by Margaret Chrystall
MAYBE if Morrissey had watched PAWS’ Owl Talons Clenching My Heart video – documenting the slog of driving across America and gigging on a shoestring – he’d have remembered.
And left them alone.
But though Dalston to Scotland is a long way, as Tain’s Phillip Taylor comments in lyrics from PAWS latest album, Tain to LA suburb Santa Ana is even further.
And the bully boy tactics of diva-esque Morrissey and his entourage in trying to shut down a PAWS sold out gig because it was happening near a Morrissey one, saw Phillip’s outraged response ignite the web.
Though the band is now officially based in Glasgow, Phillip and fellow Tain friend and band member Josh Swinny plus Orkney via Inverness bassist Ryan Drever – who joined them this year – are more often found travelling from gig to gig across America.
But last May they were on their way to the next performance when the venue-owner got in touch to say the gig wasn’t happening.
Phillip remembers: “We were en route to a show , we’re making a couple of hundred dollars a night that we use to eat and get to the next place. We live OK. We’re not in poverty but we’re not rich, we’re getting by.
"But we need those fees every night for our budget. So to get a phone all like we did two hours away from the venue, ‘Yeah, the show’s off'. Well no, it’s like we’ve wasted a lot of money on getting there.
"We'd just put a lot of money in the gas tank to get here. ‘We’re coming we’re doing the show’.
"The promoter kept saying he didn’t want us to play to the point where he was saying “Really, don’t come here!’. We were infuriated by that so we were just going to go.
"And then I posted something online and being in America, I can’t have 3G on because I get huge bills. So I turn the 3G off , but I put it on for a second, posted this thing, turned my 3G off, then within five minutes I had a phone call from our publicist who was like ‘What did you do?’.
"He’d had all these media people contacting him and asking for a statement. My post had been shared 50,000 times in something like half an hour and it just got so out of control.
“It’s so weird, we just wanted to play our show, then all of a sudden you have the NME, Pitchfork, the Independent, the New York Times, the LA Weekly going ‘PAWS disses Morrissey’ and when we got to the show there were so many people there.
“The show had already been sold out which was one of the reasons we had wanted to make it happen.
“The American band We Are Scientists were on tour and they were there to see us and we don’t live round the corner, so we don’t want to let anyone down.
“It was so out of control. We were threatened by the tour manager, literally in the flesh, when we got there and were locked out of the room.
“This guy was trying to say that we’d never work in music again.
“We just said nothing except ‘You are making this so much worse!’.
“We are smart and we have good ethics, so as soon as that show finished, we posted the full honest truth of everything that happened that day. And that was all we did. We were done with it, we were completely over it. We didn’t retweet one thing we didn’t repost one thing.
“I can think of a million bands that would have used that to up their profile, but that is the last thing we want.
"But I’m totally over it, I don’t care, it’s just the total audacity of denying it and it’s just a case of who is bigger, who is more famous, whose word goes against who? These three Scottish punk guys from Inverness or Steven Morrissey?”
The gig itself was “fantastic”, according to Phillip.
“A lot of people think PAWS hate Morrissey, but I don’t hate anyone, there is enough bullsh*t in the world.
I’m a Smiths fan! We just stand up for ourselves. I was worried, pissed off and we just wanted to play our gig. He’s a multi-millionaire. We were a new band.
“It’s the first media sh*t-storm we had to deal with. I had to turn my phone off for four days.”
PAWS new album Youth Culture Forever has a strange noise at the start of the title track - is it a gun being charged?
Phillip sounds appalled at the thought, then remembers it’s a Dictaphone used as a mike by their sound engineer Jeremy for what is one of the rawest songs on the album.
Phillip revealed someof the songs on the album documents a break-up that he had to postpone expressing while first album Cokefloat! took the live spotlight on tour.
“I was with someone for a long time and that finished during a period of time when I didn’t really get to focus on how I was feeling about it and being the fool that I am, the way I tend to deal with these things, I write songs about it," he revealed.
