Glasgow-based trio PAWS have brought a heartening buzz to national radio with their sweet brand of raw and poppy garage rock. They offer The Skinny first listen to their debut album and chat about its inception over a few sugary treats
The three members of PAWS are looking queasy. Phillip Taylor, Josh Swinney and Matt Scott are sitting in a leatherette booth in Edinburgh’s City Café, disdainfully looking at the melted remains of three Coke floats. It’s not the first round of the intensely sugar-heavy drinks that the band has guzzled today. Ten minutes previously, they were laughing and grinning widely as they enthusiastically took part in a photo shoot with their refreshment of choice acting as the main prop; now, they look as if they’d rather tackle a treble shot of turps than face another glass of fizzy juice and ice-cream.
It’s doubtful that these home-grown garage rockers had this scene in mind when they christened their eagerly-awaited debut LP Cokefloat! The album isn’t even named after the drink per se, instead being a tribute to a comic strip of the same title, drawn by their friend Jessica Penfold, who designed the album’s artwork.
The trio start to regain their enthusiasm once The Skinny buys a round of drinks of the alcoholic variety, which begs the obvious question: do they prefer pints to floats? “Maybe if I was cosying up on the couch with someone lovely, a Coke float would be more appropriate,” muses drummer Swinney. “But I bet you could make an awesome Coke float cocktail. Or a pint float...”
Taylor, whose distinctive voice and guitar playing plays a huge part in defining the band, explains their flirtation with melting soft drinks. “Our friend Babak was putting on a gig to promote this comic he had put together. Kele from Bloc Party had written a short story, and Jessica, the girl that did the Cokefloat thing, had a couple of pages. I remember going down and flipping through the comic, and Cokefloat was the back page. The frame we chose for the cover is the last frame of the entire thing. It reminded me of the front of that Big Black album, Songs About Fucking. It’s got a similar quality to it, that comic book style.”
Sugar high or not, PAWS are a band whose fizz is unlikely to go flat any time soon. This year they’ve attracted a large amount of attention from mainstream, London-centric media typically unaccustomed to looking this far north in search of new music that’s actually any good. Even the somewhat unlikely figure of Kate Nash recently declared herself a fan whilst reviewing the band’s latest single, Sore Tummy, on Radio 1. “I’ll give it an ‘aight. It’s really slackah,” laughs Taylor, adopting a faultless mockney accent.
Since forming in 2009, the band have quickly drawn acclaim on the local circuit via their adopted home of Glasgow with their energetic live shows and obvious knack for writing blistering three minute songs that stick long in the memory. In interview with The Skinny last year, Swinney jokingly referred to their music as being ‘Haribo thrash’ after being greatly amused to read that ‘kinderwhore’ – coined after Courtney Love’s fashion sense in the early 90s – was being touted in some quarters as a hip new musical movement. “I thought I’d start a genre of my own,” he chuckles. Conceived as a joke, the tag nevertheless stuck. “It’s just fun to make up crap, to see if people believe it,” Taylor interjects. “People saying, ‘Yeah, Haribo thrash, it’s like totally great’. I like inventing band names as well.” Swinney nonchalantly throws in a suggestion. “Boozewolves...”
“Yeah, Boozewolves, they’re my favourite band,” nods Taylor. “And Caged Virgins.”
“But 'Haribo thrash' almost works,” Scott chimes in. “It’s almost a weird nostalgia thing, which is why I guess Cokefloat! works as well.”
It certainly does; last year PAWS secured themselves a deal with FatCat Records, the illustrious home of a strong Scottish contingent which includes The Twilight Sad, We Were Promised Jetpacks and formerly Frightened Rabbit. But for the band, it was the label’s punk alumni, like No Age and Welcome, which inspired them most about working with the Brighton label. A chance meeting with label founder Alex Knight following a gig at the annual goNorth industry showcase motivated the band to unleash their favoured method of promotional activity – sending countless emails.
“We met him in a pub in Inverness, and we were properly fucking steaming, just talking to him for ages,” says Taylor, smiling at the hazy memory. “He described us as being like an ‘unfinished Male Bonding’. Later, we thought: ‘Fuck it, we’ll just email him. But then me and Josh went through a phase of being in our flat pissed and emailing record labels, asking if they wanted to release our album.” And what kind of responses were they getting? “Like, none. And then FatCat said ‘yeah, okay.’ We just brazenly email people. They’re a really supportive label, though, they’ve allowed us to do exactly what we wanted to do, and they’ve given us the tools to achieve that.”
The primary advantage that FatCat gave the band was access to a floating recording studio on the River Thames. There, they spent ten days in January with former Test Icicle Rory Attwell recording what would become their debut. The end result is a hugely enjoyable rush of buzz saw riffs and energised vocals, all anchored by a robust and combative rhythm section.
But this is strictly not nu-grunge or throwaway punk. This is a record that charms when its subtle humour reveals itself, while many other songs are genuinely affecting. In the outstanding opening track, Catherine 1956, Taylor sings in plain terms about experiencing the loss of his mother to cancer last year, a devastating tale that concludes with her telling her son: “Do something with your life and get out of this town.”
Taylor admits that he was prepared to be asked about the song and its subject, and doesn’t mind discussing it candidly. “If I’m willing to put this out there on a record then I expect to be asked about it,” he says confidently, with a hint of sadness. “It doesn’t upset me. If anything it makes me happy, as I get to share my experience with that particular subject matter. If even one person got something from it, I’d feel happy about that. It’s not like we started the band and I wanted to write loads of emotional material.
“We had the band and then this shit thing happened, and the band was all I had, so it was the
natural way to deal with it. My mum was ill but she kept telling me to focus on the band. It was like a real positive force for her. She was saying: ‘I don’t want you sitting about on your arse in the Highlands doing nothing, when you could be playing gigs with your friends.’”
Others might have hesitated in baring their emotions in such a public fashion, but for Taylor it’s what sets him apart as a songwriter. He insists he never wavers when it comes to tackling an issue in his lyrics, no matter how painful. “Once I have the idea in my head, then it happens. I don’t sit around and think about subjects. If I’m happy or pissed off about something, any sort of emotion about anything, I’ll end up writing something down.”
“Like hunger?” asks Swinney, grinning. Taylor flashes a smile. “Yeah, I need to write a song about being hungry.” Scott chips in “Or ambition? That’s a song that could be used in a Rocky-style montage.”
“That’s our second record. Hunger and Ambition,” Taylor affirms. “We’ve never had any major ambitions other than to be able to play music and continue to enjoy it. The first time we went to London was to do a session for BBC 6. The BBC in Scotland hadn’t even replied to the loads of emails I had sent them. Not many bands at our stage would even have done that. I remember when we got back; we felt that we could do anything.
“It’s all about having fun,” he offers in conclusion. “Josh always says that the idea of a really hard working band, who have been touring for years, should be our aspiration. We want to be as self-reliant as we can be.” By the time you read this, PAWS will already have completed a European tour supporting Japandroids, and will be gearing up for their own UK headline tour. Not bad for a bunch of “slackahs.”