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Badlands: Priests talk creativity when “Nothing Feels Natural”

Take a heavy dose of Talking Heads, add the focus of Fugazi, with a hint of Portishead’s aura and you’ve almost got Priests

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Every man and his dog knows rock is in free fall. But is it contemporary rock’s lack of direction or the public’s rigid demand to hear music which hasn’t dominated the airwaves for the previous half-century? Perhaps both. Whichever way you look at it, the Young Thugs, Travis Scotts, and Lil Yachtys of the industry have confidently seized the reigns as today’s “rock stars”. So, where does this leave rock music? Well, there’s plenty who still cling to the romanticism of the past. And then there’s Priests. Since 2011, Katie Alice Greer, Taylor Mulitz, GL Jaguar, and Daniele Daniele have made fans and contemporaries alike rethink their game plan. Their debut record, Nothing Feels Natural—which was released via the band’s own Sister Polygon Records—is already one of the most acclaimed records of 2017 and it’s no surprise why. Take a heavy dose of Talking Heads, add the focus of Fugazi, with a hint of Portishead’s aura and you’re almost in their ballpark. But it’s 2017 and being a rock band from Washington DC doesn’t come without a fair share of pigeonholing. I had a chat with Priests about such labelling, the meaning behind their oblique songwriting, and the importance of band dynamic.


Vince: Has the sudden exposure caught Priests off-guard, or is it the result of years grinding away at your music?

Katie: We knew that we wanted to own our own music and release it ourselves. We knew we wanted to sound a certain way focus on certain subjects, and we recognised that would probably take a little longer.

Daniele: I think we were very deliberate in how we were trying to take our time, record this album and make it something we’re really proud of.

With Nothing Feels Natural, I feel there’s an overarching theme of chaos and things being out of order. Are these ideas you wanted to explore?

Katie: We didn’t want to make a record where every song sounds the same. What the fuck is the point of that? There was a sense of purpose with the sequencing of the record. A couple of times I’ve seen people say, “Is Priests even one band? All these songs sound different!”

Was changing styles song-to-song something the band had to work towards or second nature for you as artists?

Katie: I think that’s just a little bit of our personality as a band. We’re all people who have eclectic tastes in music. And it doesn’t feel sudden when you’re writing the song. I think if you listen to a record it does feel like, “Woah! That’s a jump from one to the other!” But you don’t write a song in two minutes. You labour over it and think about it. You’re allowed to dwell in the feeling and sound of that song for a long time. But if all your songs sound the same, you’d be dwelling in the same space for a long time. I feel like I’d get cabin fever.

Do you think maintaining a sense of volatility is imperative – not just for Priests – but for all artists in 2017?

Daniele: One thing I noticed about the record—that you brought up—was the feeling of being on edge. I was kind of laughing to myself thinking, “Well, that’s kind of the personality of the four of us.” I think you should have a sense of urgency and purpose, but I don’t necessarily think you should always have that on-edge feeling, which Nothing Feels Natural has a lot of the time. 

Do you think Priests is constantly referred to as a ‘political band’ simply because you’re from DC?

Katie: It’s because of a bunch of silly little things that may or may not influence our band. Anything has a political dimension to it. Anything can be talked about in political terms. It also accelerates this thing that I’ve noticed a lot where images of being “political” are commodified and that’s very trendy. If there are certain subjects we’re talking about in our music, we want people to engage with it on a critical level.

In 2017, solo artists seem to be the mainstream norm, whereas bands are perceived as an anomaly. Do you think it’s important for Priests to maintain an image of group dynamic rather than a group of individuals?

Katie: I think the way we operate is un-endingly frustrating at times, but it’s also incredibly rewarding. It’s the solution to a lot of difficulties in the world; maintain a sense of community, keeping open communication and holding each other accountable.

Daniele: There’s something very special that comes out of a process where you foreground the equal input of four people. I think there’s a tendency in our society to cover up the group labour that goes into things because of capitalism. One of the cool things about this band is that it’s not just us. It’s Kevin and Hugh who recorded the album. It’s Mark, it’s Janelle, it’s Luke and everyone who’s played on it. They’re part of our community and they’ve kept us going. Sadly, it’s a narrative that’s not told enough.

Taylor: You did say at the beginning that it seems like an anomaly, but I don’t think that’s because it is. I think most bands function this way and I think there’s a cult of personality that’s constantly sold to us. It’s easier to write about one person than four.

A lot of people will say guitar music is stagnant. Where does that leave you guys? Will the band keep pushing its sound or allow it to develop organically?

Katie: I feel like it’s so important for us to keep trying to push it, expand it and make something that’s interesting and fun. You can approach it from everybody coming in with their instruments and jamming and seeing what happens, or sit and conceptualise what you want it to sound like. Both of those approaches are equally cool but they’re different.

Daniele: One word I always come back to with Priests—and this is gonna sound cheesy—but it’s earnest. It always comes from a place of trying with as much honesty as possible. It’s about thinking, “I’m doing what I feel is right. I’m trying to create something.”

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