Washington D.C. post-punks Priests released their second album, The Seduction of Kansas, in April. It was the band’s first full-length release after the amicable departure of founding bassist Taylor Mulitz, and their first time working with a producer — none other than Grammy-winner John Congleton.
Over the course of four EPs and two studio albums, Priests has challenged listeners with pointed societal critiques, but have continuously rejected the idea of being labeled an inherently political band.
They also run a record label, Sister Polygon, which has been home to their own releases, as well as releases from the likes of Snail Mail, Downtown Boys, Governess, and more.
Guitarist G.L. Jaguar and drummer Daniele Daniele recently spoke with PACIFIC about it all as the band was somewhere in Louisiana, driving west on Interstate 10 towards a tour stop in Texas.
PACIFIC: Obviously, a lineup change makes for a new dynamic. Can you talk a bit about the process of making this new album?
G.L. JAGUAR: In a lot of ways, it was a rip it up and start again kind of scenario. But ultimately, at the end of the day, the way we make music is still the same. Someone still comes in with a kernel of an idea and we collaboratively work on it. So in a lot of ways it was very much the same, and at the same time, it was very much different.
And, on our previous record, we had lived with those songs for a long time. We played them for a long time before we recorded them — whereas, with this one, we wrote the songs and immediately hit the road.
How was working with someone like John Congleton for the first time?
DANIELE DANIELE: Working with John was super fantastic. But it didn’t change our process. It was almost like we had a fifth band member. He didn’t do anything like change the structure of the songs. It was more like, “I know the drum kit sounds like this, but what if it sounded like this.”
He brought a whole new palette into the studio. We’re not experts with the software like he is and he really gave us the option for our instruments to sound a lot… larger. He had a lot of ideas like that, but left the songwriting to us. We really just have nothing but glowing things to say about him.
JAGUAR: He was very technically proficient and really helped execute our ideas very quickly.
DANIELE: When you’re working with someone like that, there’s always a high probability that they can be a bully. They can push you to get into situations that you feel uncomfortable with or do things that you don’t want to do. But he was the kind of guy that would never question something when he knew that was the way we wanted it. He respects the artists he works with.
I don’t think we’re being any more political that anyone else. I think we’re maybe just a little more self-aware, and therefore we get called political, and I think that’s somewhat of a troubling thing.
Can you talk a bit about playing in D.C. and under the umbrella of both the White House and great musical history there?
JAGUAR: It really is a great scene. Of course there is the great lineage of Dischord records, but there is, and was, so much more going on — Teen Beat Records, go-go bands, a tremendously big jazz scene. Even before all the punk stuff, there was so much music. You could go down M street in Georgetown and see 10 different kinds of bands in one night. But it is such a transient city in a lot of ways. People are always coming and going. But it really does have a solid core of musicians and I think it was always be that way. I think that’s a certainty.
DANIELE: I think being near the White House doesn’t really affect people’s day-to-day in D.C. What’s going on is happening in every city in the U.S. — over development by corporations, the racial dynamics of gentrification, pushing poor people out. You see that in Detroit, you see it in Austin, you see it in New York and Chicago. It’s everywhere we go.
How has Sister Polygon helped you as a band? And is it hard to reconcile focusing on Priests and finding things to release on the label at the same time?
DANIELE: When you own the means of production, you have a lot more agency in what you want to make. And no one can tell us that we can’t do something. And that’s cool. But it also limits the amount of capital we have, and that kind of sucks. But being our own bosses is important to us.
It’s definitely hard to sell things in a way that doesn’t make you feel like a s**t bag. But as far as finding other artists, I feel like that’s so easy. There are a million great, talented artists out there. The hardest part of our job is telling people that we really want to put out their music, but we can’t do it right now. We just need more resources. It’s hard.
Upcoming Sister Polygon releases?
JAGUAR: We are putting out a cassette by a band called Knife Wife. We just did a string of dates with them and they are truly phenomenal. We also just put out a record by a band from Philly called Olivia Neutron John, who used to be from D.C., and we’ll be doing some upcoming dates with them as well.
About that “political” label…
DANIELE: Whether or not you’re talking about things like macro-politics or inequality, and sure, those things are inherently political, but if you’re writing a love song and you’re not talking about where the money is coming from to make your music, that’s also equally political.
It’s a political choice to obscure the context in which your art was made and then sell it. I don’t think we’re being any more political that anyone else. I think we’re maybe just a little more self-aware, and therefore we get called political, and I think that’s somewhat of a troubling thing. What people should really be talking about is just how political Katy Perry songs are.
A lot of bands just don’t care about making their audiences think in that way.
DANIELE: The reason bands are allowed to not give a s**t is that no one calls it out. What would be great is instead of people calling our music political, just calling it art. And the music out there that doesn’t make you think, and allows you to be apathetic and complacent, not calling that art. Maybe it’s not art if it doesn’t make you think. It’s just more propaganda.
We are artists. And hopefully, you strive to make art that makes people think. I don’t need to tell people what to do or what the lesson is to be learned. People are really smart. They think about things. It’s enough to stir the pot and make someone ponder and come to their own conclusions.
When: 9 p.m. June 26
Where: Soda Bar, 3615 El Cajon Blvd., Normal Heights.