Priestess: “Parce que ça sonne metal”

“Parce que ça sonne metal”

Priestess (L-R): Vince, Mikey (juggling the family jewels), Dan and Mike
Photo: Jocelyn Michel

Whether they sound metal or not, one thing's for sure: Montreal's Priestess are on track to get the best skull tattoos money can buy

Montreal recently became a full-scale dot on the global music map all over again, and rock’n'roll real estate rumours are running rampant. Some of the headiest speculation has been about what the hell Priestess is building, since some of the songs – I Am the Night, Colour Me Black and Time Will Cut You Down – off the soon-to-be-released debut are being played absolutely everywhere.

In order to build, you need to first destroy, and Priestess – Dan Watchorn, 27 (lead guitar/vocals); Vince Nudo, 24 (drums/vocals); Mike Dyball, 29 (bassist); and Mikey Heppner, 24 (vocals/guitar) – have spent the last year blowing up around town in preparation for the tower of rock they’re about to erect right in our own backyard. To this end, they’ll break ground with a show at Petit Campus during Pop Montreal, and the ribbon will be cut on Oct. 18 when Priestess’s first album, Hello Master, is released on Indica Records.

Priestess have the permits to build something bigger and better on rock’s hallowed ground in this town. If the question is What makes them so special? there are multiple answers. First off, there’s been one major structural contribution: In the current climate of indie-rock hybrid genres, Priestess eliminate the need for hyphens. Priestess=Hard. Rock. Music.

Hello Master is a rock record that’s stripped-down and built-up at the same time, an invigorating construction of all the best behind-the-gym high school rock of the last 50 years. It’s Sabbath, Zeppelin, AC/DC bolted to the Soundgarden, Melvins, Nirvana grunge that played in senior prom parking lots when these guys came of age. It’s lyrical, perfect, balls-to-the-wall rock, but heavy as shit.

"Our main goal is to not just be heavy and intense, but to play actual songs too," says drummer Vince. "That’s what hits you the most – you’re listening to actual songs, structures, melodies… crazy, and at the same time it’s just so goddamn heavy. It’s sensory overload."

Sounds simple enough, but just to drive the point home, Hour got together with the Priestess quadrangle in a downtown brasserie, over a couple of pitchers of rousse and a Jack-on-the-rocks or two, to run down any possible misconceptions (mostly fabricated by me) and set the record straight before the record gets launched.

Misconception #1: The "Montreal scene" angle

Hour You guys are a lot harder than some of the bands that are making Montreal famous these days… Maybe your hardness is a reaction to all the soft, um, romantical music that’s being made here these days.

Mikey Heppner By which you mean The Arcade Fire.

Hour Yes.

Vince Nudo I actually like Arcade Fire. We’re not trying to be heavy ’cause no one else is being heavy – that’s just what we do. We don’t know how to be soft. For the four of us, our connection is on that level.

Misconception #2: Heavy rock is heavy metal

Hour One thing that really comes out in your songs is that underneath all the loudness and the guitar and the solos – which are amazing, by the way – is that you guys really seem to nurture the melody.

Mikey I strive for perfection. The interesting guitar riffs, they have to be there. The drum solos too. But the melody – so many bands disregard that. A lot of the nu-metal bands tend to wuss out on the melody part and just go for all attitude. Melody is the most important thing. …I write songs on an acoustic guitar, so it starts off as a song, and then when we get together, that’s when it gets heavier. I don’t have my amp and electric guitar in the mirror, nothing like that.

Vince Which is why I don’t understand when we get called metal.

Mikey Back in the late ’60s people called Cream metal, so yeah, in this ancient way, we’re metal. But the current metal scene, like Dillinger Escape Plan, that kind of intense technical screaming heavy death metal thing, we’re not. We’re a hard rock band. That’s what the people should know.

Misconception #3: Priestess is Priestess "parce que ça sonne metal"

Mikey We played as The Dropouts for about a year, and then we were just brainstorming band names one day and Priestess came up, and it was like, fuck yeah, that sounds cool. I did an interview with La Presse a while ago, and I was talking in English. I said, "Priestess is just this heavy name." And the guy translated that we’re called Priestess "parce que ça sonne metal." [Everybody laughs.]

Mikey What I said was, that it sounded heavy.

Vince It’s part of that feminine band name tradition – Queen, Thin Lizzy, Iron Maiden – the femininity adds this heaviness to it.

Dan Watchorn ABBA. Just kidding.

Mikey KISS, Heart.

Hour So what Priestess is saying is, metal is a girl thing.

Mikey Look at ‘em! All that long hair…

Misconception #4: Heavy rock is stripped-down rock

Hour I’m trying to imagine what your stage show will be like when you have enough cash to pull out all the stops.

Mikey I’d like a great light show. When we tour, we have our own light show. Our sometimes-lighting-guy is super excited about them. They don’t belong to us, but we always rent them. They’re the latest lighting technology. The opening band goes on, they rock. Then we go on and it’s fuckin’ lights!! And then the headliners go on with the regular lights, and it’s like, what the fuck was that? Was there just an arena show in here or something?

Hour An arena show in Petit Campus. Okay.

Mikey Yeah, we’re going to do our best.

Misconception #5: Priestess songs are about girls, drugs and war

Hour I’ve been listening to the Priestess songs, and I really like them. Back to the basics… Girls, drugs, war.

Mikey Actually, lots of our songs are about, uhhh, death. But not in a cryptic, black-metal way, like we didn’t set out that way. But death is, seriously, in almost every song. But the songs are pretty upbeat tunes, it’s just a way to balance it out, I guess.

Hour What do you mean, balance it out?

Mikey I actually have no idea what I mean.

Vince Well, there are girls as well in the songs.

Mikey How many songs about girls? Maybe two, three songs about girls?

Hour Dead girls?

Mikey Well, dying girls, sure. Girls that kill. Time that will cut girls down, ’cause there’s a song called Time That Will Cut You Down.

Hour Hey, Mike, what’s your song gonna be about?

Mike Dyball I dunno, I’m working on that. Girls on drugs fighting wars, something along those lines.

Misconception #6: Priestess are hardcore tattooed motherfuckers

Hour One thing that’s weird, lots of the fan comments and blog reviews on your site go on about your hair and tattoos and shit. But none of you have any visible tattoos except Mikey. What’s with all the imaginary tattoos?

Dan Nah, never got much into tattoos. There isn’t room for too many cool people. We let Mikey take care of the cool.

Mikey My tattoos have very deep meanings to them, actually.

Hour Okay, shoot.

Mikey The cat, here, stands for, um, my love of cats. And the wolf over here on the other arm, it stands for my love of wolves. And I have bunnies on my leg… a cute drawing I did in high school. They stand for "I like bunnies."

Dan They’re cool bunnies, actually.

Mikey Thank you.

Hour So you’re all waiting to make it big to cover yourselves in skull tattoos?

Vince No way, fuck. Well, maybe. Nah.

Priestess play Pop Montreal (1 a.m.)
With Illuminati (11 p.m.) and Nitrosonique (12:00 a.m.)
Petit Campus (57 Prince-Arthur E.), Oct. 1

Hello Master is released Oct. 18