If underground musical success was based on quality and greatness and not just a giant lottery determined by hype and tweets, I’d tell you right now that Priests are going to be really big! They’re a four-piece punk band from DC, and if you know anything about DC punk bands, you know that very few are good, but when they are good, they are really good. I’m reminded of Avengers, Instant Automatons, Fatal Microbes and The Make Up in their music, but that’s not to say that this is a record-collector band – take any dope in a Rancid t-shirt and see if he doesn’t skank along to their manic and fiery punk rock. Their 7″ is great, the tape is even better, but seriously, you gotta see them live, that’s where their songs truly explode! Go on, do it, but before you leave, check out how vocalist and sometimes-drummer Katie Alice Greer indulged some of my questions below.

Priests have existed as a band for about a year and a half, is that right? Does it feel like a new band, like you’re just getting started?
Yes. Daniele, G.L. and I started the band a year and a half ago; Taylor joined at the end of 2012. Our first show as a four-piece was December 15th, 2012. And it does feel like we are just getting started, yes! We didn’t grow up playing together or anything, the musical conversation (so-to-speak) is very new. In fact, I wanna take this opportunity to dedicate The Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun” to my bandmates. The Carpenters are a huge musical influence on all of us.

Do you consider yourself a DC band? Is it hard to be a punk band there nowadays?
Yes, we are a DC band! It’s funny, there were multiple occasions on tour this summer where we met people who seemed very concerned about us claiming DC as home (this seems like a very outdated concern to me at this point). They were very concerned with how authentic this claim is. One guy was like, “So who in your band actually grew up in DC?” For the record, Taylor and G.L. did, Daniele and I did not. But, more importantly, how silly! I ignored that guy’s question and left the room, but I wish I had taken the opportunity to have a conversation about the relationship between individual and environment. There was a YACHT song a few years ago called “It’s Boring / You Can Live Anywhere You Want,” and that is true, but it is easy to move, and move often. To build a relationship with the people around you, around the resources you do and don’t have, that takes time. Is it hard to be a punk band in DC right now? Yes and no! Yes, everything is expensive and apparently we are experiencing a “gilded age” in DC right now. A council member who kicked off his mayoral campaign in front of this new swanky restaurant on 14th street made this claim; I hope he understands what that term means! Whenever I leave town and come home, there is always a new dreadful looking bar or restaurant that has opened and seems to cater to a very wealthy clientele. One less space that can be put to better community use! This year a number of public schools were closed, disproportionately affecting low-income families and people of color, furthering this country’s effort to privatize education. Very little was reported on this matter, while at the same time, city billboards and buses were plastered with “#SAVE OUR FOOD TRUCKS”, which was a big campaign concerned with entrepreneurs rights and liberties, etc. There was extensive PR and news coverage for the food truck campaign, but besides the grassroots community activism around the school closure issue, very few media platforms were taking the opportunity to wonder if our city and its grand expansion is really a good thing for everyone. This is a very long way of saying Yes, it is hard to be a punk band in a city where living costs are skyrocketing, we have very little of what you might call “DIY infrastructure”, and I think we are constantly wondering, “Is this the best way for me personally to question and resist what’s going on? This stuff happening that benefits the few, the rich and usually white, and sends everyone else packing? How am I part of this problem?” But, I read this really great Grass Widow interview last year where they said something like, “We have a friend who quit playing music recently. He said he wanted to do something more important with his life. And we thought to ourselves, why don’t you make your music more important?” So, on that hand, No, it is not hard to be a punk band here. We have our work cut out for us. It is really audacious and perhaps narcissistic of us to decide that we are going to make important music. And, ultimately, we don’t get to decide whether or not our music is or will be important to other people. But we can make work that is important and meaningful to us, and that in and of itself is a victory against “the capitalist system”, as Barbara Dane would call it. This is a system that discourages us, and makes it incredibly difficult for us, to create meaningful work. People will laugh or roll their eyes if you talk about the capitalist system too long, and that’s fine, it makes a lot of people uncomfortable because it doesn’t seem sexy, in the same way that feminism was derided by conservatives in the ’90s (and nearly every decade, really) to a place where it seemed really scary and uncool, generally unappealing to a lot of women (let alone men!). Priests is a band, we’re really just performers in one sense. Our job is just doing whatever will make you entertained for as long as possible. But I think we can entertain and communicate. We can use our music as a tool and a weapon and a celebration all at the same time. And we can try to use it as a relationship between us and our community, which is Washington, DC, geographically speaking, but much larger in a different sense.

