March 4, 2008

Crustcake Interviews Priestbird


by crustcake gerf (NYC):

There are many words that can describe Priestbird's music. Beautiful, epic, cinematic, dramatic, grandiose, monumental, introspective, sorrowful, and on and on... The songs on their debut, In Your Time, and the fantastic neo-classical art rock album they made as Tarantula AD, Book of Sand, evoke not only myriad descriptors, but also lush visual imagery. Songs like "Prelude to the Fall" and "The Century Trilogy" conjure up images of broad, sweeping landscapes, marching legions, and ancient cities.

Despite their music's solemn undertone (or maybe because of it), the members of Priestbird are surprisingly laid-back, funny dudes. I sat down with them before their gig at Union Pool in Brooklyn on Friday (leap day) for a chat about music, birds, naked sex parties, dancing, and other nonsense. Read the interview after the jump.

(The following, while lengthly, has in fact been edited to ensure your sanity. If you're a Priestbird uber-fan-- or just bored-- you can read the entire, uncut interview right here.)

Crustcake: I appreciate you guys talking to me, really appreciate that. Hope it doesn't bother you that I'm gonna ask you some questions about some of the older stuff too.

Danny Bensi: What older stuff?

Saunder Jurriaans: We don't talk about that.

Crustcake: [laughs] That other band, [Tarantula AD] maybe?


Crustcake: But, I guess we should start off with a little background, how you guys got started personally in music. Any formal training?

Saunder: I started playing the guitar when I was... two.


Saunder: Then I stopped, then I started again. I think that what made me want to play guitar was Iron Maiden, Led Zeppelin, the Scorpions. Those were all records my brother had and I loved all those bands a lot so I--

Gregory Rogove: He's a hick.

Saunder: [in hillbilly accent] I did, I was, I did-- I's a German hick and I like the Scorpions.


Saunder: My brother had an electric guitar. Never made it as a musician, so I took over. Had some lessons here and there.

Gregory: I had an older brother as well and we were supposed to have a band and I was gonna play guitar and sing-- be the front man. He was gonna play drums. Then he got the guitar first so I was relegated to drums, and never left it.

Danny: I started playing cello when I was like 12 years old. I don't remember what made me start. My mom doesn't remember either. Apparently she asked me, she said 'which instrument do you wanna play' and I said cello and I don't really remember why I made that decision. So I studied in high school and a little bit in college as well. The other instruments I've just picked up here and there.

Crustcake: How'd you guys meet?

Gregory: Friends of friends of friends of friends of friends.

Saunder: Naked sex parties.

Crustcake: Yeah, the usual.

Gregory: Drugs. Saunder was a dealer on McKibben street back in the day. We used to buy weed from him.

Saunder: Special K.

Crustcake: One thing leads to another...

Gregory: Yeah, you know. We started making out and we were like, 'ah, yeah, you're a good kisser, why don't we start a band?'


Saunder: No, it was friends of friends of friends of friends is the real truth. We owe it all to our friends.

Gregory: Yeah, it was this one guy Andrew Hughes and Robert Geller. Those two, they're like the links in our chain. They were like, 'the three of you have to get together, you'll love each other'. [Saunder and Danny] had met before, so they had been playing and then finally all three of us came together and it exploded.

Danny: My friend Andrew Hughes was like 'oh dude I got this sick drummer for you man. I went to school-- I grew up with him, he's the greatest. He's in India studying tabla and shit--

Crustcake: Is that true?

Gregory: It's true. Andrew told me, he's like 'I got this friend Danny who plays the cello and he's got this thing called the cello trick that he plays and all the girls flock towards him so he's got ladies every night...

Crustcake: That's when you loop things?

Danny: Yeah, yeah, I just keep it going.

Gregory: Yeah. Right.

Crustcake: Yeah.

Danny: And then your like, 'let's get into bed baby'.


Gregory: No hands.

Danny: The next phase of the cello trick.


Crustcake: As far as the music is concerned, it's very visually oriented, a lot of visual imagery, and it seems like you guys have maybe a lot of literary influences or film influences...

Gregory: Originally it's more just, that's like the direction of our personal aesthetic for music. It just happened to be kinda visual, but I think that we all, you know... Saunder went to art school, he's a visual artist. I sketch in a sketchbook now but never show anybody. Danny dances.


Gregory: So it's kinda like a whole theatrical circus and then when we come to music that's just what comes through.

Danny: I think what links those things together, what links our music together is some sort of narrative or that epic quality of going somewhere. The tune or melody or whatever. Something we're all very interested in, can't get away from no matter what we do.

Crustcake: It really seems like, some of the stuff more than others, seems like it's almost made to go with a picture, made to go in a film...

Saunder: We never did it, but we get that a lot.

Gregory: We did it once, we scored one indie film.

Saunder: It never came out though.

