D.C. Punks Priests on Outrage, Organizing, and Fighting Trump

"Right now more than ever it’s important to find role models of thought and action, who can teach us about cultural resistance."

Washington, D.C.'s Priests.
Washington, D.C.’s Priests. Facebook

There’s an explanation for how quickly the Trump administration scorched the earth this week.

The theory of Accelerationism suggests that some capitalist entities are consciously intent on speeding up the political narrative in the interest of executing it faster than anyone can object. Through technology, those on the right who embrace this idea disrupt the 24-hour news cycle by instituting changes at a pace our current channels of information and organization simply can’t keep up with.

The end result is that you have the major broadcast networks covering our president’s suspicions of election hacking while he’s freezing the EPA or reinvigorating the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines. It’s a three-ring circus, reversed—look at the latest tweet-storm or other manufactured outrage in the center ring and you’ll miss the egregious shit happening on the side.

“Accelerationism is totally fucked up, and it’s always proposed by people who have the least to lose,” says Priests‘ Katie Alice Greer. “Let’s fuck up the world so it ends faster! What are you talking about?”

In a time when many creatives are starting to organize, throwing benefits for the numerous organizations and vulnerable populations at risk, Priests are going even further to disrupt such Accelerationist narratives.

The Washington, D.C. punks started their own record label, Sister Polygon, in 2012 as an outlet for the artists on the fringes, both culturally and creatively, releasing two tapes, a 7-inch and an EP. And this week, after sharpening their words and doubling down on their outrage, Sister Polygon is releasing Nothing Feels Natural, Priests’ new full-length, into a culture that sorely needs it.

Much has been made of how the new album is a timely nod to the grim, nationalistic realities facing our country, but this shouldn’t discount how much work Priests put in to get here. A bitter but hearty goulash of cowpunk, pop, r&b, no-wave skronk and industrial noise, Nothing Feels Natural sounds arrived at and deeply felt.

“As part of the creative class, we all have to continually make the choice to be responsible with how we’re doing our work, so that we’re not contributing further to these people who try to own everything that we produce.”—Katie Alice Greer

Embedded in these tunes are the radically well-read minds of their creators—Katie Alice Greer on vocals, Daniele Daniele on drums, G.L. Jaguar on guitar and Taylor Mulitz on bass. Priests understand that a sense of outrage is a great place to start, but their lyrics offer listeners a challenge, too—once you’ve realized how the narrative is controlled and how the creative class is marginalized, what are you going do about it? Will you own your words?

I spoke with the band on Inauguration Day, hours before “NO THANKS,” an anti-fascist concert organized by Greer at The Black Cat back home in D.C., was set to begin. Like the most effective agents of change, Priests quite literally operate inside the system that needs dismantling. Being privy to the district’s longstanding income gap has fortified the band with the sense of outrage that D.C. punks have always worn proudly. And now that the nationalists and conspiracy theorists are coming to town, they’re energized in opposition.

Midway through our conversation, Priests flipped the script and started interviewing me. They wanted to know how I feel about being accountable for the politics of our former publisher and what it’s like to be a freelance journalist on the precipice of a media industry that’s increasingly falling through the cracks of an Accelerationist agenda. I’m thankful for the dialogue.

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Are you guys energized? So many people are sad and crying today, but crying is so much more passive than dancing. As a D.C.-based band, does it feel like the personal and the public are merging for you right now?

Katie: They’re always merged. And I’d say to those people who feel sad, you have to make space for yourself to feel that way. I would hesitate for anyone to police how anyone is processing this, because it’s very overwhelming!­ I would really venture to say that nobody alive right now has gone through something like this, seeing such an inept and authoritarian administration take over. It’s really unprecedented, so feel how you wanna feel. We have definitely set up a schedule for ourselves today, maybe on purpose, to not have to sit around too much. That is helpful to me because if I take a break right now I might start crying or something.

Stay moving, stay present, for sure. How did the anti-fascist concert come about?

Taylor: That was all Katie, she’s been running around—

Katie: [Laughs] Like a crazy person?

Taylor: Like a warrior. Two weeks ago we were like, “Katie, you seem really stressed out that it’s not coming together, just cancel it,” and she just said, “No!” Now it’s looking amazing—it’s already sold out, which is great.

