Paw reclaims its title

Lawrence band rises from the ashes of success

By Geoff Harkness

Thursday, September 28, 2000

For many Lawrence music fans, Paw was to be the next Pearl Jam. Swept up in a wave of post-Seattle grunge signings and propelled by an unforgettable first single, "Jesse," the Lawrence quartet seemed poised for nothing less than worldwide success. Unfortunately, the ride proved a short and tumultuous one as the band suffered the sort of trials and tribulations faced by myriad up and coming acts. After numerous delays and false starts, a newly invigorated Paw has returned to claim its position atop the local rock hierarchy. This time, it's for all the right reasons.

"We got back together because Grant and I like making music and do it well together," vocalist Mark Hennessy says during a recent interview.

A strange place

The retooled Paw (Hennessy, guitarist Grant Fitch, drummer Kyle Hudson and bassist Jason Magierowski) has just released its third effort, the seven-song "Home Is a Strange Place To Be," after a hiatus of nearly five years.

"Some of it was recorded two years ago," Hennessy explains, "and some of it was done six months ago. We started doing it ourselves at a studio in Lecompton. It was supposed to be demos for our next record with A&M (Records). Then A&M went defunct. We went through kind of a time of trial by fire and kind of collapsed. We got back together and listened to things. Grant had been sending this stuff out the whole time, and we got a call back on the day we talked about doing it again."

The new record (distributed by Koch) has Hennessy itching to return to the studio to work on new material, of which there is plenty.

"It's tough to describe," he says of the new tunes, "but in some ways it's a more simple direction and in some ways it's a more multi-layered, complex direction. I'm a better singer now, Grant's a better guitar player now, and we're both better songwriters. It seems like we're able to suggest more without explicitly coming out and saying it."

Paw's 1993 debut "Dragline" proved to be a seminal release for the Lawrence scene, putting the tiny town on the short list of "New Seattle's" that were all the rage at the time.

"We went around the world in less than 80 days," Hennessy says, describing Paw's early years. "The experiences that I've had are awesome. I had a good time for a long time, and I got to see some of the good aspects of the business. I feel happy with what I've been able to achieve in Paw, but I'll never feel satisfied. I have more in me."

The band's second effort "Death To Traitors" was underpromoted, leading to disappointing national sales. After that, Paw became a non-priority for A&M.

"There are people who made really good livings off of doing nothing," Hennessy says with a smile. "The A&R people we called them 'At a Restaurant' people because all they seemed to do was take people to restaurants. It was probably a nice gig to have, and I probably would've enjoyed it, but it was unnecessary."

Eventually, A&M was purchased by the Seagrams Corporation and folded into other record companies.

"Seagrams bought it and dismantled it," Hennessy explains. "Some acts went to Interscope, some went to Polygram. The sad fact of the matter is that we're still under contract for at least one more record for A&M. I don't know what happened to that. I don't know if there's still some legal odds and ends that need to be tied up."

Paw pretty much folded at the same time as the label. Hennessy, a native of Kansas City, Kan., quit the band and headed for the Big Apple.

"I kind of went crazy," he says. "I packed up my truck one day and moved to New York. I was in a band up there and did production work for films and TV shows. I really liked it. I kind of miss the Thai food once in a while, but I'm really happy to be back in Kansas."

Different setting

So, how have things changed since the heady days of Paw past?

"When the band was first starting, there were a lot of good rock 'n' roll bands in town," says Hennessy. "We had good forms of every music good reggae music, good jam bands. Every genre had a rich mine to draw from and there was always something good to see. People took it really seriously, too. Nowadays, there are fewer bands and fewer of them have that sort of eye-on-the-prize attitude. When we were doing it, their intention was to make it as a band. Now, it seems like there's more hobby farmers out there.

"People make fun of grunge, but when you think about the talent that was coming out at that time Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Tad, Afghan Whigs say what you want, but it was good rock 'n' roll. I think a lot of it was heartfelt and had a sincerity that gave it a more poignant nature. Now it's hard for me to identify with aspects of bands that are popular these days."

Touring to unfamiliar places is part of Paw's game plan for the future. Hennessy, now 31, couldn't be more excited.

"I remember when I was 21 and thinking, 'Man, I don't know if I want to be 30 years old and putting on leather pants and screaming in teen-age kids faces.' But it seems like we've found a really nice rhythm with what we're doing, in terms of our personal lives and with the band. When we first got together, I was shooting for loudness, as opposed to singing now. The things that influence us come from a broader base than they did before. It used to be pretty much classic and hard rock. Now we draw from a greater variety of influences and we're not as angry as we used to be. Life has been good to us and the community really has been good to us. The time that we take to go about things gives us a little bit of breathing room. All those things have made it much more fun. I feel kind of like the Phoenix that's risen from the ashes."