When Priests frontwoman Katie Alice Greer introduced the band on The Chris Gethard Show on December 3, she left no uncertainty about its politics. “First, we just wanted to say that the justice system in this country is fucked, and that black lives matter,” she told the studio audience before launching into the first song of the set. It was an appropriate opener for a band that’s made its increasingly recognizable name by making music on its own terms, with an uncompromising ethos that regards art and politics as profoundly intertwined.
Even before dropping their explosive debut EP, Bodies and Control and Money and Power on Sister Polygon and Don Giovanni Records this June, Priests had garnered a devout local following with a couple of self-released tapes and a 7-inch, plus an ambitious live performance schedule that earned the band a reputation for putting on a high-octane, anything-can-happen show. Greer is an undeniable presence with bulletproof vocal chords and a wardrobe to match (at Priests’ EP release show, she wore a waist-length wig and a red T-Shirt that read “Exotic Erotic George Bush”); Daniele Daniele bears down on the drumkit with monster power; guitarist G.L. Jaguar and bassist Taylor Mulitz trade dexterous, scale-hopping lines while bopping around like they’re actually having fun amid the chaos.
This year, the tastemaking gods of national indie rock heard Priests’ homilies, too. SPIN dug them, All Songs Considered played them, and Chris Richards wrote an approving profile in the Washington Post, claiming that “Priests prove that rock-and-roll is still an efficient tool for slicing [injustice] up.” (Washington City Paper, too, ran a cover story by Lars Gotrich that dubbed them “one of D.C.’s most exciting bands.”) They embarked on mini-tours with Deerhoof and the Dismemberment Plan in November and joined Sleater-Kinney on Don Giovanni labelmate Chris Gethard’s show this month.
Priests are well-steeped in the storied tradition of fuck-the-power noise punk, and certainly, there are ancestral lines to be drawn from the bands that preceded them on the dizzying number of D.C. DIY stages and basement floors they’ve played since coming together in 2011. But in their lyrics and their stage banter, in interviews and social media, the members of Priests dare to dig deeper into anti-capitalism, third-wave feminism, anti-racism, and queer politics than many D.C. punk darlings of yesteryear, pulling out of the dark earth things the (still very white, still very straight, still very male) punk community might rather keep buried and thrusting them under the noses of wide-eyed audience members who came to the show not quite knowing what they’d signed up for.
So yes, Priests have brought new energy and attention to D.C. punk—but it’s not just their music that’s to blame. Politi-punk paradigms, atonal screaming, and surf-rock riffs have been mixed and matched in thousands of iterations over the past handful of decades, and still, with grit and fearless creativity, Priests filled a void we didn’t know was there. Jaded and optimistic at once, the band’s radical worldview managed to crash its way into quasi-mainstream success. Just don’t tell that to the punks.