Gregory: Shown at Sundance, in, uh, the basement.


Crustcake: You did all original music for that?

Gregory: Yeah.

Saunder: Yeah, I have the music. It's all really weird. Actually, there's a version of one of our songs that we actually put on our album Atlantic, on that.

Gregory: Yeah there's like a doo-wop version of "Love Cherries." It's really great.

Saunder: Maybe we'll put out like a secret EP of it sometime. We'll let you know, for sure.

Crustcake: I have some vague memory of reading something when the Book of Sand album came out about how you guys recorded it in the woods, got some nature sounds in there. Some natural ambiance...

Gregory: We were on Orcas Island off the coast of basically Seattle. Washington state. And yeah, we had a little cabin there with the doors and windows open and we let the birds come and take part in the music as well. The seals, the otters. The smoking porpoise.

Danny: There's a lot of noise when you're in a wood cabin, you know? Like [unintelligible] and creaks and... keep them all, man.

Crustcake: It definitely comes through on [Book of Sand].

Danny: Yeah totally.

Gregory: Very airy.

Crustcake: Very airy, yeah. Where'd the idea for the main theme from "The Lost Waltz" come from? It seems like a very traditional waltz to me, I wondered if there was a specific inspiration for that.

Gregory: Yeah, there actually is. Funny you should ask, no one's ever asked us that question. You'll never believe this, but it is inspired by Rufus Wainwright and [Erik] Satie. When those two met they had a huge love affair and sent that melody to us.

Danny: 'Satie', sounds kinda like a rap artist.

Gregory: MC Satie.

Crustcake: What about "The Century Trilogy"? What's that inspired by, what's that about?

Saunder: "The Century Trilogy" was just a name we put to a trilogy of songs that use recurring themes, you know, like a symphony would or something. And the nature of the themes and the moods of the pieces were very much like war and, you know, that marching kind of feel.

Danny: The rise and fall of the Roman Empire, man!

Saunder: And then we started to attribute it to that, half tongue-in-cheek. And that's where the cover of the album comes from. A lot of people took it really seriously.

Gregory: Even "The Century Trilogy" was a joke. We're not that pompous, we're just having a good time man. And the thing is, well half of them-- we were writing those pieces and we'd bring all these things back and stuff like that-- we would tell the story of what was happening, you know, before we were singing we were able to talk and we'd make fun of ourselves while we played these beautiful parts. [in dramatic voice] "And then the sun rose and they marched onwards," you know, and like, do whatever we we could to make each other laugh.

Crustcake: That's cool.

Gregory: Yeah, those were the good old days.

Saunder: Those were the good old days. We don't do that anymore.


Crustcake: It's different now, huh?

Gregory: Now we make fun of each other's lyrics.

Crustcake: "Palo Borracho"? It's a very latin, jazzy feeling song. What's "Palo Borracho"?

Saunder: It means 'drunk stick'.

Gregory: It's a type of tree.

Saunder: It could also mean 'whisky dick'. No, it's a type of tree actually. My girlfriend is from Argentina and I had visited Buenos Aires a few times the Palo Borracho is this amazing tree that's almost pear shaped and it's a really silly looking plant but it's got thorns all over it. Really intense thorns.

Crustcake: Can you talk about the transition from the Tarantula AD days into Priestbird?

Danny: Well, we started working with our voices first of all. Started singing, adding our voices to the texture of the music in harmony. And knew we wanted to do that. And also, our music up until then had been so schizophrenic song-to-song. We were like 'let's try to calm down a bit and focus on a fast four minutes of, you know, regular song texture'. That's sort of the foundation of how we approached [the new] songs and it just grew from there.

Saunder: Well we actually quit. We quit as Tarantula AD. We finished the band.

Gregory: We were done.

Saunder: We came back together at a certain point as kind of a reincarnation of all these new ideas that had been brewing at the end of the Tarantula AD days. Same band, but it's different.

Crustcake: A fresh start.

Saunder: Same people but different.

Crustcake: Where'd you come up with the name Priestbird?

Gregory: It's from the lyric of a song that we were working on and it's the character that looks after the bird spirits in the afterlife. A great inspiration for us. We're always talking about birds and they're always talking about us.

Saunder: Yeah, we do have kind of a bird fetish in the band. It's weird. It could be something spiritual, it could be something sexual.


Gregory: Can't really tell, actually.

Gregory: Yeah, it was like either cloaca or priestbird? Do you know the word cloaca?

Crustcake: No. I do not...

Gregory: It's a bird hole where they shit and they piss and they have sex, all in the same hole. Yeah, they're much more efficient than humans.


Crustcake: Where'd you guys get the idea for the animated statues in the season of the sun video?

Saunder: Oh, that's Ron Winter. That video is actually, I don't know if you know, it's like six different artists.

Crustcake: No, I don't know much about it.

