Nothing Feels Natural is the first full-length by Washington, D.C.'s Priests.
Recorded in the fall of 2016, the record is the culmination of two years' writing, touring, tweaking, and refining. Throughout that time the band has carved out an existence on its own terms,performing mostly all-ages shows booked via a network of like-minded artists both within and outside punk communities.
The album represents a major step forward for Priests. It's the bands most stylistically diverse set of songs to date, expanding on their lo-fi post-punk bona-fides with ideas drawn from pop, R&B, and industrial noise. Thematically, Nothing can be understood as a series of vignettes -- nine stories that crystallize into a bigger picture about the economics of human relationships, the invisibility of feminized labor, and the dual purpose of art for both the group and the individual.
The album will be the first full-length LP released on Sister Polygon Records, the label that Priests founded and operate.
Priests are Daniele Daniele (drums), Katie Alice Greer (vocals), G.L. Jaguar (guitar), and Taylor Mulitz (bass). Formed in 2011, the band has proven a valuable force for strangeness in a city that is increasingly terraformed by norms. At a time when few groups were making serious moves beyond the Beltway, Priests toured throughout North America and Europe. More significantly, they've helped to raise the general standard of show-going at home through cassettes and singles released on Sister Polygon, including music by bands like Sneaks, Snail Mail, Pinkwash, Cigarette, Downtown Boys, and numerous Priests-affiliated groups like Gauche and Flasher. Still, even amidst thriving hometown creativity, Priests possess a singular gravity. They are physical and combustible, urgent and visceral.
Following the release of Bodies and Control and Money and Power, Priests began to tweak their songwriting process - concentrating more deeply on melody, dialing down the distortion, and experimenting with dynamics. New songs evolved in performance, starting off tentative and gaining confidence and character on tour. The band recorded and scrapped versions of Nothing Feels Natural for almost a year before enlisting Hugh McElroy (Black Eyes) and Kevin Erickson, who worked with Priests previously on Tape Two, their Radiation/Personal Planes single, and half of Bodies. Nothing Feels Natural was tracked throughout summer of 2016 at Inner Ear Studios in Arlington, VA.
The result is by turns moody and explosive. "Appropriate" is a nod to Priests' earliest incarnations - loud and corrosive, chaotic and improvisatory. "JJ" is streamlined and melodic, pitting barroom piano against warped guitar and bass tones. On "No Big Bang" Daniele takes up the mic, programming a Roland TR-707 to hold down an unflagging pulse. The album's title track and centerpiece "Nothing Feels Natural" builds slowly, with shimmering guitars eventually giving way to feedback and billowing reverb. Lyrically, Priests songs present contradiction. They are often delivered first person but under pretense that "you are not you". Nothing Feels Natural centers the experiences of women but still asks us to "consider the options of a binary".
In these songs, innocuous moments often drive major ideological scene shifts. A cruel joke jostles the power structure of a love triangle. A PR sales-pitch is called out as identity theft. A list of aspirational consumer luxuries are chanted into a twisted emptiness. It's a record that thrives amid the tension between that what is valued and what is dismissed; between what is desired and what is presented.
Nothing Feels Natural is out January 27th on Sister Polygon Records.
Alice Bag is a singer/songwriter, musician, author, artist, educator and feminist. She was the lead singer and co-founder of the Bags, one of the first punk bands to form in the mid-1970s in Los Angeles. She was featured in the seminal documentary on punk rock, The Decline of Western Civilization and went on to perform in other groundbreaking bands, including Castration Squad, Cholita, and Las Tres. She has published two books, including the critically acclaimed memoir Violence Girl and the self-published Pipe Bomb For the Soul, based on her experiences in post-revolutionary Nicaragua. Her influence on popular music is highlighted in the Smithsonian exhibit, American Sabor. Alice’s debut solo album features all original material written by Bag and includes performances by some of her favorite LA-based musicians.
Stef Chura's debut studio album Messes, is born of her years of experience playing around the Michigan underground, setting up DIY shows in the area, and moving around the state-nearly 20 times. "Right when it starts to feel like home / It's time to go," she sings literally on its opening cut, "Slow Motion," a twisty, dim-lit guitar pop song where she curls and stretches every word. There are worlds of emotion in the ways Chura pronounces phrases with twang and grit, alternatingly full of despair, playfulness, and abandon. Chura calls her music "emotional collage," eschewing start-to-finish storylines in favor of writing intuitively about feelings, drawing from experiences and references related to a certain sentiment.
Originally from Alpena, Michigan, Chura moved to the Ypsilanti area in 2009, where she began playing shows before ultimately moving to Detroit in 2012. Chura has been home-recording and self-releasing her songs for six years, playing bass in friends' bands as well. With a trove of demos and 4 -track home recordings, some of which she'd released on small runs of cassettes over the years, Chura says she wasn't sure what to do with her life before heading into the studio. "One of my best friends passed away and I thought, what do I have to do before I die? I have to at least make one record."
"Faded Heart" is an ode to that friend. "I thought I saw you standing on that little cloud / How did you get so loud," she sings. The second verse references something she heard Joni Mitchell say in a documentary- "If you hold sand too tightly in your hand, it will run through your fingers." Like Joni, Chura favors finger-picked guitar, a style she's been honing for over 10 years, drawing inspiration from other folksingers such as Leonard Cohen and Buffy Sainte Marie in addition to Cat Power and 90s feminist punk.
Later on "Thin", she sings, "Thin like the skin on a lottery ticket / Tried you on for a bit just to see if it's fitting / I forgot who I was." A song written about her old job cocktail waitressing at a strip club, she recalls "It's funny because it sounds like a folk song, but it's more about the disgusting feeling I would have when I would come home from that place. And I was just like, who am I? I am not this person, I'm just in a weird place in my life right now. I feel like everyone has done that. You try something different just to be someone else."
Messes deals with these sorts of internal anxieties: power struggles, friendships falling apart, even one song about a conflict with a landlord. "It's more about pain than anything," she says. "A lot of these songs are a cathartic release of overwhelming emotional stress. "On and Off For You," for example, deals with being gaslighted and controlled by a lover. "Putting in overtime to get my revenge on you," she sings. "When I look back on that time period I obsess about how I should have left or done better for myself or been a stronger woman. It's the emotional or mental overtime I think a lot of people endure."
She recorded the entire album with Fred Thomas (Saturday Looks Good To Me) throughout 2015. Thomas plays bass on most of the record, and a bit of guitar and drums. Drummer Ryan Clancy of Jamaican Queens and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. adds the bulk of the drums. Through intricate guitar work and warm, textured production, Messes finds her trying to make sense of life's ups and downs. "It's about emotional mess, not physical mess," Chura says. "The title track is about knowing that you are going to do something the wrong way, but you're doing it anyway because you want that experience. I've had to do a lot of things the wrong way in order to figure out how to live my life."
DJ Baby Alcatraz
DJ Baby Alcatraz has helped redefine the way D.C. party goers think about a night out dancing. Her all vinyl record parties, like monthly residencies SHOUT BAMALAMA at Haydee's in Mt Pleasant, and SMASHING TIME at the Velvet Lounge, make people forget about requesting Top 40 hits and lose themselves in classic soul, rock 'n' roll and R&B.