We had the chance to sit down and talk with Priests before their show at The House of Blues on May 7th with Franz Ferdinand. We discussed the music scene in their hometown of Washington D.C., as well as how they think through their music as their composing, revealing that they come up with movie scenes to conceptualize their songs.
Radio: Ok, so I know you guys are playing with Franz Ferdinand. I wanted to know, how’s that going so far?
G.L: It’s been very different from what we’ve been used to for the last 6 years. But, you know, it’s been pretty positive and an enlightening experience for the most part. It’s been great to get an opportunity to play for people that would normally never see us.
Daniele: Yeah it’s really cool to see a big band, cause you realize how much bigger the band is than just the people on stage. Like, this is our first tour because we’ve been playing such large venues with massive sound systems. You really can’t just have a PA for vocals and the instruments. Everything has to be well mic’d, well mixed, the shape and the contours and what the materials the venues are made out of is really important. It’s been really interesting to see the way… Like, for us, it feels really big. Like, wow, we’re like a 6-person band now! *rest of the band slightly laughs* But, you see Franz Ferdinand’s crew, that’s like… being an 18-person band, you know? And how they’re all super important. And it cool, like, I feel like so much of that labor is being devalued, or not seen, and so it’s fun and exciting to see it all take place.
Radio: Yeah, definitely. Also, I know y’all are from Washington D.C., and I know there’s been a really fruitful and influential music scene down there. Like, it brought Fugazi and Bad Brains and all those bands. Is the music scene still strong down there?
Katie: It is. I would say there’s consistently been a lot of great music out of D.C., even long before Dischord, long before the punk explosion there in the 80s. D.C.’s also home to a very particular kind of R&B called go-go music. A lot of jazz was born out of there, like Duke Ellington, and a lot of live albums recorded on U Street. So yeah, I’m taking it back even further, but in the more immediate sense, with music that sounds more like us with guitars and drums and… you know, actually both of those genres I mentioned before, guitars and drums.
Katie: Anyway, to answer your question, there’s tons of bands right now, and there has been for a long time.
G.L.: Across all genres, too. There’s a great avant-garde music scene going on, an awesome hardcore scene, an electronic dance scene. There’s a lot of good stuff going on right now, so it’s really cool to rep our hometown when there’s so much good stuff coming out of there.
Radio: Yeah. Plus, I remember hearing Dirty Dishes is from D.C. I’m pretty into them.
Katie: Dirty Dishes?
G.L.: I’m not familiar with them.
Radio: I guess they’re more alt… shoegaze? I dunno.
Disclaimer: Dirty Dishes are from New York City. The interviewer incorrectly assumed they were from Washington D.C.
Katie: I mean, that’s the thing. There’s just so many bands there. I hear about bands all the time, like, I get “I didn’t know they were a D.C. band”.
Radio: Yeah I kinda get that way whenever somebody is, like, from Dallas, or Denton, or any nearby areas.
Katie: Yeah, another place with a big music scene. Both of those, Dallas and Denton. DFW!
Daniele: Are you from Texas?
Radio: Yes, although my parents moved here from El Salvador.
Katie: Okay, cool.
Daniele: But in, the Dallas Fort Worth area?
Radio: Yeah, I pretty much lived here all my life.
Daniele: Cool. I’m from Houston.
Radio: Oh, nice! I noticed in your debut, Nothing Feels Natural, you incorporated a more varied soundset compared to Bodies and Control and Money and Power. How has y’alls creative process between then and there changed that you believe probably contributed to it?
Katie: We’ve been playing together longer. Obviously, you know, we’ve been a band longer, so I think that, in the same way you have a friend that you’ve known for two years versus a friend that you’ve known for six years, you hopefully get to a heightened level of trust and intimacy, you know? You can do more together. And I think that translates into how we play together and how we conceive our music. The shared vocabulary of reference points we all have expands. We have typically tried to write our songs very collaboratively, you know, maybe one person is coming in with a first idea of it, but it’s just a little kernel, or a little seed. Everyone throwing in stuff is what really fleshes it out. And with Nothing Feels Natural, we also had some musicians on the record in addition to us. We had Janel Leppin play mellotron and cello, and she’s actually our bassist right now. We had Luke Stewart play saxophone, we had Mark Cisneros play vibraphone, claves, bongos, also saxophone, bass, clarinet, you know? Having other friends come in and saying to them like “this is a song we wrote. What would you maybe want to add on to it?” I think that also really expanded our palette a lot.