“So a lot of the songs on there are about that, not all of them. But quite a few are."
He is uncomfortable with revealing too much about the lyrical content.
“It’s for the people listening - it’s their crossword puzzle - to figure out.”
There’s an album of acoustic versions of the songs just out, Phillip is doing some solo performances of the songs and he returns to America in the autumn to work briefly with some other musicians.
“July has been the first month when we haven’t had a tour. We’ve got some gigs coming up between now and October. I’ve got some solo shows.
“We’re going back to America for two months in September and I’m going to live in New York for a month, and do a recording project with two of my friends in Baltimore in November and then come back here to do a European tour in December and have a break for Christmas."
There's been a lot of time spent in America, so is Glasgow still the base?
“I don’t have a time limit on my time in Glasgow. I think all of us are keen to move on to other places. We’re in a band, none of us wants to be tied, none of us were born there. We love the families where we come from.
“I have my Nana who is the most special person to me in the world, she lives in Tain still, she is my reason to still love going there.
“I think all of us would love to branch out and have great adventures in other places and keep moving on and doing records.
“Over travelling, we’ve made a lot of friends in other music scenes and with bands in other cities where it would be easy and comfortable for us to be part of things.
"We tour so much anyway that it doesn’t really matter where we are based.
“I think we all love touring so much. I think the three of us have a general consensus that to spend your life and your younger days, what better to do than tour the world, see new places, meet new people, go and find what life is like for them and get a really broadened perspective .
“We’re really into all the learning that comes with touring. We learn so much about different places and how the politics and each state in America how they are changing and it’s like that everywhere we go, even in Europe. These things are an education for us.”
And it sounds as if, for many of the intensely low-lit, strangely early mornings (for a touring band used to late nights) that are captured in the images on that Owl Talons Clenching My Heart video, it’s tour manager Brendan that PAWS - and us - have to thank.
Phillip laughed: “That video was made from the November tour. We were doing back to back America tours and that one went to the West Coast for the first time.
“That was our third American tour, but the first one where we got to the West Coast and the video is good for a lot of our friends back here who have heard our stories of what we get up to when we are over there.
“And it proves how great our tour manager Brendan is. He’s a superhero," said Phillip.
“A lot of bands tend to roll up to where they are on tour and then play, stay in a hotel and move out. So they don’t see much.
“But Brendan is amazing. He will kick us out of bed really early in the morning to make sure we get to see things.
“He does this amazing thing where me and Josh or any of us might be talking about something we have heard about a certain city, a total passing conversation, not even suggesting we could go there.
“We’ll be rolling into said city and Brendan will be ‘OK, you know that place you were talking about earlier, we’re going there’.
“I guess that was most of what that Owl video was, places we ended up going Brendan had organised. We’ve pretty much ended up seeing the whole country.
“I feel that a lot of bands don’t get to see it in the way that he has let us. We tend not to stay in hotels and motels because it keeps costs down. We tend to sleep with people we know in the city, friends.
“We crash on floors, so then you get up early in the morning because they are going to work and we go and get some coffee.
“I think that video is just a lot of cities and all the stuff we did that time around.
"That was the second time Ryan went with us. It was cool. It was when we went to the Badlands and saw San Francisco and LA. That video is just a lot of that and what Brendan made happen.”
Phillip explained that before the new album was even made, they were discussing ideas for videos with Alex, who runs the American side of record label Fat Cat.
“He was going ‘I think you guys should just keep making videos yourselves’.
"I think he thought it was a waste of time and money making music videos when all the videos to date were made on our own and did OK anyway.
“He gave us a nice camera and left it up to us to come up with ideas for videos which was definitely a good thing.
“So we just have this camera which comes on tour with us and we film absolutely everything that happens.
“One of us will have it out somewhere on shows and always running. We bought a hard drive so we could dump everything on it at the end of the day so we could have a clean memory card.”
And that real life, almost diary of band life in America makes up most of the Owl Talons video.
