Priests Think Nothing Feels Natural About ‘DIY’
“I wonder about the inherent implications of the term 'DIY,' and who it gets used for and who it doesn’t.”
There’s a certain pressure on bands that get the immediate kind of attention that Priests got with their 2014 EP, Bodies and Control and Money and Power, to seize that moment and continue churning out new material. But if their debut record, Nothing Feels Natural, is any indication, the Washington, D.C.-based group has no interest in conforming to those easy narratives. Rather than release something to immediately capitalize on the eyes and attention they had at the moment, the band wrote, workshopped and recorded their debut album over two years, and the result is Priests’ defining statement.
Nothing Feels Natural combines the hooky songwriting of Bodies with the wild, improvised experimentation heard on both Tape 1 and Tape Two. The record begins with the band’s longest, most aggressive song, “Appropriate.” It’s an opening salvo that sounds more like a finale, but from then on, the record never settles, really showcasing their flexibility as a unit as they move from portentous post-punk to the funky corrective closer “Suck.”
Days after Priests performed at an anti-inauguration rally in D.C., CLRVYNT spoke to Daniele Daniele (drums), Katie Alice Greer (vocals) and G.L. Jaguar (guitar), via email, about the sounds they explore on this new record, getting help from and giving back to their extended D.C. community, and whether the term “DIY” has outlived its use.
It’s been almost three years since Bodies and Control and Money and Power. Walk us through what the band has been up to in the meantime.
Katie Alice Greer: OK, so basically, we went on tour, we came home and worked our crap jobs, we wrote songs in our practice space, recorded a 7” of Pylon covers (it was never released), did our first tour in Europe (I lost my driver's license in Poland), got kicked out of our practice space (the building was bought and turned into a weed farm), got kicked out of our houses (Taylor [Mulitz, bassist] and I did), moved into new houses ... I don’t know — it is all pretty boring and monotonous. It took forever, but fast forward — here we are, and the record is here.
G.L. Jaguar: I recorded a band called Snail Mail, and we released that on Sister Polygon Records, the label the four of us run together. We’ve released some other music in the meantime, too. Also, [we] spent a lot of time in the studio on Priests stuff.
There are quite a few contributions from guest musicians on this record. Could you talk a bit about how they got involved and what they brought to the table?
Greer: The practice space that got turned into a weed farm was one that we shared with a few other bands and musicians — like, Ex Hex also rented it, for example. Janel Leppin, who wrote the interlude before “Nothing Feels Natural,” and plays on that track and “Lelia 20,” also practiced there. Her recent work is Mellow Diamond, and it is absolutely beautiful. Luke Stewart is one of the most prodigious musicians in D.C. right now. He’s in a great punk band (Laughing Man); he does free jazz with Trio OOO; he used to book Union Arts shows. You can (and should) buy any of that man’s music, and you’d probably love it. Mark Cisneros has played in Deathfix, Kid Congo & the Pink Monkey Birds, the Desdemonas, I met him when we were both in Chain and the Gang. Perry Fustero is an incredibly accomplished, classically trained pianist. He’s also in Daniele’s other band, Gauche.
Jaguar: Luke and I have played in various improvisational groups together over the years; he continues to be a good friend. Perry’s Pearie Sol project is a Sister Polygon release we’ve put out this past year. Daniele and I used to live with Perry. All the contributors have been pretty close friends of the band, and in their own right are staples of the D.C. music community.
The record’s title, Nothing Feels Natural, can be read as a statement of unease or discomfort, and a criticism of the very idea of “nature” or “natural.” How do those two readings relate?
Daniele Daniele: Yes. We are uneasy with the idea of “nature” as separate from — or opposed to — intent, contrivance, art, civilization, etc.
You just performed at the “No Thanks” anti-inauguration benefit for Casa Ruby and ONE DC. Can you talk a little bit about why it was important for you to play this show, and what the atmosphere was like during the event itself?
Daniele: It was pretty damn amazing. I got to meet Ruby [Jade Corado] from Casa Ruby. She is amazing. Also, together with our community, we raised $12K for spaces and groups that will be vital to resisting this horrible new regime and keeping one another safe. It was a cool high.
