PAWS have always been the hustling types. The Glasgow-based trio’s chief songwriter Phillip Taylor has a special knack for writing booming power-pop anthems from the brink of despair and heartache. Despite garnering a steady following over three albums and touring with the likes of Japandroids, No Age, and The Breeders, PAWS never got caught in the slipstream of ubiquitous hype. Taylor, drummer Josh Swinney, and bass player John Bonnar share a love for punk rock and a burning wanderlust, your basic pedigrees for risking your own sanity to become a band.

“PAWS are such a small band,” Taylor emphasizes. “There’s this weird illusion people have that we aren’t because, admittedly, we have done some crazy shit. Loads of tours, loads of experiences that I, as a kid from the Highlands would have laughed at in disbelief. But we’re just a small tiny fucking microscopic band. I’m just amazed that anyone wants to talk about [the songs]. The band is so strange to me. People who were influential to us just take interest in what we do. I feel that if that happens to other bands, they would just blow up. When Mark Hoppus got involved with the band, that was such an amazing experience, because he was such a lovely guy who simply loved the band. Nothing has changed after No Grace, and I am so thankful for that.”

PAWS’ fourth LP Your Church On My Bonfire takes on a more mellow, more deliberate approach, a stark sonic departure from the bottled energy of No Grace. Nevertheless, Taylor stubbornly turns a deaf ear to the notion that PAWS are somehow “maturing” or blunting the straight arrow of their arresting lyricism. “The whispering might as well be bellowing”, Taylor laments on ‘The Slow Sprint’ likely the most hushed, unapologetically pretty song PAWS has ever recorded. Your Church On My Bonfire reflects on a period of mourning and heartache like a freshly opened wound.

Taylor lost both his father and his close friend Scott Hutchinson (of Frightened Rabbit) and on top of that, ended a relationship on mutual terms. Not much reason to beat around the bush: he wrote the album’s lurching opener ‘What We Want’ on the bus right after his father’s funeral. “Maybe there’s this Freudian subconscious-thing happening that I don’t know about,” Taylor sighs with wry melancholy. “I guess death has just been such a big part of my life. Just non-stop death. There’s always something lingering, whether it’s the physical forms of losing someone, situations changing, time periods ending. I rarely feel like I’m beginning something. I always feel like I’m ending something.”

Up till now, PAWS have always felt like a call-to-arms kind of band. The subject matter you sing about is deeply personal, yet you always blow them up with punchy refrains. On Your Church On My Bonfire, you seem to slow down the pace, let your thoughts breathe and spiral more into introspection.

I’m aware that Your Church On My Bonfire is a completely different record from the previous PAWS albums, but all of our albums are slightly different. I think our first three albums were pretty personal too. Straight off the bat with Cokefloat! and Youth Culture Forever, there was a lot of stuff that was completely and utterly about my life, my family… my mother passing away. When you pick up a guitar that’s what you immediately want to do: sing about your experiences.

Working on No Grace, I completely had enough of that. At the time, I didn’t like how much of myself I revealed. I think people viewed me as a certain type of person after baring all my thoughts about the things that hurt me or made me happy for the last eight, nine fucking years. I guess that’s what all my favorite songwriters have done, to an even bigger extent than myself. Even doing that just slightly on the first PAWS records kind of messed with my head. But after No Grace, I realised I wasn’t being who I really was. I was lying to myself. But still, I really like No Grace, we just tried to do something different. And it had to happen maybe for Your Church On My Bonfire to happen. Obviously, when we have a new record out, everyone says that’s their favorite. The band could end today, there could be the last shows we ever do, and I’d be totally happy and content. Because this record finally captures how I wanted PAWS to sound. We finally got it right.

Because Your Church On My Bonfire sounds so sonically different, did you consider making this a solo offering, instead of a PAWS record?

This was always going to be a PAWS record. But I did try things I haven’t done before. From the minute we finished No Grace, I didn’t write a song for almost a year. And it was the longest period since starting the band that I didn’t even think about writing. At points, I felt like I didn’t want to do it anymore. Then something kind of sparked again. I was doing lots and lots of solo shows and using that as a means to test myself to write more songs. But more so, to push myself to better my craft as a songwriter and as a singer. It's easy to hide behind amps and drums. If I saw videos of us playing live I always felt so embarrassed, because I never felt good enough at my instrument. Doing solo shows would force me to have to get better because there is nothing to hide behind. I realized how hard it is to win people over when it’s just you and a guitar unless you’re incredible.

So you have to become better at the elements that make up your schtick at that moment. That was a big reason why the new album ended up going in the direction it went. But I always wanted the band to sound the way it sounds now. But I never had the guts, but I never thought my voice was strong enough to have it ‘up there’ at the forefront. Without distortion or singing in some crappy microphone to give my voice a punk-like sound-effect. And without having the guitar parts overdriven and distorted to hide my playing.