Katie: I’m really happy that everything came together. As much as it’s scary to be outside in our city right now, it’s been really reassuring to be at community events, see so many faces and feel like we all have each other’s backs. There was a benefit for the D.C. Abortion Fund on Thursday night that also sold out, and some bands on the record label that we run, Sister Polygon, were playing. So it’s been really nice to psychically hug one another and be together in such a catastrophic time.

“I was at a coffee shop in a really liberal, pretty hip neighborhood near University and there was a mass of 15 20-somethings in full-out American flag getups, screaming about Trump, harassing people on their bikes. There are a lot of those people.”—Taylor Mulitz

And to take some solace in the fact that, ratio-wise, at last night’s “Deploraball” reporters outnumbered people attending 5 to 2. There were more reporters hoping to capture a Nazi salute for their b-roll than actual attendees. It seems like the resistance theory is so much larger right now.

Katie: This is gonna sound like a crackpot theory until some sort of data comes out to back it up, but I really think more and more that this administration was elected through trolls, you know? I think that there are actual people who voted for Donald Trump, I don’t know if it’s actually as great of a number as we think.

Taylor: That being said, this morning at 7:30 or something I was at a coffee shop in a really liberal, pretty hip neighborhood near University and there was a mass of 15 20-somethings in full-out American flag getups, screaming about Trump, harassing people on their bikes. There are a lot of those people.

Daniele: And to be said, even if reporters outnumber people coming to support the inauguration, that right there is the genius of Trump. He understands how to manipulate things to get a certain segment of the American population behind him. And that’s brilliant!

Katie: Our country was also built on racism and white supremacy, misogyny and all kinds of bullshit. So I definitely don’t mean to suggest that we’re actually more progressive or something.

I took what you just said as being in reference to algorithmic manipulation, Twitter bots and stuff. Even the “alt-right” came out of disgruntled kids on Reddit, sitting on their computers, jerking off and drinking Mountain Dew all day. And it’s all to be taken part in parcel with the fact that Russia had a hand in exacerbating the narrative around Hillary. This is all about narratives.

Katie: Hillary Clinton’s definitely a war criminal who dismantled the welfare system in this country. I was never a huge supporter of hers, although I voted for her. But that doesn’t negate the fact that there’s an incredible misogyny that has influenced how people voted. Actually, we have a question for you!

Daniele: Yeah, please!

D.C.'s Priests
Priests. Audrey Melton

Katie: So this paper was owned by Jared Kushner up until a few weeks ago. What was that like?

A lot of reporters here struggled to be accountable with this for a while. A lot of us were Bernie supporters or otherwise raised in a progressive environment, and it was something that I tried to avoid with Observer Music as much as possible. Our paper itself was always a bit more centrist, not progressive by any means, but not conspiratory or anything either.

So Kushner’s officially out and off our Editorial Board as of a few weeks ago, and while many people are worried about what he’s going to be doing as a senior adviser to Trump, I think we’re all really grateful that we don’t have to answer for him any more. He never really had a sway on the narrative of our section, but as I told someone in an interview recently, if you go far enough up any publishing or media enterprise and there’s always a mogul at the top.

But I consider myself part of the creative class, and we’re the expendable people that you see in every facet of media. Denying me a story because of the association hurts me, not the paper. So the artists, the creators and even the freelance journalists like myself are generally at the bottom rung of a totem pole that protects its magnates but not us.

Katie: Totally, and if you’re a freelancer you have no support system, which is totally what it’s like to be in a band. It’s chasing down people for money, whether online or in person after a show. I’ve always thought that freelance music writers and independent musicians actually have so much in common, and you see that more and more with so much of our work being housed on the internet.

Daniele: Wait, can I ask one more question? I’m so curious about this, and you might know.

Of course!

“We can bother the hell out of people and not ever shut up, you know? We can be such a fucking nuisance that we wear them down slowly.”—Katie Alice Greer

Daniele: So Trump is wack and crazy—

Katie: Can you quote her on that?

Daniele: I’m always so surprised. Being anti-NATO! Whoa, so out of left field, who would’ve even thought, even for a Republican?! So I was kind of surprised, he was so wacky and anti-establishment that I thought he would say, “Israel is bleeding us of money, why are we gonna support what’s essentially this state’s Apartheid?” Not that I thought he’d care about Apartheid, but I was surprised his anti-establishment thing wouldn’t be pro-Israel. Instead he’s super militaristically pro-Israel, and I was wondering if you thought it had anything to do with Jared Kushner being a heavy influence on him.