Jaguar: While it is definitely important to support national and worldwide organizations, sometimes the money that can be raised on a smaller, local level can, I think, possibly have a greater impact. Both of the organizations we raised money for directly affect our community right here in the city, so it was an honor to work with both of these groups, because they teach us a lot about where we need to keep our focus directed.
Greer: Ruby was actually saying to me how, in speaking on stage, she was hoping to appeal to some people at the show who might need to come by the shelter at some point. You never know who is going to need some extra support or a place to stay — that could be any one of us. And supporting a queer shelter is specifically necessary because plenty of homeless shelters are still not safe spaces for queer people who are dealing with harassment that straight people and cis people don’t experience. For every ticket sold on our February and March North American tour, a dollar will go back to Casa Ruby. I am really excited about the relationship we are fostering with this organization in particular, because, like G.L. said, it’s really close by, so I’ve been over there and the women who work there are so inspiring. They are working full-time jobs and then making time to celebrate birthdays and cook dinner and just provide a home for the guests coming in and out. Going in there, you can’t help but feel like, "This is work I want to be a part of."
On the subject of Trump, certain songs on the record — like the single “JJ” — mine sounds from surf rock of the late '50s and early '60s. This period is also often thought of as the “great” time that Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan refers to, but what made that period prosperous were the kind of New Deal social reforms that people like Trump work so hard to erode. I wonder, are you purposefully appealing to the dissonance inherent in that kind of nostalgia, or are these sonic references more influenced by later bands like the B-52's and the Dead Kennedys?
Jaguar: We’ve been working on this record for a super long time, so when we wrote this song, Trump was still a joke in the national media running for President. I am a tremendous fan of the music and aesthetics from the '50s and '60s. However, a lot of the culture that surrounded that time period is the complete antithesis of my morals and values. I am definitely into subverting what those aesthetics might typically signify. Thankfully, as a young punk, it was the Dead Kennedys and the B-52's (and others, of course) who exposed me to those retro sounds, and probably informed a lot of my politics.
Greer: This is a great question, by the way. A few people have mentioned to me that our record, particularly “JJ,” has a really sunny and light exterior, and what seems like a subtle, sinister undertone. I dig this.
There’s also a kind of superficiality in Trump’s nostalgia for the '50s and '60s, a romanticism for a kind of social order and structure that you skewer really well in the videos for “JJ” and “Pink White House.” Did these visual concepts come to mind as you were writing the songs?
Jaguar: As a band, we are very much into film. We often see movies together on and off tour. Sonically, when describing our song ideas to each other, we use very cinematic terms.
Greer: I really like to take things apart and see what they’re made of. So, sets of aesthetic signifiers, cultural truisms, TV commercials — I like to just consider the subtext of all kinds of stuff. I think that really informs my thought process, and thus, probably my art, too. “Pink White House” was really inspired by Peter Greenaway’s filmmaking, like especially the dinner table scene. He sets up these gorgeous shots in his films, and then you get up close and see, like, a dead body in a bathtub lined with roses, or fruit rotting away on a table. The “JJ” video was actually inspired by a Kanye West video. I used to love Kanye so much. And I just stopped paying attention to him because I have a zero tolerance policy for misogyny (the being-a-Bill-Cosby-apologist thing sent me over the edge) and Trump supporting. Broke my heart, really. I love some Kanye stuff. But I can’t take it anymore — being a Kanye fan is, like, too brutal at this point, so I gotta be like, "Hey man, I hope you get some help and then call me up," you know?
You do everything from running your own record company to putting together and mailing out your own records and filming your own videos. Why is it important to the band to be so decisively (and admirably) DIY?
Daniele: Quick amendment: While both of our videos were directed by Katie, they were actually shot by our friends Jonah Takagi and Drew Hagelin, who both did such amazing work.
Greer: Sometimes I hate when people call us DIY. Like, no shade, but we are artists and we make our work, and we don’t have a huge budget to work with, so yeah, I’m gonna direct the video myself; I can’t really offer anybody much money to work with us right now. Jonah and Drew were great cameramen. Also, I’m a huge Dawn Richard fan, and it’s interesting to me that nobody calls her DIY, even though I think we share similar ideas about how to do business and make art. Sometimes I wonder about the inherent implications of the term “DIY,” and who it gets used for and who it doesn’t. Like, maybe it is just a word that has jumped the cultural shark and doesn’t mean a whole lot anymore.