I notice you seem to play mostly all ages shows… is that an intentional thing that matters to you? You’re all over 21, right?
We do, yes! And it is our intention! We are not really interested in contributing to the dearth of culture available to young people, or old people, humans in general; we are not really interested in excluding people interested in participating. I think the tag “All-Ages” is limiting, the real struggle is to create and maintain a larger network of alternatives for people to connect with one another. I think I’ve spent a lot of the time I’ve been alive so far navigating my way through different communities I’ve encountered, tried to associate with, and subsequently felt alienated from. This is probably not an uncommon experience. Even the word “community”, it can sound very hokey! It is a word I would have glossed over until recently, like something that has always been around but you can’t really relate. Anyway, in thinking about why we don’t like to play age-restricted shows I was thinking, “Eh, it just doesn’t seem to contribute to a larger sense of things, it doesn’t seem to promote… community? Is that really the word I’m looking for?” Haha, but it is a word I think I am using a lot more recently and trying to understand. I think for all of us, playing shows that are open to all-ages and all people just feels like the “natural” response (natural, what is natural even), but everyone has their own tactics for relating to the larger group or something. Like I know some bands have a policy that leans towards all-ages shows, but makes exceptions in certain towns that do not have an all-ages scene. I can dig that, for sure. But, Daniele brought up an excellent illustration to this point, relating to coffee shops (they are everywhere now, surely we can all relate even if we do not drink coffee): I guess “fair trade” coffee beans were not a popular thing for a coffee shop to carry until word spread about this idea, that one could purchase coffee that came from beans that were, um, traded fairly (I know nothing about this stuff, pardon me). So then, coffee shop patrons started demanding that their coffee came from fair trade beans! And slowly but surely, this is now a very popular option for coffee purchase in the USA! So, I guess what I would like to say is that sticking to non-age-restricted shows and making an effort to play in broader spaces that are more inclusive can be very hard and seemingly irreconcilable with booking a tour, particularly in certain regions. But, I think this idea has been catching on for a long time, and when people are encouraged to think creatively they come up with a lot of interesting ideas. Even this summer, when booking our full US tour, we actually had a lot less trouble than we thought making this kind of stuff happen. And got to play in some really cool unusual venues as a result!

Rank these in order of importance for Priests, and yell at me if any of them have nothing to do with the group whatsoever: queer punk, riot grrrl, no wave.
Uhh, this question. I do not know how to answer. Right now I am into music that makes me feel stuff. It is hard ’cause everyone knows so much about music now – you can immediately look it up on a search engine and know the context and keep your imagination from running wild. Easy to think about, but hard to “feel” anything for anything. But I like music that is scary. Have you every listened to something that felt super visceral and not known what you were listening to exactly, or where it came from? Like, I was napping in the back of the van in Providence while everyone was at the grocery store. And I woke up finally because we were moving again, and it was very dark outside but I could see these little lights as we were going over a bridge, and this music that was coming out of one side of the stereo (our speakers are a little faulty so sometimes you only hear stuff come out of one side), the music was so insane! I will reveal that it was “Auto Modown” from the Devo demos reissue (I think it is called Hardcore Devo), but I am only revealing this information in hopes that someone can re-create this experience I had for someone else. I think it is so great to listen to music totally out of context whenever you can, for the sake of your own stimulation. This syrupy gothic music started playing while I was eating breakfast the other day and it took me to such a strange place, it was wonderful. I demanded to know what the song was (it was “My Ship’s Coming In” by The Walker Brothers) but that was a mistake. Why not just wallow in my weird feelings for a minute, why do I have to demand the name and date and all this other extraneous information? Am I pinning this song in a butterfly case? Is this a dead bug collection? When you aren’t thinking about names or contextualizing information, you are just letting yourself be moved by whatever you are hearing or seeing, you are letting art and things people make touch your senses in a way that modern life seems to discourage. Art is powerful, music is powerful, people are powerful. You can be moved if you let them in.
Would it be OK for us to not talk about or mention Riot-Grrrl? We are not against it, those bands are totally great, but it doesn’t really have much to do with what we are doing right now. I mean all music has something to do with what we are doing, but there is so much popular nostalgia for that scene right now, it is a very large shadow being cast over the whole conversation (which is probably antithetical to what its originators intended, I am sure….). Every time it gets brought up, subsequent descriptions of our band are just tied to Riot-Grrrl and it is super boring and limiting.

