“I think the important thing is to ground all our work all the time as activists in the real world and real life.”
D.C. quartet Priests are omnivorous consumers of ideas; you can practically feel them exploding from their short songs. In the last year, we’ve seen many bands bring ideas from the realm of radical feminism and leftist politics further into the mainstream than they’ve been in awhile, whether gender theory on the latest album by The Knife or the aggressive political minimalism of Savages or the pure feminist fury of Perfect Pussy. But Priests are possibly even more upfront about their beliefs, as their their live antics and starkly honest lyrics have demonstrated. Speaking to them at their December Silent Barn show, it was clear their ideals are based on a world of knowledge and thoughtful consideration.
You seem like a DIY band in the sense of favoring personal contact with people over using your media image to communicate. Does social media feel like something that’s useful for creating the kind of communities you’re interested in? How do you reconcile it’s usefulness with how corporate it is?
Daniele: It’s exciting on the one hand, because if it was the broadcast model and everyone had to be on The Ed Sullivan Show you[‘d] have to present yourself in a certain format and they can cut you off if they want, whereas on Tumblr we can be as goofy as we want and ask ourselves questions.
Katie: It’s a great tool for dialogue.
D: The means to broadcast yourself to people, you have slightly more control over, but that opens up the whole gamut of creepy-ass… I mean, you think you’re in control but then you think of something like Google and it’s like… Ahhhhhh!
K: We’re working on building a website so we will have more control over this stuff. I think we will still use our Tumblr because it’s an easy way for people to ask us questions.
Taylor: We also like Tumblr because you have more control over it. People ask us why we don’t have a Facebook and there are a lot of similar functions between Facebook and Tumblr, like you can post photos and links. But you have less editorial control over it, like the design aspects. But also if someone sends us a shitty message that’s like, troll-y, which doesn’t really happen, we have more control over it. And we can play more of a curatorial role.
G.L. Jaguar: Also I feel personally, doing things DIY just seems intuitive. It’s like, you have a band, you’re going to make fliers for your band, you’re going to promote your own band, that’s what being in a band’s about. You book your own shows, you book your own tours. If you work with a booking agent or different people, there are advantages to that but that doesn’t really work with what we’re trying to do.
So if you’re playing a show and it’s really out of your element and you bring up this idea, even though you don’t reach everyone, there might be one person who’s like, “Oh, I never thought about it that way.” It’s very important to do that.
D: And I think we really enjoy doing the work. We’re gonna be putting out our new release, partnering our record label with someone else’s. And that’s good, because we’re putting out a higher volume and I can’t hand make all the covers ourselves, because I have a job and stuff. But I wish I didn’t have a job and could make everything by hand because I genuinely enjoy doing it, just the way I enjoy booking our tours and meeting people and talking to them. I mean, there’s lots of political reasons to do it, but I think on a selfish level I just really enjoy it more.
K: And you get to develop relationships with people that you wouldn’t get to if you used a booking agent. It just becomes so impersonal and you don’t get to learn how to do it for yourself. Like who’s in charge of these venues and what they stand for, you can play more of a role in making those decisions for yourself.
T: In a lot of ways being in a band is a lot like being a person, so if we might not be that psyched on the way communication is mediated by the internet, but at the same time a lot of people really aren’t. There are pluses to it in a lot of ways, you can connect with people over things in a lot of ways that maybe you wouldn’t have been able to in a physical public space. As long as we can use social media to connect with people, it’s a good tool.
The first time I saw you was at Permanent Wave Festival last summer at Big Snow (RIP), which was an organization I was involved with at the time and has now sadly come to an end. What do you think is the importance of explicitly feminist organizations? How do you think we can avoid getting into conflicts with each other as feminists? Are there any organizations you’re involved in now/think are cool/think we should be aware of?
K: I think any feminist organization should make any and all effort to be intersectional.
D: This kind of goes back to your last question, with social media, everyone thinks they can make these all new communities that are based solely on social media and people can just be totally aggressive or come off wrong when it’s just mediated through a computer screen. So I think the important thing is to ground all our work all the time as activists in the real world and real life. If you just meet up and talk on the internet, that means something, but I think those organizations always need to be grounded in face-to-face work. Because to get in those fights in real life is a lot harder. You’re aware of the human that is hurting, and you’re hurting.
