Interview with Burnt Paw: “I’m just trying to look and listen”

“Man, I got a soundcheck!” Burnt Paw declares happily on stage at Teviot Underground, with a wry smile to the audience, amused by the contrast to the ‘plug in and play’ gigs which make up the larger part of his live performances at the moment. Whilst you could be forgiven for thinking that this has always been the case for Paw, you would be highly mistaken, and this is something which becomes clear during my interview with him. A former guitarist in a post-rock band who has sought to strip away the musical equipment, Paw – or Burnt Paw, or Burnt, or Andy – is an artist, it seems, on a well established but continuing journey.

Paw’s name itself contains the essence of this journey: it is a name derived from what Paw calls “the inevitable growing pains” of the move from years of using a plectrum, to playing finger-style guitar. “I’d be like, fuck, one hand is bigger than the other!” he exclaims after recalling the three or four hours he’d spend busking on the streets. A friend of Paw’s, after he had told her this story, sent him a picture of animals saved from forest fires with their paws in buckets of ice. And there we have it: Burnt Paw, both a name and a description of where Paw is in his creative career.

But Paw hasn’t just stripped away the plectrums, amps, and pedals out of frustration, or a desire for aesthetic purity. “I’m not interested in minimalism for its own sake,” he declares, describing the reduced set up as something he pursued to force himself to approach song creation in a new way that didn’t rely on all the equipment he had previously used. As Paw puts it: “You either have to make your peace with ‘that is what you do, and that is where you stay,’ or you have to reinvent yourself.”

Paw clearly chose the latter path, and the result of him tearing away all the equipment are his ‘short story’ songs, which span four EPs, the latest being ‘Stolen Apples Lost Crowns’. The creation of this latest EP though, was something Paw states “was really weird, even by my standards.” Normally working in a project-based manner, scrapbooking lyrics and ideas, ‘Stolen Apples’ came about at the moment Paw abandoned a project he had been working on in the Midlands: a project based in his experience of life in North Carolina, where he had spent the previous year. He relives the moment that marked the genesis of ‘Stolen Apples’: he had sat down in his new home in Edinburgh to play one of the songs from his North Carolina project and stopped: “I just thought, this is not what I want to record; this is not what I want to do. I was in Edinburgh, I wasn’t in North Carolina, I wasn’t in the Midlands, and I wanted to pay attention to the moment I was in now.” After that, ‘Stolen Apples’ came out then and there, in a single day.

Paw’s desire for his work to be rooted in the place and time of its creation becomes more understandable as we discuss his inspirations and writing process, which are clearly inextricable from the lives being lived around him. “What is powerful, for me, is other people’s stories,” he says, “I’m just trying to look and listen. The more you do that, the more you start to see the hidden patterns that are in a place. You might just get one image that’s physically come from it; one gesture from one person, and that might spark a whole other song. But that song is rooted in something crucial; it’s rooted in the energy, the actuality of that place. My theory is that people know that when they hear the song. Somewhere in it, something is transmitted.” This, for Paw, seems to be at the very heart of what he’s seeking: a connection with people through their shared experience of life’s idiosyncrasies. At the heart of that life, “loafing around,” as he puts it, you’ll find Paw, “paying attention to the energy and the temperature and the weird stuff that’s just to one side in the space where you are,” because, for him, “that’s where the songs are.”

Image: Kiefer Holland

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