Feminism, Capitalism, Obama, and What’s Normal: Priests at The Vera

[Photo via Priests / Photo by Hayes Waring]

It sounds a bit “It’s not just a phase, Mom,” of me, but I really need punk music right now. In the midst of a frustrating and unbelievable political climate, and a steadily increasing pressure to decide on the future path of my life in an irrational, consumerist world, I really just need some good punk rock. On the 27th of this past January, Priests dropped their new album, Nothing Feels Natural, and I felt like someone put a voice to all the frustration I was holding inside.

The album is not your typical easy punk record; it’s complicated and fun, thoughtful, and carefree. It doesn’t give you a break from the moment it begins, with Katie Greer’s unrelenting yet almost conversational voice, full of hard-hitting lyrics. It was received with highly favorable reviews by Consequence of Sound, Spin, and Pitchfork named it as their “Best New Music” pick. Don’t sleep on this band, people.

I was super jazzed to hear that Priests would be playing at The Vera Project this month, and reached out to the band to ask some questions about feminism, capitalism, Obama, and what “normal” even means. Read on for their answers, and catch them at Vera this Thursday, February 16th, 2017 with Stef Chura and Nail Polish. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.

AH: First, I have to admit that I was previously unaware of Priests until I saw a Pitchfork article talking about your new album, Nothing Feels Natural, and I clicked on that thing so fast because that album title is incredible. In a time when our own conception of normalcy is continually challenged, what does “natural” mean for you? Should nothing feel natural?

Katie Greer: Well first of all, I think people connect “feeling natural” as a good thing, which isn’t necessarily correct. “Natural-ness” is a social construct, especially now. I mean, think about heteronormativity as saying, “If you’re not heterosexual, then you are in some way unnatural.” And this happens in all sorts of areas, where people point to what they see as “not normal” and call it out.

AH: So you didn’t try to plan out the timing of the album release?

KG: No, we definitely didn’t.

AH: Sister Polygon Records is your own record label. Why was it important for you to create this independent record label for yourselves?

KG: Yeah, it was really important for us to be able to define our own music on our own terms and create a community in this way with other artists. Our first release was our own 7” and it’s really exciting now to be able to release this one on [Sister Polygon Records] and be able to call the shots, and have autonomy over all of our decisions.

AH: Congrats on snagging Pitchfork’s “Best New Music!” In their article they likened NFN to Savages’ Silence Yourself, another incredible debut punk album of strong women. What is your relationship to bands like Savages and Sleater-Kinney, and the world of femmes in punk?  

Daniele Daniele: Yeah, I definitely think this is a big issue as far as being seen through the lens of being women, rather than on our own terms. I think this is especially true in music, especially in music journalism, because as a band with two women, they always try to define you in reference to another female band. Like with Sleater-Kinney, you know, I personally feel like I have a different sound than [drummer] Janet Weiss, and Katie’s got a different sound than Corrinne Tucker or Carrie Brownstein, and that comparison just wouldn’t have been made normally, other than the fact that we’re women. And while Katie and I definitely would call ourselves feminists and talk about feminism a lot in our music, it’s frustrating that our engagement to feminism has to be through this subjective lens, while men in music are already seen objectively. Whereas we should just all be talking about feminist issues in a real way and not hide from it, that would be way better than what it is now: a bunch of boys just pulling their d**ks out. But yeah, it’s definitely a big, complex issue. I think especially for garage rock as a genre, it has to be about a lot of reclaiming something from this old boy’s club with a new voice. 

AH: Last month on Inauguration Day, you played at “No Thanks: A Night of Anti-Fascist Sounds in The Capital of the USA” in the company of some other great bands (David Longstreth of Dirty Projectors, Katie Crutchfield of Waxahatchee, Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz). Why was this show important for you?

Gideon Jaguar: Yeah, Katie actually organized a lot of it, and we were really grateful to play. It felt great to really come together and unite. It was just really inspiring to see the number of people out there, [and] on the next day, too, at the Women’s March. I’ve never seen that many people before, just on the streets hanging out, like even since Obama’s Inauguration. It was crazy, especially compared [to] the day before with the arrests, and to have such a peaceful day of solidarity was great.

KG: The lack of arrests at the Women’s March can’t be used as a measure of its success, because the police are not our friends or allies. We are at war with the police state; it is an institution that protects white supremacy.

GJ: Oh definitely, yeah. I think what was really inspiring was how quickly the organization happened and how much unity was behind it; not only in DC, but across the world.

AH: It feels almost impossible not to talk about your album in a direct conversation with the current political climate. What’s your opinion on the idea that art/music don’t/can’t exist in a vacuum? (i.e., identifying music as it exists in its context?)

KG: We’ve been talking with a lot of interviewers about this album as a political album, which is frustrating because all art is political. So yeah, we agree in it not existing in a vacuum.

AH: I’ve been wrestling a lot with your line, “Barack Obama killed something in me and I’m gonna get him for it,” [from your past album, Bodies And Control And Money And Power] because my initial reaction was a little bummed. But, I’ve been thinking a lot about this one quote I heard, which goes something like, “When there’s a Democrat in power, people go to sleep because they feel validated by what they hear on NPR.” My question is, what did Barack Obama kill in you?

KG: Yeah, I agree with that. My work has always been critical of neoliberalism, and now that we have a racist, woman-hating, Neo-Nazi regime in office, I think it’s clear that broken neoliberalism is one of many factors to blame for our current political climate. I would strongly prefer to have Obama back in office, but Obama was still a President. Obama deported more than two million people, most of whom were probably just trying to live their lives and not harm anybody. Obama drone-bombed the f**k out of the Middle East, murder[ing] hundreds of thousands of brown people whose lives certainly have never mattered to the imperialism of the USA. So, while I’d prefer Obama to be back in office over Trump, what I would most prefer is that we get rid of Presidents and nation-state borders! The mainstream left and right are more similar than they are different. What they protect and destroy has little to do with humanity’s wellbeing.

AH: In my own relationship with capitalism and politics, I’ve been feeling a lot of frustration that I saw reflected in this album. I think when you’re just a student working some part-time job at a restaurant, it feels very much like you’re just perpetuating a system that doesn’t have your best interests at heart, and kind of side-line complaining or tweeting about it in an inefficient way. Any tips for people who don’t know how to take action to change their lives?

KG: So I think first you have to be as mindful and aware as you can, to be listening to the news and staying informed and knowing what you’re talking about—particularly what you’re angry about and finding out what’s currently being done, and evaluating how you feel about it. I think you need to engage with communit[ies], and listen to others and really come together and share experiences.

AH: How can this be done through music?

DD: Music and art has this incredibly unique ability to be moving and make you feel something, and I think we need to not shy away from that, and really embrace it and focus on how that brings us together. Communities of art now are going to be so important going forward to understand how much we really do share with one another, and focusing on doing it on our own terms, and building foundations for ourselves and fellow artists. I don’t know if I see this happening in the near future, but I think just the power of imagination of that future, and taking steps now to make that happen, is the job of music right now.



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