K: …I would love to see subjects treated with more compassion. We can still criticize them or critique them, but we should be treating them with more compassion. It is not second nature to do that when you’re writing something out and you’re removed from it. But having explicitly feminist events, meetings… I think a lot of times when we’re involved in these radical communities we kind of think, “Oh, we already know we’re all feminists here, we don’t need to discuss that.” But I think sometimes it’s really powerful to say, “By the way, we are all feminists here and we might not all agree on what that means, and we might not like each other sometimes, but we are all hopefully working toward making the world better,” in the most vague sense of things. So if we can get along or a least be civil, we can all work toward that.
GL: It’s important to try to have a cross-pollination of ideas and try to bring up radical ideas in a context where they might not be available to everyone. So if you’re playing a show and it’s really out of your element and you bring up this idea, even though you don’t reach everyone, there might be one person who’s like, “Oh, I never thought about it that way.” It’s very important to do that. And it’s very important for men to project feminist viewpoints as well, because that’s something you don’t hear from a lot of men.
D: I played in a band with Ian Svenonius and so did Katie, and he’s like, subtly one of the coolest feminists I’ve ever met. Like he’ll describe himself as a feminist. And he never uses the word girl when talking about women, just little stuff like that. I just thought that was a cool vibe for a male feminist.
GJ: There are things I’ve read in interviews with Matt Korvette from Pissed Jeans who’s had some interesting things to say.
T: I think there need to be more cool organizations, all these cool people need to come together and talk about their ideas.
K: I’m so psyched about The Media existing. This is like a beautiful new thing. I would really encourage people to read Liz Pelly’s mission statement about why she went to the effort to put this together. She talks about after losing her job at the Boston Phoenix, losing sleep over this idea, is there even room in the world anymore for alternative media outlets? And when you hear someone talking about that, it’s like, that’s fucking awesome that you’re involved in this thing that you care so much about.
Katie emailed me later to add in these recommendations:
I love following Suzy X’s work in general, whether it is on stage or in print or online. She’s funny, makes great art, and makes super articulate, concise commentary on “scene” politics, queer activism, ignorance-induced racism, feminism, mass incarceration, lots of other stuff. I’m also really into an anonymous publication that came out last year, it is free on the web if you look it up, “Bros Fall Back” by the secret society of femmes out of Philadelphia. Both Suzy and some of the Bros Fall Back writers articulate something in their work about a thing that prevents a lot of people from giving a shit about anything at all. You don’t have to “do it” only one way. You don’t have to join the club, you don’t have to adopt someone else’s agenda, you can be angry and political and involved however you see fit. Additionally I have to give a huge, huge shout out to the biggest life inspiration to me, Victoria Ruiz, who is a resident of Providence Rhode Island and the vocalist for Downtown Boys. Victoria injects so much simultaneous joy and anger and action into her work. She’s an artist and a political organizer and I’m just so grateful she has the energy to share both of those gifts with all of us. Madeline Burrows is also super inspirational to me. Creative activism finds its way into places that might not otherwise invite that kind of thing into its space. Madeline’s work and ideas are something I try to keep in mind when we’re figuring stuff out as a band…
I’m going to do something good, and I’m gonna make incremental change and not feel bad that it’s not perfect right now.
On that note, what’s your thoughts about Lana Del Ray’s progression as an artist? She’s a lot more popular now then when you wrote your song about her.
K: Honestly the writing about her wasn’t meant to be poking fun at her, or boosting her in any way either. I was using her as a stand in to talk about ‘performativity’ and the way that we’re all performing ourselves as an act of being alive.
D: I remember we were talking about this when you wrote it and we were like, wow this woman has spawned a giant backlash, because it was right after the SNL performance. And I was like, what is it about her that has made people so venomously angry and vitriolic?
K: Women who are beautiful by societal standards in a place of power often elicit that kind of backlash. Not to say that if you’re a beautiful powerful woman you shouldn’t be criticized. But you will be subject to a lot of that if you are in a place of power.
D: Or society says, “Be this,” and then you become that and people call you contrived. And it’s like, “Duh, you asked me to be that!”