I just never had the guts to not do that. I remember doing the vocals for Youth Culture Forever, I tried to sing the first song clean. After a couple of takes, I was in tears, basically, because I just couldn’t do it. It wasn’t good enough yet. I just sounded very awkward, out of tune and measly. I got so upset, so we instantly put distortion on the vocals. I ended up singing through one of those 90s toy things. So for Your Church On My Bonfire, I finally gathered the confidence to just sing properly. To think more about serving the songs. If I was going to write music that was incredibly meaningful and go all the way, it had to be good, it had to be audible. The songs needed to serve the content.

I caught a glimpse last year when you opened solo for Japanese Breakfast mere days after your friend Scott Hutchinson passed away. It was really amazing to be a part of, even though the circumstances were undoubtedly pretty dour.

Thanks. I was really lucky people were already asking me to do solo shows. I just started doing them all the time recently. I mean, I did a handful of solo shows before, but they would just be awful because I would be singing and playing my guitar and singing the same way I would be doing with the full band. And that doesn’t work in an acoustic version, it just sounds fucking stupid. So I started asking myself: why am I doing that? Because, no matter what album, all the PAWS songs have been written the same way as on Your Church On My Bonfire. But when it comes to the studio, they just get changed to the point where I don’t have the guts to slow them down. I always lose the element of the actual melodies, structures and chord changes, because I was anxious to speed things up. Playing solo forces me to be more deliberate about what I’ve been thinking, the message I’m trying to deliver. A little more heart, a little more ‘less is more’.

Did slowing down musically also coalesce with slowing down your life?

I don’t know how to answer that question. I know people will think this record is a bit slower, or maybe a little lighter, but I still think these songs kick in the same way as any other PAWS song. It’s not a Bob Dylan record with just voice and guitar. It’s still a record that rocks, just in a different way than what we’ve been doing in the past. Rather than just thrashing about and not thinking too much. There’s a little more consideration, to add more of a power pop element to it. I’ve always wanted to write pop songs that deliver powerful hooks.

By slowing down a bit and using that bite more with clean tones and instrumentation, I realised you can still make a big impression. Rather than getting lost. But it’s still an upbeat record, even though it’s also a sad record. [laughs] A lot of people have compared it to R.E.M. so far, and that’s the biggest compliment I have ever received about my music. Over the biggest period of my life, that band has meant the most to me. That’s not something people usually know about me or Josh (Swinney, drums). R.E.M. was the first music I ever remembered hearing as a child.

On ‘Watering Hole’ you mention Kennoway Drive, your own neighbourhood. There’s a lot of Glasgow, a lot of Scotland-references on this LP. Probably more so than any other PAWS record.

I’ve lived in Glasgow for ten years, which terrifies me. I mean, where the fuck did those ten years go!? That’s what I keep thinking. Obviously, it doesn’t feel like 10 years, because we have traveled so much. I’ve focused all my attention on this band, and Glasgow has been just a base. But when I started to think about the city more, it really is my home. I’m originally from the Highlands of Scotland, which also plays a gigantic part on this record. For the last ten years, I felt like I was running away from Scotland because I thought I hated it. I thought like I didn’t connect to it, and that I didn’t belong.

I don’t know what happened in the last three years; something just clicked with me. And I realise I wasn’t letting myself be who I really was. I’ve always tried to be true to myself. But PAWS have never recorded an album in Scotland. I really can’t explain it… it just became this overriding factor when we got around to making Your Church On My Bonfire. I wanted to make the album here and I wanted it to be a Scottish album. And that meant I needed to consider all the experiences I’ve had, the things that shaped me and changed me. Those places are the Highlands of Scotland and Glasgow, which are completely different places.

A great deal of the album was written in the Highlands. I lived in the Highlands for eighteen years. I had already moved to Glasgow when my mother died. But when my mother was still alive, I could still go back to the town I grew up in. I knew I could always come over for the weekend and stay in this place. After she passed, there was no reason to stay there, so you almost feel like a tourist in your own town. You go there and you have to rent a place to stay or sleep over on a friend’s couch. And that’s really strange in a town that you grew up in, a place that created your whole personality. You don’t feel like you belong there anymore. Even though my grandmother still lives there: she’s 94 years old and she lives in an apartment complex for the elderly. But that’s not a real home, so I still don’t have anywhere to stay. My brother also lived up there, but in a whole other area.

So I was desperate to reconnect with the Highlands because I love it so much. I miss it. I used to think I wanted to run away from it the last fucking eight to ten years. I just realised how sick I was with being around the city, the people in it and all the bustle. I really missed the quiet. To be outdoors, to camp and to swim in lochs. And to walk around for days.


Your Church On My Bonfire is out now, via Ernest Jenning Record Co..