These are great questions, and I’m grateful for the dialogue.

Katie: You can actually publish this as “Priests Interview Me.” [All laugh]

I grew up as a progressive Jew, but living in New York you meet this very strong pocket of neocon Orthodox Jews, arguably as conservative as fundamentalist Christians. Anyone far-right enough in any ideology seems to be rooting for the end of the world. It’s a Messiah Complex. And it’s hard for me as a proud Jewish kid to not mindlessly be pro-Israel—I went on the Birthright trip and thought it was beautiful but also didn’t like seeing people walking around with machine guns, this fear of dread and constantly having to look over your shoulder is all ugly shit. There’s a lot of cultural pressure to fall in lock-step.

So it’s wholly possible that Trump sees Kushner’s alliance as a strategic move. The Republicans have always been pro-Israel for the same reason that Netanyahu is in power right now—they see the resources there as something they’re entitled to so long as they have a strong pro-Israel alliance. And it’s also worth remembering that Israel has the strongest military in the world.

Daniele: They really interestingly enough, one of my friends who’s very wealthy, she has a huge trust fund, owns a house in Brooklyn, which is insane to me. But it’s because her parents created the heating components for the little compact meals they give soldiers, MRE’s. There’s only one person in the whole world that does it, and it’s her grandfather’s company. Every MRE in the world has to order these heating components.

And they were talking about where their money comes from, because they’re part of the Military Industrial Complex, and they said, “Israel, Israel, Israel. We sell so many heating components to them it’s crazy.” That’s why it totally makes sense for the Neocons to support a militarized, non-compromising Israeli state that doesn’t want a two-state solution. Because that would end the conflict.

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Katie: We could probably go on about this all day, it’s very interesting to all of us. Taylor and Gideon are actually Jewish. One of the songs on our record, “Puff,” the lyrics come from Daniele and I actually reading a lot about Accelerationism.

Austra and I talked about this in my interview with her [shameless plug].

Katie: Yeah! She seems really cool. We think about stuff like this a lot. Accelerationism is totally fucked up, and it’s always proposed by people who have the least to lose. Let’s fuck up the world so it ends faster! What are you talking about?

Austra says that technology is being co-opted to promote Accelerationism and Hypernormalization right now, but the same technology could be a liberating, too. This is what the hippies wanted, and all the tools are there, but they’ve been co-opted by monied interests.

Daniele: I think that maintaining a sense of agency—

Taylor: Or automating all jobs so that people can just create.

Daniele: That was the thing back in the day!

Katie: Yeah, as part of the creative class, we all have to continually make the choice to be responsible with how we’re doing our work, so that we’re not contributing further to these people who try to own everything that we produce.

“Right now more than ever it’s important to find role models of thought and action, who can teach us about cultural resistance.”

If we’re sharing a substantive idea on a social channel but also posting a picture of a cute dog, the cute dog is great, but we have to understand algorithmically about how our information gets put out there or buried by the cute dog. And we have to beat the computer in that way. 

I have a crazy story for you guys. My buddy Danny is a huge foodie, and he took us to this fancy spot near the White House, The Old Ebbit Grill, for oysters in the backroom. He knew the bartender and the dude hooked us up, so it was a total treat at this place we would normally never go to.

So we’re there, and this is maybe six or seven months ago, when slowly that back room starts filling in with young kids wearing “Make America Great Again” hats. I ask this girl who comes over to our table what she’s doing, and she says she’s the head of the Libertarians at American University, and this is an after-party for Milo Yiannopoulos.

Katie: That’s terrible! I went to AU and if there were libertarians when I went there, they were quiet and few and far in between. It’s disappointing to hear that there is a growing libertarian presence on that campus. That school was stupidly expensive and I’ll be paying for it the rest of my life, but I appreciate coming of age with my politics and my ideas in a place where I could go to parties and kids wanted to talk about how they interpreted Karl Marx.

It was a very politically engaged school, not just with people mobilizing voting efforts, but with people interrogating each other’s politics in a very leftist way. There wasn’t a lot of conservative ideology at that school, so I’ll definitely be very bummed if that’s one of the side effects of the Trump administration moving to town. If conservative brats are going to a school like that.

She told me that she just started working on The Hill with an air of status about it, and that’s when I started remembering how sharply divided D.C. is economically. Which is a shame, but then you have pockets like Dupont Circle, these liberal pockets, so I’m wondering how you all make sense of it.

