This article was first published to The National Student on October 19th 2017
Washington, D.C. (post) punk band Priests really do feel like the kind of band that the polarised, post-truth world of 2017 needs.
Fiercely DIY (releasing their music through their label Sister Polygon) and tapping squarely into the Washington tradition of politicised punk they wrap their messages in music that is full of as much melody as it is riffs and intense hooks.
In the best post-punk tradition they play with the expectations of the genre, contradicting seriousness with an immense sense of fun.
After bubbling away on the underground for years 2017 saw the release of their debut full-length album Nothing Feels Natural, which immediately became one of the most vital releases of the year. Priests are the complete package for what we need right now.
Currently out on the road, once again, across the UK we managed to catch a quick, but enlightening, chat with Katie Alice Greer and Daniele Daniele from the band.
In your own words, explain what Priests is?
Greer: We’re a band, it’s pretty simple. We are musicians who write music together.
You’ve been to the UK a few times now in the last few years. What venues or cities have been your favourites? Any surprises?
Katie Alice Greer: It’s just fun here, it’s fun to get a breath of outside-the-USA fresh air. I don’t mean to sound melodramatic but the vibe at home is rough these days as you might imagine, I know in terms of government it’s no better here but it’s fun to be in a place with a different set of problems maybe, ha.
It’s interesting that the UK’s relationship with the police is different than ours. They don’t carry guns here, right? So perhaps people feel more like they do “serve and protect” to some extent, and are frustrated that budget cuts have diminished police presence. In the states, the police protect white supremacy, they murder people of colour with no consequence, they’re a horrible militarised presence in our country. Trump’s administration actually lifted the ban on police using military weapons, so I’m not exaggerating when I say “militarised,” anyway it seems like the UK’s relationship with cops is somewhat different, please correct me if I’m wrong. Cities I love are Manchester, Leeds, Edinburgh, Glasgow, I also just love driving through the country in general, love being here.
As an American band visiting the UK how do you view this country, and our political climate?
Greer: It was thrilling to be here over the summer during the snap election, I got a lot of joy out of meeting so many people energised by the Labour party organising. That image of Trump and May holding hands seems to sum it up well though, right?
I know plenty of cities here are struggling with housing crises and poverty. It was also horrifying to be around here after the Grenfell Tower fire, and seeing how little the government took care of survivors afterwards. We have more in common than different, our governments are racist war mongers who don’t care about people. They are essentially corporations not beholden to any kind of accountability beyond our own collective ability to organise and make them do their job.
Question for Daniele – in an interview with LA Record you said you saw genre as partly a tool of racial segregation. Could you elaborate on that at all?
Daniele Daniele: In America, I don’t know about here or elsewhere, the charts used to be separated by race. Records by black people literally used to be labelled ‘race records’ cause it was just assumed white people wouldn’t want to listen to them, which was obviously not true.
The pop hits at the time, were essentially white people playing black music (turning blues into rock, Elvis, etc). But over time it got more subtle, rather than calling them race records they called them r&b or blues, but they often weren’t different musically than a lot of the music on pop radio, but genre became a ‘delicate’ way to code something as black or white. It became a tool of ‘post race’ society used to reify racial and economic segregation, while also denying it was doing so.
You’ve talked (or been asked) endlessly about the politics of the music industry and your own records, as well as staying aware of your own advantages. How do you work to “check” your different privileges?
Greer: It’s more appropriate to say we’ve been asked endlessly about these things, yes. I often wonder why people aren’t asking Vampire Weekend or Lil Peep or Cloud Nothings or Justin Bieber or Mac DeMarco or Ed Sheerhan or Whitney or Beach Fossils or Real Estate, any number of white boy bands these questions?
Why ask women, people of colour, why ask marginalised groups to endlessly explain systemic social infrastructure and the myriad ways people are held up or down? I’m a white person so I am particularly thoughtful about my fandom of music made by artists of colour. I don’t want to stop being a fan but I do want to understand the systems that see white fans of black music or latin music essentially profiting (financially, socially or artistically) off this fandom while artists themselves profit less, get ripped off.
I also have cis privilege, I pass looking like a cis woman, I don’t feel the same immediate danger my friends who are non-binary and trans women feel walking down the street, anxiety about men hollering horrible things at them. I’m in danger of being murdered for misogyny sure, but I’m not specifically in the danger women who are trans face non-stop for trans misogyny, which is statistically much more deadly and violent. We need to stand up for our trans sisters, our sisters of colour, we need to protect each other and be aware of who of us is in more immediate danger.
Another quick thing, I’m queer but currently probably one of the most straight passing people you’ll ever meet, that’s a huge privilege too. Sure, there are annoying parts of being bisexual, constantly coming out your whole life (or wondering if it’s even worth bringing up), bi erasure is a real thing in both straight and queer circles, but it’s just not a pressing, life-threatening problem. My privilege means putting that to the side to focus more immediately on life-threatening social ills queer people experience: murder, assault, incarceration, poverty, homelessness, legal protection, the fact that people profit off signifiers of queerness as of late while actual queer and trans people at the intersections of these dangers are dying, being robbed of opportunities their straight white or cis counterparts get. Stuff like that is quite obviously a little more pressing than any slight personal unease I feel about people off handedly saying bisexuality is fake or something, whatever.
As important as talking about politics is, how easily do you tire of it? Are there any worse questions to be asked?
Greer: Extremely tired of it!!! Ask me about my work!!!!! I’m a musician, I’m an artist. Western culture has no respect for the arts because it doesn’t have an inherent exploitable value, moving people emotionally does not have value under capitalism, it has to be mixed with something else and packaged up and exploited and then people care.
So, sometimes I think asking musicians about their politics is also a way to imply music is inconsequential, artists are only worth whatever they can talk about or do outside of their music, fuck that. Also there’s a lot of virtue signalling going on these days, people performing their politics because it’s currently a valuable social currency, definitely nauseating to me, though I also feel like, well the world is fucked and we have to keep talking about it and trying to undo it and fix the damage.
What have been the most fun parts of the new album, both in the studio and touring the songs?
Greer: It’s wonderful to be on the road again, I love touring, I love performing for people. I love making music the most though. I love being in my basement for 12 hours straight uninterrupted just totally in the zone working on stuff, getting myself excited about it. That’s my favourite.
You’ve been touring a lot of your first festivals it seems this year. How do the bigger international ones like Primavera Sound compare to smaller ones back home?
Greer: Both totally fun and cool. Festivals where there is a clean, quiet, private green room, preferably with some snacks, are my favourite. And then also having a good sound system and monitors on stage, a good soundcheck. I think we perform best when we have both of those, space to do our best on stage requires some space to feel like you’re off stage, too.
Since everybody always has a different one, what were the craziest or most exciting encounters you had during festival season?
Greer: I got to see Grace Jones live, what more can I say?
For people who are trying to get bands together, to make it work, do you have any tips as far as collaboration or creating chemistry goes?
Greer: Be choosy, have standards. Don’t be in a band with just anybody. Most of all, pick people who you deeply respect. People who have values, who live by a code of ethics you share or feel are analogous to your own. People who are your friends, your created family. Without that it’s not gonna last. Also don’t be afraid of just doing it yourself, you can do it.
What’s been the hardest thing about making music/art in 2017 – unless it really is being asked about it?
Greer: Money, or rather, not having enough of it. I don’t really dig the hurry hurry say something quick album press cycle machine, I don’t think it’s conducive to good work for writers or musicians.
Additional words by James Thornhill.
Photos by Audrey Melton.