“It was ‘show all the places we were going playing every single night’ and I suppose that was the idea behind it
“And for us it was like showing our friends what the band was doing, the distances we were doing on little money to just spread word of our band. How we worked really hard and stuff like that.
“So I think it’s also about the friendship of the band, we spend the majority of our lives doing. I liked it for that reason.
“And it was really nice making it, laughing when we were looking back at some of the silly stuff.”
Phillip likes the idea it’s like a tour diary.
“I’m glad if people do see it like that because we don’t have any element of rock star to us at all. I think it’s because we’re all from Inverness and Tain and Ryan’s from Orkney originally. Just because we are all from the Highlands, we don’t really think of ourselves as mysterious rock people who do fancy videos.”
Maybe not. But as well as finding their music featured on Made In Chelsea – and more happily in Phillip’s view, a new video game that also teaches people to play guitar, they’re getting a few famous fans. Including the odd PAWS hero.
“We went to Dischord Records at the end of the tour and met Ian McKaye [of Fugazi].
"He is our flagship guy for our morals and ethics and we got invited to hang out with him.”
But the band isn’t 100 per cent with attention from the yet …
“It’s freaking us out,” laughed Phillip.
“In the last fortnight the actor Simon Pegg has been saying he really likes the band, Mark Hoppen from Blink 182 too - stuff we would never expect.
“We never think anyone likes the band, but we know people like us. We always end up overwhelmed. We never think people are totally into it. We are just humbled.”
Losing Matthew Scott as the band's bassist might have been a problem, but when looking around for a replacement Ryan Drever (No Island and Garden Of Elks) was the obvious choice.
Phillip said: "I’ve known him since we were 16 when we were both in bands in Inverness.
"It was a small scene, I met him when I was in an Inverness band and he was in a band that basically had a big fanbase in Inverness.
"We both did a gig together in Annan of all places and I ended up talking to Ryan outside.
"In this incredibly positive way he has he came over and we just instantly bonded.
"I had never met anyone in the Highlands who liked the same music. A lot of stuff I didn’t know anyone else liked.
"After that conversation, it spurred me into not being in the band I was before, not his fault or anything. But it kind of opened something up in me to realise there were a lot of other people in the world and I didn’t want to be in Tain.
"I loved the band I was in and I loved those guys, but I just wanted to move around a bit because I just knew it wasn’t 100 per cent what I wanted to do.
"But I really do remember that conversation with Ryan vividly."
Ryan has also been a music writer across Scotland.
Phillip said: "It’s just funny that he’s now a band member because he was the first one to give us a positive review, he followed our band from day one.
"All of our first shows. He even ended up singing with us, at a couple of our shows on one of our songs.
"We used to get rides up to festivals in Inverness with him. So we have always met Ryan, like ships in the night. And we have always got on really well.
"When Matt decided he wanted to move on and work on new projects, me and Josh just instantly wanted to get Ryan because he was perfect - in his mentality, his taste, his ethics, the way the band played and he just seemed a perfect fit."
The band was in Glasgow at the time.
Phillip continued: "Late that night after Matt had left, Ryan just walked into Sleazy’s. He'd just come in for a drink by chance - and two weeks’ later he came to America with us."
Phillip tells a story to show ho up for playing anytime anywhere Ryan is.
"He will play anytime!
"We were in Denver recently doing an interview at a radio station, just outside the venue we were going to be playing in and it was so surreal.
"This guy burst into our conversation – we thought he was a street guy or something – but he suddenly said ‘Do any of you guys play bass? My bass player is stuck in traffic, we’re having a band rehearsal and desperately need a low end?'
"We asked what kind of music and he said 'Hard rock covers'.
"And Ryan just said 'I’m in!'
"I just remember that interview then going into this weird basement space where these guys in their 40s were playing deathcore.
"Ryan will play any time he’s needed - he’s a genius.
"Perfect for the group!"
PAWS play Belladrum's Hothouse Stage on Friday at 1.30pm.