After five years of touring and three promising EPs, the Washington, D.C.-based band Priests released its debut album Nothing Feels Natural on Jan. 27. An uncompromising punk record with a sharp political edge, Natural tackles patriarchy, neoliberalism and more with nuanced anger. Featuring lithe guitar riffs and incisive lyrics, the band channels the best elements of its trio of EPs into a daring and ambitious record.
This Saturday, Priests will conclude its U.S. tour with a record release show at Washington's Black Cat mainstage. The show features support from Coup Savage & the Snips and Atta Girl.
The band resists easy classification, thanks to each member's diverse listening habits and long drives spent listening to music while on tour. According to Priests guitarist G.L. Jaguar, Natural was the result of translating the group's live energy into an equally compelling record. One such influence for this approach is Third, the 2008 record from Bristol trip-hop group Portishead.
"[Third] has lots of elements of Portishead as a live band [as well as] more lo-fi live elements: very proficient drummers, excellent guitar lines — but also using synthesizers and building up songs in the studio," Jaguar said. "It's a very good example of what we were trying to achieve."
It's a fitting comparison. Portishead was once pigeonholed as sounding too much like its peers in Massive Attack, while Priests tends to get lumped in with groups like Washington, D.C., punk legends Fugazi. Natural is more than just angry post-punk anthems; the title track is all dreamy vocals and shoegaze guitars, while "Interlude" adds tension with wispy and eerie string arrangements.
Other frequently played artists include The Cure, Fiona Apple, Protomartyr and Scott Walker's 4.
"One of the positive points of all being stuck in a band together is we all get to constantly expose each other to the music each of us is listening to," said Jaguar.
Another important dimension of Priests' work is maintaining artistic integrity through actions and beliefs.
"It's important to try and make safe and supportive art spaces in communities that are very much community oriented," Jaguar said. "I think the big division is that you have these spaces that are corporately funded … you used to have these huge art shows that were funded by Pop Chips or Vitamin Water. And you'd be going to exhibits, and the exhibits would be focused on some aspect of Vitamin Water or Pop Chips."
The subject of commercialism comes up often on Natural. Singer Katie Alice Greer shouts "it feels good to buy something you can't afford" over discordant guitars on "Appropriate." Calls of "anything you want/ anyone you want" on "Pink White House" are a taunt of the American Dream. Best is "Puff," a post-punk screed that finds Greer snarling at accelerationism.
Daniele Daniele, the band's drummer, agrees that activism is important to Priests, reflecting a careful and critical approach to the group's work.
"Artists are often economically marginalized because of the line of work that we do," Daniele said. "Although we are an anti-capitalist band in a lot of ways, we still obviously make merchandise to sell. We understand that we live in a capitalist society."
Balancing the group's independent streak with the need for money to keep the group afloat is a challenge, she said.
"How do I get those in a way that benefits the things I want to support and not things I don't want to support?" she said. "That's a very hard thing — there's not a simple answer."
Tickets cost $16, with $1 from each ticket sold going to Casa Ruby. They are available online at blackcatdc.com and in the box office of the Black Cat, which can be accessed from the Green Line of the Metro. Doors open at 8 p.m. and set times are to be announced.