Jaguar: Growing up in D.C., it was always assumed that you’d release your own material; that is just the way my friends and people I looked up to did things, so that’s how I learned how to do it. Logistically, releasing a piece of music isn’t actually a difficult endeavor, but financially, of course, that is another story.
Pre-orders of the record came with a limited edition zine. Did the whole band contribute to it? What does it include?
Greer: The pre-order is a very extensive interview with the band — like probably everything you could ever know about us. We like to be at the helm of crafting our own narrative, and so this way some people could see us totally outside the music industry machine, really in the most direct way possible, with no outside edits — except from Jenn [Pelly], who we hired to conduct the interview and ask questions and edit because she knows us well and understands our music and its contexts. Taylor laid out the book; he’s a graphic designer by trade. He also designed the cover. We are thinking of publishing a second edition, edited down to a shorter version.
Outside of this new Priests record, what do we have to look forward to from Sister Polygon this year?
Greer: Coup Sauvage and the Snips are hands-down like the most underrated, unknown band in the city, and we’re releasing their debut album on cassette on February 24. They are inspired by house music and living through the massive displacement and gentrification our city has been experiencing, and are really smart songwriters in that regard, with how they tease out some of these ideas in a way where you can dance to them. Raina, Crystal and Kristina Sauvage sing and harmonize and arrange these really hooky melodies. Jason Sauvage plays bass (he’s also in Gauche and Flamers, and recorded Snail Mail with GL); Elizabeth and Maegan Sauvage are in charge of the incredibly tight rhythm section. Yeah, I think people are really gonna dig this one.
PRIESTS ON TOUR
Jan. 28 — Brooklyn, NY @ Brooklyn Night Bazaar w/ Snail Mail
Feb. 3 — Philadelphia, PA @ Everybody Hits w/ Snail Mail
Feb. 4 — Boston, MA @ Great Scott w/ Snail Mail
Feb. 6 — Montreal, QC @ Casa del Popolo w/ Snail Mail
Feb. 7 — Toronto ON @ Silver Dollar Room w/ Snail Mail
Feb. 8 — Detroit, MI @ UFO Factory
Feb. 9 — Chicago, IL @ Beat Kitchen w/ Stef Chura
Feb. 10 — Madison, WI @ Rathskeller w/ Stef Chura
Feb. 11 — Minneapolis, MN @ 7th Street Entry w/ Stef Chura
Feb. 15 — Vancouver, BC @ 333 w/ Stef Chura
Feb. 16 — Seattle, WA @ Vera Project w/ Stef Chura
Feb. 17 — Portland, OR @ Disjecta w/ Stef Chura
Feb. 18 — Eugene, OR @ The Boreal w/ Stef Chura
Feb. 19 — Oakland, CA @ Starline Social Club w/ Stef Chura
Feb. 20 — Los Angeles, CA @ The Echoplex w/ Stef Chura
Feb. 22 — San Diego, CA @ Che Cafe w/ Stef Chura
Feb. 23 — Phoenix, AZ @ Valley Bar w/ Olivia Neutron John
Feb. 24 — Tucson, AZ @ 191 Toole w/ Olivia Neutron John
Feb. 25 — Santa Fe, NM @ Meow Wolf w/ Olivia Neutron John
Feb. 27 — Austin, TX @ Barracuda w/ Olivia Neutron John
Feb. 28 — McAllen, TX @ Yerberia Cultura w/ Olivia Neutron John
Mar. 1 — Houston TX @ Walter's w/ Olivia Neutron John
Mar. 2 — New Orleans LA @ Siberia w/ Hand Grenade Job
Mar. 3 — Tallahasee, FL @ Wolf's Den w/ Hand Grenade Job
Mar. 4 — Atlanta, GA @ Drunken Unicorn w/ Hand Grenade Job
Mar. 5 — Durham, NC @ Pinhook w/ Hand Grenade Job
Mar. 11 — Washington, DC @ Black Cat w/ Coup Sauvage and the Snips