Do you all come from varied musical backgrounds, or did you find you had a similar musical wavelength from the start?
Taylor and G.L have been playing in bands since their ye olden teenage days. I think Taylor comes from playing guitar in rock ‘n’ roll and punk stuff. G.L. comes from that background, too, but he was definitely taking a break from punk-land when we started Priests. Working on more open, free-form stuff. Daniele had been playing drums in a few different projects, the main being kind of melodic-pop Smiths-influenced stuff. I think sometimes Daniele is sad we don’t sound more like The Go-Betweens. I made music for pretty much only myself for a few years before starting Priests, I was a longtime obsessive-music-appreciating type person but it took a long time for me to realize I could just make it myself; no one ever told me. Which is a weird thing to say, “I didn’t know because no one told me,” but I was thinking recently about how so many things in life can be hard to just “realize” on your own – it is nice when you are made aware of options. Anyway, I was involved in musical theater as a kid. Also I used to know how to play “Everywhere” by Michelle Branch on guitar when I was like thirteen.

What do you think is a larger cultural loss – like you mentioned, the lack of mystery, or the decline of people making mixtapes (hell, even mix CD-rs) for each other?
I really like to make tapes for people! And the lack of mystery, jeez, there are a lot of mysteries in the world for me. But I know what you mean. I love the Susan Sontag essay, “Against Interpretation”. She says, “The mystery of the world is the visible” (although I think she was quoting Oscar Wilde). She also says, at some point, “the pure, untranslatable, sensuous immediacy of its images” — I really don’t have more context on that quote because I just wrote it inside the front page of my notebook without any sort of explanation (a-ha, mysteries of life! You can just create them for yourself!), but I think she was talking about film. Anyway, the exchange of music is very important, it is a language in and of itself, and mystery, where would we be without it? I don’t think I could get up in the morning. I like to make my life as intriguing, difficult and uncertain as possible just so I’ll get out of bed.

It’s safe to say that Priests is a hobby, and not your sole means of employment, right? Could you conceive of a time where that would change?
Trick question! No and no. Priests is not a hobby. Priests is not any sort of employment, either. This very question has been a hot topic of band discussion as of late. So far, we have not been able to pay ourselves to be in the band. We do all the work for the band, as most people in bands do, we book the shows and we make the flyers and write the songs and practice the music and make the records and print the sleeves and blah blah blah, we do all this stuff, we like doing it a lot, but it is very time-consuming and time is money and we are all running out of money. We all have jobs (Taylor is still in school), but they are the sort of jobs you choose because you want to have the flexibility and time to make the other stuff you don’t make any money for. I think it would be nice to be paid for what we are doing, I don’t know if that is or will be feasible. People scoff at the idea that an artist should be able to make a living off what they are creating, and as a result we have a culture that disrespects the arts, that creates things carelessly, that discourages really “out-there” intense stuff that makes people think and is meaningful to a lot of people because no one can really focus on their “vision” or whatever. We have a creative class that is forced to look to alliances with commerce and people and organizations they may otherwise want little or nothing to do with in order to sustain themselves and continue their work. They end up making things they don’t even like, no one is moved to tears or to riot by their work, everything stays the same and we are still bored by an onslaught of ever-changing, colorful, mind-numbingly fresh content on the internet and everywhere else in real life, and completely forget about it the next day.

