Illustration by Samuel Nigrosh
This article originally appeared in AdHoc Issue 17. Download a PDF of the zine at this link, and look out for physical copies both at our shows and at record stores, bookstores, coffee shops, and community centers throughout the city. (Those of you outside New York City can order a copy here as well.)
Priests play with Snail Mail at Brooklyn Bazaar on January 28. Stef Chura plays with Lionlimb and Kevin Krauter at Alphaville on February 2.
Hi! My name is Stef Chura. I live in Detroit and play in a group under my own name. I was in NYC recently for a New York minute (heh... I couldn't help myself), and I got to sit down and talk with Priests, with whom we’re going on tour in February. They’re a punk band from D.C. who have been self-releasing on their own label, Sister Polygon, since 2012. Talking to the group’s four members—vocalist Katie Alice Greer, drummer Daniele Daniele, guitarist G. L. Jaguar, and bassist Taylor Mulitz—for AdHoc, I learned a little more about the ins and outs of their label and what is was like for them to record their first full-length album, Nothing Feels Natural. They also shed some light on life in D.C. during “Pizzagate” and the armed invasion of beloved local venue Comet Ping Pong, where Taylor and Daniele work.
Stef Chura: When did you guys start Sister Polygon Records?
Katie Alice Greer: We started Sister Polygon to put out the first Priests seven-inch, in 2012. We wanted to own the means of production for putting out our music as much as we could. We all bond over music together, so the idea was to also put other stuff we really love out in the world.
Did Sister Polygon immediately grow into this bigger thing?
Daniele Daniele: It’s grown in spurts. First, it was just our stuff, then Downtown Boys, Shady Hawkins... And then around the time Pinkwash’s Your Cure Your Soil came out, in 2014, we were like, “We’re gonna be a label that does lots of stuff.” So we figured out how to distribute music, do press for releases, and things like that.
Katie: Before we would be like, “We made a cassette!”
Taylor Mulitz: “Go team!”
Daniele: We had 300 cassettes in our closet, and we were like, “We’re a record label!”
Let’s talk about your album, Nothing Feels Natural. Why did you choose that title?
Katie: The record was named Nothing Feels Natural before we had any songs written for it. This record took us a long time to make—at one point, I was debating between Nothing Between Us But Air and Nothing Feels Natural.
Taylor: The first one sounds like a romantic comedy.
Katie: I liked Nothing Feels Natural as a title, because I think it has a lot of dimensionality to it. I have always felt self-conscious when someone’s like, “Just act natural.” I’m a real over-thinker, and I have no idea what that actually means. The title also has a wider social dimension: the idea of there being a natural state for anything is so false, as almost everything is a construct. I thought the title made for a pretty open concept, and once we started writing the song that became the title track, it was like, “This is ‘Nothing Feels Natural.’ Cool!” So the process was kinda backwards.
What was recording the album like?
Katie: We first went to Olympia and recorded with some friends over there—and learned a lot about ourselves as a band.
Was it stressful?
Katie: Their strength as a studio is taking a very strict analog approach—just set up the mics, press play, and let the magic happen. But we learned that we are a lot more of a studio band than we had known before. Those recordings were not good.
G. L. Jaguar: We wanted to make a bigger record. The only tape recorder in Olympia, it seemed, was a four-track tape machine putting guitar, bass, and drums onto one track, then one for overdubs, one for miscellaneous things, and another one for vocals. We needed more tracks.
Katie: After that process, we were completely broke and pretty miserable. We went crawling back to our friends, Kevin [Erickson] and Hugh [McElroy], who recorded some of our previous music. We were like, “We don’t have any money. Can you guys record this record, and we promise we’ll pay you eventually?” Fortunately, they were like, “Alright.”
When did the Nothing Feels Natural recordings start?
Taylor: We demo’d it in early 2015, then we recorded it in full in January 2016, in Olympia. We scrapped those recordings, then re-recorded it. We started in February, but finished this summer.
Katie, I noticed you using your voice a little differently on the new record. I like it.
Katie: One of the reasons the vocal parts on this record include more singing is because I can’t keep writing songs where I’m just shouting. I will lose my voice.
I did want to bring up a different topic. I don’t know if this is something you get asked about frequently, but what happened, exactly, at Comet Ping Pong during the Pizzagate scandal?
Katie: Laurie Spector [of D.C.-based Hothead] and I played a show at Comet on Thursday, December 1. I was very nervous about it, because we were all reading these comments online. Daniele and Taylor were getting death threats when they were at work.
Taylor: Daniele and I work there.
People would call the phone all day, right?