K: We were jamming some Lana Del Rey and Taylor Swift on the way over here. I’m on a huge Taylor Swift kick right now.
GL: I didn’t hate it.
What are your plans for your label? Would you like to have it grow to include more artists? What is your vision for the kinds of artists and releases it will put out?
GL: Definitely first and foremost everyone we work with are people we have connections with.
K: We want to make our friends music more available if we love it.
D: People who we respect and love we want to help.
GL: The reality of actually putting out a record or cassette is extremely easy, and a lot of people haven’t done something like that before and it’s rewarding to help people who don’t particularly know the steps to do that.
GL: Our next release is in my opinion one of the most important bands in America, Downtown Boys from Providence, RI.
What do you think about the concept of coolness or “being cool” (as in “being political isn’t cool”)? Is it totally destructive? Is there any value to it?
K: There’s value to considering aesthetics. There’s value to considering how you present yourself. There’s value to having meaning in the words that you’re speaking and intent and the way that you’re living, and finding a balance in all those things is I think what we’re all constantly trying to do.
T: I think the most important thing that you just said is “intent.” It’s just where it’s coming from.
D: And a big part of embracing wanting to be cool or a certain amount of narcissism is performativity. Often what we think of as our most authentic selves, our ethnic selves, our hereditary selves, or community selves are structures that were laid upon us… They might not have been built by us or contrived by us or constructed by us, but they are historically constructed and we took them on without realizing it. So like, trying to be cool in a lot of ways can be liberating because you’re recognizing your performativity. I think the negative side is when being political is deemed as being uncool. I think what’s exciting is finding a way to be like, “I want to revel in this identity I’m constructing but I want to separate it from this other thing I think is negative or damaging.”
I’ve seen you guys talk a lot about how difficult resistance is today. I think about it a lot too. I think art is an important part of that but sometimes it seems like nothing we can do will be enough. How do you feel about that? Do you feel hopeful? What do you do to combat a sense of hopelessness about the future?
K: I talk so much to stave off feelings like that. Like overwhelming hopelessness or stuff like that. I think we started a band to try to have a constructive outlet for dealing with that. If you think about all the problems you want to solve you’ll just be totally overwhelmed and cry for days in a ball, but if you just start talking to people about what’s on your mind and you try to learn more, you will emotionally feel better and probably be doing something constructive, even in a small way.
T: But I do think the next step has to be taken. Once you’ve made those connections with other people I think it’s really important for people to organize, put their bodies out there and make and effort to make change.
GL: I definitely feel extremely hopeful, because I feel like for a long time I was following a lot of blogs and everything was just trending and would leave so quickly. What’s really wonderful now, we’ve gone out, we did a big U.S. tour and made so many connections, and there’s a realness in music of people that are not relevant to the internet and they’re basically going back to their roots and doing their own thing. They’re playing music that’s inspiring to them and not playing by the rules that are currently set up. Like having a publicist or submitting to blogs, you know what I mean? So it’s very hopeful for music and creativity.
T: But by the same token a lot of people are using the internet to find people or other bands or whatever and to bring that to their town and are using that to find community. Like Carbondale, Illinois. It’s a really cool place.
K: Some places you would say, “There’s a really cool punk scene in that town,” and be like, well, I’m not a part of that. But there’s a very cool localized community there where people go to shows.
T: They go out of their way to contact bands that they want to come there, and put on really awesome shows, and all kinds of people come out.
K: I think it’s just really important that people trust themselves more and do things that make sense.
D: I think all of us have had that moment where you realize how fucked everything is and you are like, “There’s nothing I can do! I can’t even step anywhere without ruining some part of the world!” And you just cry and hide under your comforter and want to die. I think when people put up this binary like, “This is wrong, this is bad.” It’s paralyzing. It fucks you over. For me one of the most liberating things about being in a band is that I got so sick of activists telling me everything I did was wrong or not worthwhile. But now I’m like, you know what, I might not solve all the problems right now but that’s OK! I’m going to do something good, and I’m gonna make incremental change and not feel bad that it’s not perfect right now.
K: We’ll fuck up and we’ll keep fucking up but you’ve gotta learn.
GL: And don’t give up.