Priests bring punk-rock back to life

Priests kick off North American tour for their first LP, Nothing Feels Natural

It’s a casual night at Casa Del Popolo, sitting side by side with punk-rock band Priests. Grunge music is playing in the background and sandwiches are being ordered as the band awaits their moment to shine on stage. On Jan. 27, Priests released their first full-length album, Nothing Feels Natural, under their own label, Sister Polygon Records.The album brings punk-rock back to life with its raucous guitar sounds and post garage-rock aesthetic. It’s the soundtrack that will take you back to the CBGB days in New York City. These post-punkers have made Montreal the third stop of their North American tour. “Are winters always this cold over here?” asked bassist Taylor Mulitz.

Priests lineup consists of Daniele Daniele on drums, Katie Alice Greer on vocals, G.L Jaguar on guitar and Mulitz on bass. The band was founded in Washington, D.C. back in 2012 when Daniele moved there for grad school. “I had just started to play drums and I wanted to keep playing. I was on the lookout and met Katie at a show. We ran into G.L Jaguar at the next show and decided to start a band,” said Daniele. Initially, they played shows as a trio until they decided to add a new member. “G.L Jaguar met Taylor, our bassist, and he joined us a year later,” said Daniele. Irony stems from their band name, as there is nothing priest-like about them or their music. “At first, it was kind of a joke, because none of us could be priests. I’m Jewish, the other two are women and Taylor is also Jewish” said Jaguar.

According to Jaguar, the band felt they urgently needed to start making music. They felt frustrated about the political issues arising at that time, and decided to take part in the Occupy Wall Street movement. The Occupy Wall Street was a movement against social and economic inequality worldwide. “We had to make music and couldn’t imagine not doing it. We were in weird places in our lives,” said Jaguar. “Our first show was in a living room and our second show was at Occupy D.C which was part of the whole Occupy movement.” According to Greer, everything is political and her personal feelings are political, which is the meta theme of Nothing Feels Natural. “Now that we’re in the era of Trump, people look back at Obama and think, ‘Ah, sunny times,’ when those times for us were very dark in a lot of ways. The main themes of the album revolve around anxiety, depression or defeat, and trying to find a way forward,” said Daniele.

The album’s lyrics represent the personal-political theme through their metaphoric storylines. “There’s a lot of frustration that we are working out through playing music. It’s cathartic. It makes sense that sometimes, when you are writing lyrics, you use it as a way to escape that and create a narrative that isn’t about your own life,” said Mulitz. For instance, their track “Lelia 20” was written from the point of view of the movie character Lelia from the movie Shadows, a film by John Cassavetes. “Katie was writing the song from the perspective of this character at age 20. If you listen to the lyrics, people understand them in such different ways because they are political,” said Mulitz.

Portrait shot of Priests band members. Photo by Audrey Melton

In terms of the creative process, it is lead singer Greer who writes all the lyrics, and the band as a whole works together on the instrumentals. “Katie has notebooks filled with lyrics, and then we come to practice different riffs together that we compose individually,” said Mulitz. However, the song “No Big Bang,” was written by Daniele—it is a song about insomnia. “Most times, I can’t sleep because my brain would just keep going. Even if I want to rest, if I have an idea that really grabs me, I just can’t stop obsessing over it,” said Daniele. She said finding an idea that excites you can bring forth creativity in a lot of ways, but the flipside is you risk getting trapped in your own mind. “Ideas can spiral out of control,” said Daniele.

In Priests’ music video “JJ”, the bandmates are filmed one by one as their faces and upper bodies are touched by the others without their ability to stop it. What inspired the “JJ” music video was their low budget. “It was a very cheap way to make something visually effective. I saw that in a Kanye West music video and thought it was a great effect,” said Greer.

Greer went on to express how people have tenuous relationships with how they’re being perceived, as we exist in a world where so many conversations happen on social media. “Conversations through performance can be useful when you connect with people, but it can constantly make you so aware of yourself. I think a video like this one, where you see these faceless hands touching you, mirrors feelings like that,” said Greer.

According to Daniele, Nothing Feels Natural was a hard album to make and it took them a long time to finalize it. “We’ve been writing this album for three years. We first started recording it a year and a half ago,” said Daniele. Priests have been playing these songs for a while, but this tour is the first time they’ve noticed people are connecting with their music in a meaningful way. “It’s more than just, ‘Oh, yeah this is cool music!’ This time, people know the songs, they are able to connect with them,” said Jaguar. “The excitement of someone knowing the song and being excited about it in return makes me way more excited on stage,” said Daniele.

