Washington, DC’s Priests play punk rock. I could go on a tangent about the role of their city in their sound, or talk historical context, but, really, the simplest statement is the easiest: they’re a punk band. Smart, politically charged, and furious. I talked with vocalist Katie Alice Greer and drummer Daniele Daniele about the band’s seven inch, their live setup, and more.
What first brought the band together?
Katie: We always get this question and and this point I hate it a little. It is sort of like “what did you do today?” You could answer if you have something relevant to say, but if you are just laundry-listing the nuts and bolts, it’s a waste of time.
Daniele: Yeah, I think the more important question is: what keeps us together? and that I can definitely say is our shared ideas. We are constantly asking ourselves: how can we communicate with an audience in a way that discourages thoughtless consumerism and encourages action and creativity? Is what we’re doing exclusionary? How can we be more inclusive? How can we make our message something people are drawn into by a pursuit of pleasure as opposed to being coerced into by guilt? Can this remain fun, can we not berate the audience? Working out the answers to those questions and trying to put them into practice is what keeps us together.
When I saw you play at Death by Audio a few months ago, you engaged in the honored punk tradition of discussing the themes and issues referenced in your songs. How important is this to you?
Katie: How important is discussing themes and issues? Not that important, necessarily. How important is it that people understand what our songs are about, in some capacity? Pretty important. Saying stuff like, “this songs is about —-” feels really perverse when you’re playing to an audience who you can tell is like, “I dun care what your song is about (but will your music/my being at your show get me laid?)” so I like to do that, but when we’re playing to a crowd that seems a little more engaged and already interested in the subject matter, I prefer to just shut up a bit. Also you know, depends on if I’m feeling chatty that night or something.
Daniele: It’s a strategy I vacillate on. On the one hand, I think of the old Nietzschean dictum, “when the book opens its mouth, the author must shut his.” Our songs are strong and clear enough to stand on their own, so I hesitate about obstructing the audience’s direct confrontation with a song with my own ideas about it. On the other hand, if our work is being misinterpreted or misappropriated, I have a hard time standing by and watching that happen silently.
Katie: Someone referred to us as “art-damaged” recently; art shouldn’t be this dirty word. Communicating about ideas, talking about more than just people, places and things that have happened should be expected from an entity creating for public attention. It is not enough to present nouns, they must be connected. So, are we trying to talk about ideas and talk about how we need to talk about ideas more in this context, and are we sometimes being really obvious about it? Yes, at this point, definitely.
There are images on your site of recording — is this for a full-length? Another seven inch?
Daniele: We’ll be on tour in June and July with some new recordings. Ideally we will have more than one new release for tour, but not an LP yet…
Your sound evokes diverse aspects of DC’s punk history — how do you balance those influences with finding your own place in the scene?
Katie: That is a great compliment, thank you! It hasn’t been that hard for us… We don’t really sound like a lot of other stuff from around here. Or maybe we do in some ways? Not really something we’ve thought of much.
Daniele: As far as finding our place in an existing scene, we have a very “take no prisoners” attitude to what we’re making. If you’re with us, great. Consider yourself a part of “the scene.” If you try to stop us, prepare to be destroyed. There’s no place in any scene for us. We’re making our own.
What is the DC scene like these days?
Katie: Exciting! Weird! Frustrating! Everyone is fighting the specter of conservatism, trying to be as creative as possible… But it is so hard to make art when you are worried about paying rent.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up books at least once, so: what have you been reading lately?
Katie: I’m finishing My Antonia by Willa Cather, not done yet but it is much better than Summer by Edith Wharton, fuck that book, was very disappointed in the ending. Also Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller (very good), working on a book on the history of Dada and a collection of Bill Kunstler speeches.
Daniele: I just picked up an old copy of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot on a trip back home last week and have been so enamored with it. I didn’t even know till Katie told me that it is what the musical Cats in based on! I’m also reading Viktor Shklovsky’s Zoo or Letters Not About Love, it’s a series of letters from his time in exile in Berlin to the woman he loved, Elsa, who had one condition for allowing him to write her everyday: he could not talk about love. His letters are so inventive. As an unrepentant romantic and fellow lovelorn writer in exile, I identify with the dude wholeheartedly.
Photo by Amy June Breesman (from L to R: Katie, Taylor, Daniele, G.L.)