You’re on tour right now. Did you book it yourselves? Playing DIY spaces and low-key punk spots, do you make enough money to fill the gas tank, or are you paying for some of this tour out of pocket? Gas prices are killer.
Okay, so here is how it works for us: since the beginning of Priests, we didn’t split up the money after shows. We just kept saving it, and when we were first a band before Taylor joined, we just played shows all the time. Like we didn’t even have enough songs to be playing so much around DC, we had no business doing this kind of thing, but we just kept doing it! We liked it! We also used the money to make our first cassette, that doesn’t cost much, and then we sold those and kept that money. And we saved the money from the shows and the tapes to start our label, Sister Polygon, and put out our first single. We sold the records and the tapes and kept playing shows and all the money from this stuff we saved to be able to go on tour this summer, to make some stuff to sell on the road and pay for gas. And much to our surprise we actually didn’t lose money this summer! I mean, we didn’t make much, but we didn’t lose any. This current tour is a little different, we are on tour with two other bands, so our three bands split the profit every night; we aren’t making much but we can at least pay for gas I think. And if not, we are using the money we brought with us from the last tour. So we haven’t really had to pay “out of pocket” yet, but like I said before, we haven’t been able to pay ourselves yet. That same Grass Widow interview I mentioned earlier, I think about it a lot! Another thing they said was, people always feel uncomfortable talking about money, but why is this? We all need it, use it every day, it is very important to learn to talk about money and not make it this weird thing you are whispering about in back rooms because it seems impolite.

How has it been touring with Downtown Boys and Neonates? Neither groups are from DC or anywhere nearby, how’d you put it together?
We also got to play a few shows with Tomboy at the beginning! They are so lovely. And, playing these very cool, very dark-intensity new songs in their set right now. I heard some recordings, very top notch. But touring with Downtown Boys and Neonates for a week was such a four-star experience! I can’t speak highly enough of all of the people involved, both as musicians and on a personal level. I thought of good movie comparisons: Downtown Boys are sort of like a cooler, less annoying version of The Royal Tenenbaums, like everyone in the band is a genius whale-watching scientist or public defender or community organizer in addition to the band. Neonates are sort of like a trio from a John Hughes movie. Good style, good ideas, cool stuff. I already knew Downtown Boys before this tour, but when we were first hanging out with Neonates I was thinking “shit they are so much cooler than me” – like all of them are so culturally sophisticated with their reference points and are into cool shit that I like. Max had MP3s of Screamers recordings, which I didn’t even know existed, and Mary loaned me Despatches From The Frontiers of the Female Mind (I don’t know why “Despatches” is spelled like that), which is collection of sci-fi written by women. Anna also recognizes “Waiting Room” by No Doubt as perhaps the greatest song by that band and perhaps the greatest song by that name (Like yes, okay, Fugazi’s is great, but is it their greatest? Hardly). Anyway so Neonates are all very hi-brow and culturally sophisticated but will still have cereal fights with us, or play “Flick Off The Baby”, which is a game we play a lot on tour.
Downtown Boys and Priests met when we booked a show for them at Asefu’s, an Ethiopian restaurant in DC last summer, and it was like band-love at first sight. I kinda couldn’t believe my luck that they were as into us as we were into them. So for Neonates, I had been a big fan of Mary’s podcast for a while (TV Dinner) and I think through that discovered her band and was totally crossing my fingers this wasn’t just someone’s bedroom project they’d put on Bandcamp and forgotten about. I wrote her about playing this San Francisco show with my other band, Chain & The Gang, and it was so great! That is my favorite thing about being on tour, setting up shows with bands I really wanna see. I think Mary is one of the most interesting pop lyricists right now. Every single Neonates song gets stuck in my head for days and I wonder and wonder what it’s about.
Anyway, the tour came together because Anna was touring on this side of the country with their other wonderful project, Olivia Neutron-John, and I think Mary and Max were just thinking they might as well come out this way too, so we were like cool, let’s put out a Neonates cassette on Sister Polygon! We had already planned to release a Downtown Boys record, and I think they originally agreed to this tour because they thought we’d have their record done by now, and naturally it wasn’t done in time because whenever you say “Oh let’s plan the tour because the record will surely be done by then” it is like a sure-fire law-of-physics way to make certain the record isn’t done by then. But yeah, that record should be out soon. It is being mastered and fuck, it is so good. I’m so excited about it, very honored to release music by both of these bands.

What’s next for Priests, record-wise?
We have four songs that I would like to see released together because one of my favorite records is Paranoid Time and I always envisioned these four songs being kind of like that, just this really succinct, self-contained thing, but I think everyone else is wanting to just do an LP. A lot of stuff is recorded, we’re just not sure yet what to do about it. But anyway we aren’t gonna exclusively release music on cassette forever, for all of the three people who were even wondering about that. That was a decision that I don’t think any of us regret though, it was a choice that served its function. We will probably keep releasing our own music through Sister Polygon, but are talking about some co- or split release ideas. Something coming soon!