Priests have the simple goal of making a living out of music. When it comes to the music they make, “we don’t ever want to settle in one place. We’ve always been a dynamic band,” said Greer. “I think we all dream and hope for consistent evolution. We are aesthetically restless.”


You’d be wrong to not listen to Viet Cong

The cheerful band members draw inspiration from their fascination with a post-apocalyptic world

Listening to the dark, heavy tones emanating throughout Viet Cong’s EP, Cassette, and self-titled debut album, one would assume that the men behind the music were sombre individuals. “Everybody thinks that we’re going to be really serious,” confirms guitarist Scott Munro.

Munro was joined by Matt Flegel on vocals and bass, Mike Wallace on drums, and Daniel Christiansen on guitar to form the group, Viet Cong, in 2012. Hailing from Calgary, Alberta, they released their EP, Cassette in July 2014 and are set to release Viet Cong from Flemish Eye Records on Jan. 20.  Their sound can be heavy at times, but is rich with heavy drumbeats, samplers, synths and vocals that evoke the angst of old school British bands of the 1980s. Viet Cong belongs more in the punk rock and experimental spectrum rather than fitting into the all-encompassing school of indie rock.

The new album was co-produced by Munro, Flegel, and Graham Walsh of electronica band Holy Fuck with contributions from musician Julie Fader. Over eight days in the winter, the band split their time between Munro’s home studio, recording vocals at the studio of Blue Rodeo’s Greg Keelor, then recording in a refurbished barn near Hamilton, Ontario. They see winter as the perfect season to be working, since, essentially, you are stuck inside and somewhat forced to be productive. So, Viet Cong hibernated and then emerged with seven exquisite tracks.

A fascination with the gloomy post-apocalyptic landscape has been an influence for some members of the band and is reflected in their heavy sound. The obsession with apocalypse, natural disaster, raptures, and the collapse of society has been permeating popular culture for decades. This fascination has manifested in novels like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road—a book which Munro fittingly happened to be reading leading up to the end of the Mayan calendar.

On the topic of the end of the world and post-apocalyptic thought, Munro says: “I think everyone wonders how they would deal with the collapse of everything they know… I’m always thinking about how defensible my house will be. [These] thoughts in everyday life, I think, factor into how I think about music.” Hence the melancholic vibes running through their albums. Yet, Viet Cong are not quite the pessimists their angst-ridden songs make them out to be. “We’re all pretty upbeat people and we’re all pretty stoked about everything,” Munro says.

Viet Cong are surely stoked to be embarking on a fourth month-long tour, playing nearly forty gigs across North America and Europe from now until May. In months past, they toured in a compact Toyota Echo.

“Can you imagine that four of us lived in a car that size for seven weeks? I had some of the best sleeps of my life on that tour. I prefer sleeping outside on the grass than sleeping on some hippie’s couch,” Munro says. Now they have purchased a new tour van from fellow musician, Chad VanGaalen. The van came complete with a rainbow coloured floor.

Touring the Viet Cong album will prove to be much different than recording, and to keep things fresh the band tries to build improvisation into each show. Munro says this is good for them, because “you have to listen to each other” and “nobody can just get into their own little world, because its not always the same.” This improvisation on tracks such as “Death” allows for an exciting set, as Munro says that the improvisation “gives you something to look forward to.”

“Being in a band is always a compromise … nobody in [the] band has egos,” Munro says,  which makes the writing and recording process quite smooth. Not to mention, many of the members have been playing and recording music for years, so their experience has helped them to improve on the collaborative process that is music making.

They respect a policy in which ideas presented in the group are “[followed] through to the finished recording,” Munro says. Instead of throwing away material, they try to rework songs and ideas that can be picked apart and then reuse them. When they first began Viet Cong, Munro and Flegel sat down with material they had been collecting and working on, and decided that everything was ripe for the picking, using samples and riffs for new innovative tracks that would end up on Cassette and Viet Cong. Ultimately, as a band, their goal is “to make music that [they] like and [to] make something good” which requires work and dedication. But this has been achieved thus far with both the promising Cassette and their full length album, Viet Cong.

Viet Cong play Bar Le Ritz Friday Jan 30.

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