Paw: Here We Go Again

"Thereís not a lot of careerism in Paw anymore, itís just about playing music and that makes it a lot easier."

The Lawrence, Kan., band was riding a flannel rocket to Planet Grunge, but ran out of fuel somewhere along the way. Now they're back, and this time it's for the music...

By Tim McMahan

Whatever happened to Paw, the supposed next superband to emerge post-1992 from Lawrence, Kan., riding a flannel wave to grunge stardom? Well, theyíre back -- a little older, a little wiser and a little less determined to make it big.

Go back to 1992. Lawrence Ė and Omaha for that matter Ė was entering a golden age of indie-rockdom. Both towns were sporting a number of quality bands supposedly destined for fame. It was a good time to be in a punk band: Nirvana had just exploded on the punk/grunge scene with Nevermind. The major labels were busy counting their dead after an insane bidding war for New York sludge-rockers Helmet. And Paw was being courted like schoolgirl supermodels after a strong buzz developed following recording a 7-song demo.

The band decided on a 3-record deal with A&M and the next year released Dragline, their first collection of heavy-metal grunge-rock. The recording highlighted Pawís thick, fast, heavy-handed Seattle-by-way-of-Kansas-Turnpike sound. Vocalist Mark Hennessy sported a grunt/howl that had more in common with Gregg Allman than Chris Cornell.

The critics were skeptical, but before long, you couldnít escape mentions of Paw just about anywhere you went in the Midwest. It seemed as if the band was going to ride the same wave of angst as their Seattle counterparts. They hit the road, watched one of their singles chart in Australia and New Zealand, and joined the crowd of hot prospects on the stage of Englandís prestigious Reading Festival. Life was good, but thenÖ

Cut to 1995. A&M released Pawís sophomore effort, "Death to Traitors." Critics were kinder to this one, calling it a natural step forward in the bandís musical development. Unfortunately, no one else seemed to notice, and thanks to non-existent label support, sales were poor. The band hit the road again, but this time, things were very different. Paw suddenly found itself struggling to enjoy what used to be the time of their lives. The following year, the band called it quits.

"We had a hard run with the label. Weíd been together for a while. I had another band. No one wanted to do Paw. It was becoming an endless string of disappointments," says Paw guitarist Grant Fitch, adding that the break-up had nothing to do with money. "If I did this for money, I would have quit a long time ago. I think we were disappointed with each other; the relationships had gone sour."

Three quarters of Paw were in Fitchís new band, Palomar -- his brother, drummer Peter Fitch, and bassist Dan Hines. And while that band brought back their enjoyment for playing music, it wasnít enough to keep them satisfied.

"It seemed as if there was some very unfinished business," Fitch says. "I hadnít spoken to Hennessy in a long time. It was time to see what was occurring in his life and see if he was a little more together. We decided that at the very least, we wanted to finish what we started."

As a result, Paw began playing again in September 1997. They practiced five months before walking on stage for their first gig. And this Friday, Sept. 18, they roll into Knickerbockerís in Lincoln to do it again.

Fitch says the pressure felt during the first time around is off. "Thereís not a lot of careerism in Paw anymore, itís just about playing music and that makes it a lot easier," he says. "Itís fun. Iím 30 and when I go to practice, I feel like Iím 18. I donít have expectations of what this band could do anymore."

He says the band has written a number of new songs and is waiting for A&M to make some decisions before they go back into the studio. "A&M is having a real hard time in this decade getting things done. Iím hoping we get dropped," Fitch says. He explained that since Seagrams bought Polygram Ė which has principal ownership of A&M Ė the label has a completely different parent company thatís busy dropping bands and doing things to suit their business needs. "We know theyíre going to put out Sheryl Crow records, but everyone else (on the label) is in limbo."

Despite the headaches from A&M, Paw and Palomar have managed to continue releasing CDs on their own Outlaw Records. Keep the Last Bullet for Yourself is a collection of Paw rarities, covers and live performances that include a cover of Cheap Trickís "Surrender" recorded for the soundtrack to the motion picture SWF, a 1993 BBC Studio Maide Verde session of "Slowburn," and a July 1998 recording of Twisted Sisterís "Sweet Justice." Donít look for it at your local record store; the CD is only sold at Paw shows.

Meanwhile, Palomar also released a full-length this year, World Without Horses. With Grant Fitch at lead vocals, the band sports a gentler and more melodic sound than Paw, owing a lot to Bob Mould and Sugar.

Will Paw strike gold this time Ďround? Fitch wonít say.

"Over the last couple years, Iíve had to reevaluate why I play music at all," he says. "I have a family, a day job and Iím trying to make a band run. Itís really hard. Weíre not a bunch of 20-year-old kids with beer money on our minds. Still, itís worth it to keep going."

Printed in The Reader September 10, 1998.

Copyright © 1998 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.