Katie: D.C. as a place of federal government and D.C. as a city of about 650,000 people are very separated. Geographically this is a small place, but they’re two very different things, and often those two things don’t interact, in the same way that there’s an incredible wealth disparity here. That there’s incredibly poor people and incredibly rich people who never interact with each other at all.

G.L. Jaguar: Some of whom live literally next to each other.

D.C.'s Priests
Priests. Audrey Melton

How can the progressives and the creative class use that proximity as a means of agitation over the next four years?

Katie: I think we can bother the hell out of people and not ever shut up, you know? We can be such a fucking nuisance that we wear them down slowly.

G.L. Jaguar: And not submit to this tremendous racism, homophobia and nationalism. I grew up here in D.C., and even in the months leading up to the election and since, people have been a lot more openly racist. One of my best friends, he’s a bartender at some of the more local, townie establishment, and he’d joke with me that every time he got called the N word he’d see a unicycle. He’s been called that at his establishment with more frequency than he’s ever had in his entire life. And it’s really horrible, there’s a changing atmosphere.

Katie: Right now more than ever it’s important to find role models of thought and action, who can teach us about cultural resistance. I really love Emma Goldman. She published this memoir called Living My Life all about her career as an anarchist news publisher and someone who travelled the country speaking about organizing the labor force. Reading about Bayard Rustin, he was a really significant architect in Martin Luther King’s ideology and the civil rights movement. There’s so many people we can look to in the history of the United States who can teach us about resistance.

I think role models are hard to parse out for many young people these days. When I was a kid it was all about contrarianism, counterculture. The guys smoking the cigarettes and staying out late and saying “fuck you, dad!” were the role models. But you have that line on “JJ”—“I thought I was a cowboy because I smoked Reds.” That really hit me because it’s totally feeding into this idea of Hypernormalization—even the things presented to us as counterculture and art are filtered down to us through media channels and disseminated by corporate interests and brands. How do we wake up from that?

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Katie: Yeah, a lot of the lyrics deal with the fact that America has become really obsessed in the last couple of decades with selling people iconography of rebellion, but packaging in a way that’s not actually subversive or rebellious at all. So I think it’s important to be really engaged in critical thinking with the way that you’re consuming art and culture right now.


Katie: There’s a lot of stuff that’s going to portend to be about radical thinking and a vision for the future, but when you really unpack it, it’s just about selling you a car, a clothing style or a website. You just have to follow the money with these things to see what people are actually about.

Daniele, on “No Big Bang” I wanted to ask you about this lyric—“The inevitable pull of progress, when your mind keeps running along the same narrow track.” Can you unpack that a little bit as it relates to everything we’ve been talking about?

Daniele: Yeah. I think I tend to be a very logical and analytical person, and I always respect about artists and writers, people who look at the world honestly to be gravely objective. Not that I’m perfectly post-modern and understand objectivity as a myth, but people who really want to find the truth and push themselves to uncomfortable truths. Logic has something to offer people in that, which is, logic has its own path that you have to follow.

If you’re doing it in good faith, you can’t lead it where you want it to go, it takes you where it’s going. But sometimes if you follow the logic of current capitalism or a lot of ideologies that are really prevalent in our society, it leads to a very, very scary place. And you’re trapped on that rollercoaster, in a straight line, going forward. And it’s horrible! When you realize that you’re on the rollercoaster, and where it’s going, you fucking wanna die. And that’s what it’s about.

It’s so funny, I wrote that song because I had a real problem with insomnia for a while, I couldn’t sleep so I was writing, and it felt so personal and emotional when I penned those words. The second I finished it I reread it and thought, “God dammit, I’m just writing about The Dialectic of Enlightenment!” I’m just a sad-ass reading list from college at this point, my brain can’t even escape it. [Skip to page 22 and see what Daniele is talking about.]

Katie: Daniele’s easily the smartest and most well-read member of Priests.

Daniele: I have a stupid amount of superfluous education.

Did you create Sister Polygon as a cue to D.C.’s history of DIY, or to Dischord Records? Are you carrying that mantle?

Daniele: With more women and people of color!

Katie: Yeah, our label is something different, but obviously we’re incredibly influenced by the people who’ve come before us, and they’ve supported us tremendously. Dischord is helping us with production and distribution of this record, so we love those guys.

Priests play Brooklyn Night Bazaar on January 28.

D.C. Punks Priests on Outrage, Organizing, and Fighting Trump