Taylor: Yeah, and there are a number of employees whose personal information has been released. Their addresses, phone numbers, pictures of them, and pictures of their families have been posted online so that people can harass them.
Katie: So I was really nervous about playing this show. I asked the people at Comet if we could have some kind of pat-down security, and they were like, “We can’t afford to do that; we don’t even have a permit for it. We do have some security, and they’ll be keeping an eye open. Don’t worry.” The show went fine—I saw a couple of suspicious- looking people, but whatever. That was on Thursday, and then on Sunday, Daniele was at work at Buck’s [Restaurant], which is right next to Comet...
Daniele: Yeah, I wasn’t at Buck’s, I was on my way to work. When I got there at 3:30, the place was surrounded by cops. Was that the day the gunman showed up?
Taylor: Yeah, he was still in the building when I pulled up to drop Daniele off at work.
Daniele: A man from North Carolina heard about Pizzagate. He said he was just gonna drive up and look around; he hadn’t planned on bringing a gun. But I guess he got more incensed as he was driving up there thinking about it. He parked in front in an illegal spot where the buses stop, right in front of Comet Ping Pong. He left the car running. He pulled out his gun, this AR-15, which is essentially an AK-47 for civilian use—I don’t know why that exists.
Long story short: this gunman walks into the restaurant. He walks through and goes immediately to the back to look for secret tunnels and shit; he wants to liberate the children. Luckily, he passes by all the customers and employees, because all the seating in the restaurant is up front. The back room is just ping pong, and the room behind that is the green room. Because the gunman had come through with this giant gun cocked without saying anything and without being stopped, the employees and customers in the front were like, “GTFO!,” and ran across the street.
So the gunman was searching through the restaurant, trying to find where the sex slaves were. He fired the gun in order to shoot the lock off a closet where the employees keep the backup point-of-sale system and their coats.
Taylor: He found no children or basements.
Daniele: There is no basement.
The Reddit and 4chan threads became a place for violent organization and hate speech.
Katie: The Reddit thread where people had these conversations finally, after too long, got shut down. Reddit was like, “You guys are having a fucking witch hunt; it’s hate-mongering. You need to leave.” Then this other forum called Voat was like, “Y’all can come here and talk your crazy, white-supremacist shit here!” Sister Polygon Records got called out as a cult-affiliated record label.
Taylor: I have this friend Jeff, who used to work at Buck’s. Because the Comet account follows him, all the psychos were trolling his page. His username is “working on my night cheese.” There’s this whole thread of people being like, “What does ‘working on my night cheese’ mean? This is disgusting! This person’s vile!” But it’s just a quote from 30 Rock. Liz Lemon loves to eat cheese in her bed, and writes this song where she’s singing, “Working on my night cheese!” It’s from fucking 30 Rock, but these people don’t have the patience to Google “working on my night cheese” to figure it out.
Katie: It’s not that they don’t have the patience. When you think you have an idea of what’s going on, everything you learn is going to fit in with what you’ve already decided.
Taylor: Like, “30 Rock is part of all of it!”
Daniele: “The gunman was a paid actor!”
Katie: Yeah, because no one died, people on the Pizzagate forums were like, “Obviously, he was planted by the government to make us look foolish, but we’re not stopping—this isn’t going away.”
Taylor: A person who claims to care about the safety of children traumatized the children that were in the restaurant.
And like, what inspired him to drive so many hours? Was he a single man? Did someone with a family do this?
Taylor: He was a family man, which the New York Times loves to talk about, rather than how he’s a terrorist.
Katie: There was a headline in the Washington Post like, “A Yale psychologist suggests that this man was suffering from too much empathy, and that’s why he drove there.” His parents were like, “We’re sure he’s so sorry about what he did.”
You don’t have to make up fake narratives about it.
Katie: And if you’re deeply invested in that cause, go help the kids in those situations. They’re not at Comet Ping Pong. Not that these words are going to reach anybody who would change their mind about stuff like that.
Daniele: Belief precedes knowledge. You can’t use logic or fact-checking; that would just be in line with the establishment journalism that, to people like the gunman, is part of the problem. This whole thing about Comet Ping Pong and pedophilia all has to do with veiled homophobia. The reason they’re willing to believe that [Comet owner] James Alefantis is a pedophile is because he’s gay, and they have latent—or outright—homophobia. It’s a belief about the wrongness of homosexuality that gives them a predilection to believe crazy things that make no sense. If you hate gays and you hear this guy’s a pedophile, you’re like, “That makes sense. He’s a horrible person, after all.”
Katie: I hate to always be ending interviews on a downer note. Every interview we’ve done ends like, “And the world is just going to shit,” but...
Taylor: “Buy our record. Get to the gig!”