Priests Are a Punk's Political Paradox

The ambitious tension of Priests' resistance to political reductivism and punk misappropriation

"It would be cool if people stopped calling us a political band," Priests vocalist Katie Alice Greer told me over the phone last week.

"So many people describe us as a political band.... But it doesn't feel very considered," drummer Daniele Daniele added, following Greer's description of Katy Perry as pop music's very own manifestation of capitalist ideology.

Fortunately, in the course of our brief conversation, Greer and Daniele made me consider: What exactly do we mean, collectively, when we say "political" -- especially in terms of art? 

It's a common, but not very productive, impulse to argue that taking no stance is, in itself, a stance. You hear it in probably every Philosophy 101 course discussion ever. 

While it's entirely correct, the problem is, it's reductive to the point of meaninglessness, and in this case, it's a misunderstanding of terms. Clearly, Katy Perry is not political in the same way that Priests are, and that's because Perry is not political at all. Perry is the manifestation of an ideology, and maybe even a pawn in a corporation's political game, but that does not make her an actor in politics.

So, while I won't call Priests a political band, I will suggest that the Washington, D.C., trio's music is far more political that Katy Perry's, even if the impetus for delivering their new album, "The Seduction of Kansas," was simply to laugh at that state.

More than anything, what Priests' resistance to political reductivism indicates is a sense of unease -- and maybe even guilt -- with the "activist punk" label. 

According to Greer, the band has so much respect for punk communities that carrying that mantle would seem like a gross misappropriation -- especially when Greer is quoted as saying she wants Priests to be the biggest band in the world that they can possibly be

Ironically, a punk ethos is also couched in this tension, which is evidenced by the fact that Priests also still run a record label themselves called Sister Polygon

"It's a marketing tool to label us as a punk band; it's like saying, 'Okay, they're not as valuable as anyone else,'" guitarist G.L. Jaguar said.

"We are the masters of our own destiny," Greer added.

While Priests seem to adhere more to punk as a philosophy than as an economically-derived categorization or even a musical style (paradoxically making them even more punk), at the end of the day, they're making rock music -- despite the fact they don't think of rock bands as particularly cool, according to Daniele.

"We own the means of production, so you could consider us punk," Daniele equivocated. 

"I think, for me, [the ambition to be the biggest band in the world] is slightly facetious," she added.

Greer quickly responded, "It's not facetious for me.... If our art connected with everyone in the world, I would die with happiness."

Priests headline Soda Bar on Wednesday, June 26. Get tickets here.

Rutger Ansley Rosenborg is an editor at NBC's SoundDiego. Find out more here.

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