Saunder: [T]he video for "Season of the Sun" was six different artists doing a different clip for each part of the song. And [Ron Winter's] section-- we just let them do whatever they wanted-- so he interpreted that section as that.

Crustcake: It makes sense now, I didn't realize that [there were six artists involved]. There's a lot of different aesthetics there and--

Gregory: It's like an 'exquisite corpse' drawing. Here's a paper and it's folded into four or three sections. Someone draws the head and you don't see it and then you draw the shoulders and you get somebody else and they draw the midsection, somebody draws the legs. Then you open it up, and it's a beautiful monster.

Saunder: That's what we did.

Gregory: We did that with video.

Crustcake: That's very cool. Now you [Greg] were on tour with Devendra [Banhart]. How was that?

Gregory: Good. I mean, they're a bunch of pussies compared to Priestbird--


Crustcake: Of course, of course.

Gregory: I'm just kidding. No, I love those people.

Crustcake: Any good stories from the road or anything interesting to share?

Gregory: Well, Devendra just wanted to cover Priestbird songs the whole time--


Gregory: And I said 'I don't think that's a good idea for your career'.

Crustcake: And you guys have a new project going on?

Gregory: Oh yeah, yeah. He and I, we're writing some songs together, we got a band called Megapuss and we're recording it next month.

Crustcake: What's that like?

Gregory: Well, it started out kind of as a joke band. We were writing songs called, like, "Duck People Duck Man," "Dr. Beaver Mustard," "Rolls Royster," things like that and then we wrote two heartbreakingly beautiful tunes and we we're like 'shit, these are actually some good songs, some good lyrics, so let's keep going'. So we wrote-- we have like 15 songs. So we're gonna record them. So it's like, kinda half ridiculous and half really contemplative and beautiful.

Crustcake: What can you tell me about the new [Priestbird] album? Exclusive details...

Gregory Rogove: We've been up in Woodstock writing [it] the past month, holed up in this little cabin in the woods... snow... got some goats...

Crustcake: You locked yourselves in there?

Gregory: Yeah, we have. We've just been eating Indian food from a bag and rice, all day every day.

Crustcake: It's nice to get away like that sometimes.

Gregory: It is, it's great. I gotta say, the first two weeks were heavenly, now it's getting to the point where I can't be in that house anymore.

Crustcake: The songs seem a little more personal, a little more intimate.

Gregory: Yeah, definitely.

Crustcake: Do you have a name for the album?

Gregory: 'Moon Nuts'.

Crustcake: Really?

Gregory: Thinking about it.

Crustcake: Tossing it around...

Gregory: I dunno, what do you think?

Danny: I kinda like that, 'Moon Nuts', that's good.


Saunder: We don't know, we don't know.

Gregory. 'Underground Road', 'Rocky Road'-- 'Underground Rocky Road'...

Saunder: 'Underworld Road'.

Gregory: 'Underworld... Road Master'.

Saunder: 'Underworld Road Warrior'.

Crustcake: Some variation on that...


Gregory: At this point, it's mostly jokes.

Saunder: The album's kind of a joke at this point--


Crustcake: I gotta be honest, I didn't expect you guys to so jokey.


Gregory: Yeah. Right. The music seems so serious.

Saunder: And we hate that. We're trying to get away from that. Tell everybody that we're funny, please. We're not so serious, please!

Gregory: We're actually much more light-hearted than the music speaks.

Saunder: I think we've all been-- you know, all of our musical pasts have been gravitated towards really heartwrenchingly minor stuff. Sad, sad music. And I don't know why, but for me it's been that way, for Danny it's been that way. Greg, definitely at certain points it's been that way. And it definitely comes out in all of our music. We fight it, I think, with our humor which maybe--

Danny: Creates the Priestbird sound.

Saunder: Creates the Priestbird sound.

Gregory: So yeah, we're recording this record in April. Gonna do this crazy one week recording.

Crustcake: Who are you working with?

Gregory: We're recording in Seattle. The engineer is gonna be Beau Raymond Fletcher. He worked on the last Devendra record, and he just finished a record with Fabrizio Moretti and this guy Rodruigo Amarante, a Brazilian singer. He's gonna engineer our record and Stone Gossard from Pearl Jam is gonna produce it.

Saunder: It's gonna sound like Temple of the Dog, pretty much.


Crustcake: So do you guys have anything lined up label-wise?

Saunder: Well, we're technically on Kemado still. They haven't dropped us yet-- we could do another record with them, it's possible. But, we're gonna record the record and see what happens. You know, we want it to find its own home, kind of. This record has to be us, you know?

Download: Priestbird - "Season of the Sun" [MP3]
Download: Tarantula AD - "The Century Trilogy I: Conquest" [MP3]
Listen: Priestbird [MySpace]
Buy: Priestbird - In Your Time [Amazon]
Buy: Tarantula AD - Book of Sand [Amazon]

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