pals.
”He asked if we were planning on making a new album any time soon. We had started writing but hadn’t thought about what we were doing, who was going to do it or where we were going to do it. As we were writing it and we were talking to him, it just felt natural.
”People know him from the Blink stuff but he has such a punk rock background. I think we all admire him so much from that band, who are this huge thing, but they started in the exact same way that we did and still are doing. Touring all the time, sharing floors and sharing food and not having enough money to do anything else other than that and paying your rent. That’s what his band came from, and I think it kind of showed that he’s still that guy, that he’s just kept doing his band and it’s come out the good end. He likes a lot of the bands that we’ve toured with, so this seemed like a fit.”
Even now, he admits it’s still a bit surreal to think about, but in a good way. “The first show I went to as a kid was a Blink show when I was 14, so that in itself was a total epiphany, thinking that I want to do that, I really want to do that even if I never get to do it on that level. It just looked like they were having so much fun and I wanted to be in a band with my best friends and do that, so it was pretty cool to like basically meet the guy – well, one of the people – who made me want to play music live for a living.”
Not only was he part of what made Phillip want to play music for a living, when working together Mark pushed the whole band to their finest potential, with a fun and friendly vibe all round. “He gave us a lot of encouragement. Usually we’d record a drum take or vocal bit or guitar bit and the second or third attempt, we’d be like, ‘Okay, that sounds good, we’ll keep that’. With him, he was like ‘Nope, do it again’. Even if it sounded good, he kept doing it again and again to make sure that we got the best out of ourselves. That’s the thing I believe that he brought: he made us believe in ourselves a little more in terms of not just settling for something we thought was okay.
”Other than that it was really laid back. I would hope that with anyone we work with there would be an atmosphere that felt like four or five friends in a room making something together rather than a divide between this person and then there’s a band that they’re directing. With Mark, we all felt completely at home, just like he was another person in the band helping us make a record.”
The result of their work is ‘No Grace’, a record that really focuses more on the band’s experience together. “On previous records I’d written about things that had immediately happened to me as a person and about things in my life,” says Phillip. “When I started writing this album, it was the first time I’d sat and thought about all three of us, things that had happened directly to all of us. I think that tour was probably the biggest catalyst of starting the process, us finding our feet after that and figuring out how we could come back stronger.”
Their title-track is the embodiment of them coming through the other side bigger and better. “I wasn’t writing that for anyone except the three of us,” he notes. “A lot of the lyrics on that song are about the idea of ‘Okay, sometimes you will go into a State, you’ve got one dollar left, you’re in the cashbox and you don’t have any fuel for the van left, you don’t know where you’re staying that night’.” By the time you get to the gig, “you can either just play shitty for those people, hate what you’re doing and feel bummed out about it, or you can put on the best possible show you can and not give up and know that things get better. ‘No Grace’ is about the idea of taking all these terrible things that can happen when you’re doing the things you love and turning them into the reason why you do it, almost relishing the idea of being the underdog. Not just feeling complacent.
”I like the reality check that one night you can play for a lot of people and the next night there’ll be three or four. That songs means a lot to me in those kind of ways; it can apply to anything, I think: the idea of not giving up, of doing what you love.”
It’s been a bit of wild journey this last 18 months to get here, but the next chapter of Paws is ready to be released. “You get used to it and you forget that nobody else has heard it. It’ll be good finally to just have people to hear them all, so I’m very, very excited to just get it out there. We’re pretty impatient when it comes to stuff like that so just looking forward to finally letting everyone have it and call it their own, and not just ours any more.”
Taken from the June issue of Upset, out now – order your copy here. PAWS’ new album ‘No Grace’ is out now.
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