Priests – Interview – 2017

It’s possibly the hottest day we’ve had in Brighton when I meet Priests. They’ve spent the day getting here through traffic in London and the band seem to be a little lagged from the tour. We go looking for some food and sit down at Kokoro in Brighton. I wanted to get more of an understanding about Priests and their journey so far. They write brilliant punk music and keep their art fiercely integral. Singer Katie’s lyrics are clever and poignant managing to capture social prejudices and anxieties in a very real way. The recording process for their first proper album Nothing Feels Natural was full of issues, which led to the band re-recording the album from scratch.

It sounds like you guys went through hell trying to get Nothing Feels Natural out, on reflection do you think the recording process may have added something to the record?
Daniele: There were a lot of things on the first recording that I really liked and I was sad to lose them but the truth is once we re-recorded it we were able to change the things we did like and re-create them and the things we didn’t like we could fix. And it forces you to sit with the songs a little longer in a way that’s different to performing them every night. They were like an indoor object that you’re not in the middle of, so you have a different relationship to it, so contemplating it that way I think is helpful as a listener.

G.L: Going into it we had a much bigger vision from a technical standpoint, we weren’t able to accomplish it first time so I’m glad that a lot of our vision was able to be translated into actuality.

Katie: We wanted it to be a really big, lush-sounding record. I always wanted strings on it, we have a good friend in D.C, Jenel Leppin. She plays cello, violin, all kinds of stuff. She wrote the interlude for Nothing Feels Natural, the title track, and she played cello on a couple of different songs so that really helped.

Some of you met in college, were there any albums or artists you can remember bonding over in the beginning?
Katie: Gideon (G.L Jaguar) and I went to the same school for a couple of months but we actually met after I graduated. Musical reference points, kinda all over the place! I remember we were all listening to Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality a lot at first.

Daniele: When we started the band pretty early on seeing musicians that were crazy outsiders and didn’t necessarily have a lot of technical expertise but still putting out music in a really cool creative way. That was around the time we were writing the first demos and EP. When this came around, what felt like a challenge felt different so maybe creating something that was more nuanced seemed more like a challenge. Things like Scott Walker – David Bowie died while we were rehearsing and recording and I think that was a big thing to contemplate because he had such a legacy.

G.L: A good example is Portishead’s Third record , we really like that record because it was a good mix between a hi-fi large big sound and then there were some other parts that were very rough around the edges. Blending those two ideas together was really kind of inspiring.

There’s a lot of political/social dialogue in the music, was there anything specific you were trying to communicate through Priests?
Katie: No it was something that the narrative wrote itself in the process. It didn’t start out with that idea but I think looking back there’s probably one there. Because the record took so long to make it sometimes turned into a record about making a record and the creative process but there’s a lot of different narratives going on. There’s stuff about the intersections of feminism and labour and exploitation in that way. There’s a lot of stuff. Daniele’s song ‘No Big Bang’ she can probably speak too.

Daniele: I mean that song really is about the creative process: insomnia, being excited about then also trapped by your ideas.

What did you want to represent with the creation of Sister Polygon (the record label run by Priests)? Did you feel there was a scene under-represented that you wanted to give a voice to?
Katie: We wanted to put out our own music, and it turned into putting out our friends’ music and other bands which we thought were really awesome.

Specifically, I really loved the Habit E.P by Snail Mail, how did you meet Lindsey Jordan?
Katie: I met Lindsey on a street corner, she came running up to me, I was with my brother he was visiting and asked if I was Katie from Priests and she was freaking out and then ran away to go see a Speedy Ortiz show. My brother thought I was really famous because of that and I was like “that’s never happened before, that’s never gonna happen again”. Lindsey is a big music fan, she’s been playing guitar since she was five years old she’s a great songwriter. She played with us at a festival in Baltimore and we were like ‘holy shit, that’s amazing’.

Taylor: That was her first show. I’d met Lindsey maybe a year or something before that when she was like 14 and she’d sent me the Bandcamp of her demo stuff and I thought it was really great.

Katie, I watched a talk you did at a Future of Music event with Astra Taylor where you were talking about being an artist and handling sponsorships and making that line between taking the money without compromising your art. Has this become more of a challenge since the release of this album which has gathered a decent amount of attention?
Katie: The challenge has always been, we don’t have very much money and trying to figure out how to do all this stuff; we’ve never really called ourselves a DIY band we’ve always considered ourselves a punk band. Now we’ve made the conscious decision to be a professional band and to make a living off what we’re doing so we’ve made different choices, we hired a publicist who’s really gotten the word out. We’ve hired a booking agent.

We have new challenges now but I’d say in a lot of ways it’s actually been easier now rather than harder because we’ve expanded the team we work with it’s not just the four of us writing the songs putting up the money for the records, we have a bit more support.

Daniele: I think the harder part is coming to the decision that you’re going to engage the system even if you don’t like it. Once you do that then it’s like you’re playing a video game, you’re making decisions off what you know. I think the hard thing for a lot of artists is being that it’s easy to be like, there’s no way to engage this; all this shit sucks, but we don’t wanna live on a commune so once you face it then you start doing it. You get better at seeing through bullshit and what compromises you can make and how you can reallocate and move systematic power and aggression.

Is there any advice or anything that you’ve learnt getting to where you are now that you’d pass onto other artists that would want to do things with a similar approach to you?
T: I would say grow a label and a band separately because doing them both can be really hard but at the same time, why would you want to run a label if you’re not making music? That’d be hard for me to do. Don’t recreate the habits of a system you hate; be respectful, pay people you work with.

Katie: I would say don’t worry about selling out, that’s a false concept. I think it’s built around privilege. What you should be concerned about is making art, or whatever your work is, with integrity which I think you can do if you are making money off it or you’re just doing it for fun.
Chris Middleton