Daniele: I feel a lot of it was an organic progression. Like, what is challenging to you and less exciting to you at the time. Like, I remember when we were recording the Radiation EP before Bodies, I felt like we were in a place where we were proud of our live show, like “Man, we’re a good live band!” and I felt like we didn’t have any recording that does justice to our live show and I was bummed about that. I just really wanted a testament of recording our show, what we sounded like and how good we were. And, when we finished our EP, I was like “Yeah finally, we have good recordings that sound like what we sound like!” But then, once you done that, it’s kinda like “Well, I met that challenge. What’s the next one? How do I make something bigger than what the four of us could do just in a live show? And so then how do we mess with arrangements and bringing other instruments and other musicians in to work on songs with us to grow them even more expansively?” So it kinda felt like a natural thing that getting in a great document of what we sounded like live was the first challenge, so what will the next challenge be? How do we make it even bigger than that?
G.L.: Also we’re all very literate in… We all go to the movies all the time and we all have tremendous- We’re always constantly listening to music and I felt like a lot of the ideas we were coming up with for the second one, they were a lot more conceptual, so like, there were a couple of songs were the reference point was “Okay, imagine it like this movie, this happens”, or you know, like where… this is the frame for the movie, we frame it out like a movie, that was kind of our structure for a song.
Katie: Using language that is more impressionistic can be a fun, democratized way to write a song, cause instead of saying, like, “you need to play faster” or “you need to sing something that’s more like… blah blah blah”, or like “your guitar needs to be this or that”, you know, you’re saying “okay, to me, this sounds like you’re writing the soundtrack to the part where they’re hiding in the house and they’re waiting for the monster to come out”. That leaves room for the other person to say “okay, well, how will I interpret that?”, you know? It’s a fun way to keep the creativity at the forefront and not make anyone feel like there’s no room for them to express themselves… You’re making a face like that’s the weirdest thing you ever heard.
Radio: *laughs* Well, kind of, but in a good way. Like, I never heard of anything like that.
Radio: But I can definitely see how that would result in a lot of great output though.
Katie: Yeah, yeah, it’s fun. And I think it’s something that we’re trying to get back in touch with right now, cause we’re like, writing new stuff, so for us, maybe, revisiting that mentality is like “yeah, cool!”
Radio: Also, what was the process for the song “JJ”? Because based on the lyrics, it kinda felt you were addressing a particular person that you guys knew.
Radio: Is that true, or were you guys addressing more of a particular mentality?
Katie: So, that was actually one, if I remember correctly, I was going through… I usually write the lyrics, Daniele wrote the lyrics and sang “No Big Bang” and a couple of other songs like that. But, I think at the time, I was personally going through some intense writer’s block, and I’m pretty sure quite a lot of the music for that, for “JJ”, was written independently of me, and was kind of finished, and something that the other three were just playing a lot. And one day I finally… I don’t usually do this, usually it takes me a while to write lyrics, but I got pretty much all of “JJ” out in one pass, just like… mad about something. I was kind of reflecting on an old relationship that I have had. I don’t usually write lyrics first-person like that, but in that instance, I did. So then I went to practice later, and then just tried to sing straight what I had written out with no sense of melody, just tried to sing over it. And it basically worked! We kinda had to maneuver some things on my end and on the music end, and carve out a little bridge here or… cause this isn’t really a song with traditional verse and chorus… But yeah, that was like the happy accident of “ooh”! Usually songs don’t come together that frictionlessly.
Radio: I noticed a few days ago you guys released an extended mix of “Suck” that also had U.S. Girls and Kag. How did the remixes come about? And how was working with both of them like?
G.L.: Well, the original version of the song, we wanted it to be much longer than the one that ended up on the record. But the tape we were using, or some kind of deterioration in the files, and… we were kind of on a time crunch to get it done before a certain time, so it didn’t, like… We ended up releasing the shorter one and then the record ended up coming out later, so we were kind of bummed, like “ah, damn, the long one is so much better!”
Katie: Daniele was devastated.
G.L.: As part of that, we were like “oh yeah, we should re-release the full extended one” and then “yeah, why not some remixes?” So…
Katie: Yeah. U.S. Girls, we’re all big fans of Meg Remy’s work, so we asked her if she wanted to remix it, and she did, and… Kag is actually me.
Katie: And to answer your question, I’m incredibly difficult to work with.
Radio: *laughs* Okay.
Katie: But yeah, it was fun for us, and something that I know was on Daniele’s list for a long time. She wanted to get out an extended version, hoping to put out a twelve-inch.