Priests, a D.C. based political punk band, know these American myths like a pastor knows scripture – or maybe more like the Devil. “Like Manifest Destiny, that’s such a shitty idea,” says vocalist Katie Alice Greer in the company of her bandmates, her voice static through the phone as I catch them in the midst of their European summer tour, “That’s just, like, white people explaining why they killed indigenous people and deciding they had a reason to expand and get ownership over land that didn’t belong to them.” Or like when guitarist GL Jaguar spills, “The idea that anybody could come here and follow their dream was part of the great American ideal, but, unfortunately, it’s harder and harder to do that.”
“This shit is everywhere,” says drummer Daniele Daniele after the band recalled the rise of hate-inspired demonstrations occurring in D.C. after the presidential election. “New America is really scary – if we’re even going to call it New America. I think it’s Old America, it’s just louder now and feels more entitled.”
Their defense? Music. Loud, angry, in-your-face and to-the-goddamn-point music. We’re living in a new era, one where it’s become a talent to distinguish myth from reality, vision from truth, alternative facts from non-alternative facts, and there’s no longer any reason to beat around the bush about it. “This is when I’d give a god a name,” Greer sings in ‘Nothing Feels Natural,’ the namesake of their debut album, “but to people in sanctuaries all I can say is you will not be saved.”
Hard topics and quintessential characteristics of the American identity, like misogyny or the prison industrial complex, are no strangers to this defiant band’s brand of music. They’ve trekked right into the thick of things since their first EP, Tape 1, back in 2012. Today, with their album Nothing Feels Natural and two summer tours that span continents, anything – even in a Trump-ruled world – seems possible. Completed by bassist Taylor Mulitz, they’re also a body of electric, swarming ideas, each in sync with the other. They talk of what some would label radical ideas with the casual air of discussing book club agendas over brunch.
“It’s great to persevere, and whenever you have the strength you should,” Daniele says, speaking of American culture’s tendency to overwhelm those participating within it, “but I know that sometimes you don’t have the strength. You have to just survive, especially if you’re not a person of privilege.”
The denial of existing forms of privilege is yet another mythology of the American narrative, and one that they’re quick to admonish. “We’re all white people,” Greer says, “and a lot of times we get a big platform because of our band to talk.”
“I feel like so often, maybe even what we’re doing right now, is feeling the need to speak for other people,” says Mulitz, “When, really, probably the best thing you could possibly do is to just pass the mic.”
There are no clear cut Davids or Jasons or Arthurs travailing to our rescue, and Priests seem to know that as well as anyone. New America is defined not by the heroes we lack but by the heroes we’re creating – and you know how the story ends. Against all odds, the heroes triumph, a victor is crowned, and a lesson learned.