Clearly Canadian

Montreal hard rockers Priestess thrust riffs into the U.S. and the 21st century.

Montreal, land of indie-pop collectives and groups with glockenspiels and hurdy-gurdies recording in old churches, what is this you've given? Ah, it's Priestess: a good old-fashioned hard-rock/metal outfit that takes its cues both from the hammer-to-skull assault of Motörhead and the arena-sized melodicism of Def Leppard; a quartet that carries the air of a sketchy hesher with a beat-up '69 Chevelle and back patches galore, but who still isn't afraid to chat up the chicks. Singer-guitarist Mikey Heppner recently checked in with us via cell phone from Priestess' never-ending tour in support of last year's dynamite debut, Hello Master.

Seattle Weekly: So the album's been out for a while now—are you still into playing those same songs night after night?

Mikey Heppner: Yeah, definitely; it's still fun for us, and it's not like the crowd gets to hear the songs performed live every night like we do, so it's cool to know that you're the exciting part of someone's week. We're throwing in a couple new songs, too.

I guess it would never get old to rock out and connect with your fans every night.

Yeah, and it's cool when some kid comes up to you before the show and goes, 'Oh man, that song's so great; it helps me out a lot,' and then when I'm playing, I can spot that kid in the crowd, like, really into it and singing along, so you know he wasn't just saying that. Like, the lyrics have more meaning now because I know there's a kid who knows what I'm saying and takes something serious from it. It doesn't happen every single night, but it happens enough to keep the songs alive for me.

Can you put into words how the perfect guitar riff makes you feel?

Man, I dunno, that's pretty hard....I guess when I hear one or when I'm playing one I really like, it's just like the hair on the back of your neck stands up and you just wanna pound your fists on something.

What's your all-time favorite riff?

Awww, fuck man, there's so many! I might hafta go the easy route and say "Livin' Lovin' Maid" by Zeppelin—that one's just so, so, so good! And it's one of those song arrangements where they only do it...they could do it the entire song straight and I wouldn't get sick of it, but they don't do it all the time, and that drives me nuts! If I ever covered it, I would just play the fucking riff over and over and over again.

You guys should cover it on this tour!

Nah, we don't really do covers. Back in high school, me and some friends of mine were gonna play it at our variety show, but we never showed up for the audition.

That was pretty metal of you.

Yeah, I guess so!

Have you seen Priestess' audiences growing with the recent upswing in metal's popularity?

Kind of, but I think it's still very small. Like, bands that are playing the really true, good stuff, it's still a very small scene. I think there are as many metal and hard-rock bands now as always.

So it sounds like you think the whole "Return of Metal" thing has been overstated.

Yeah, definitely. I really do. It's just a coincidence that people are talking about it nowadays. There's always been those bands—they've always been around. I don't know why metal is in the spotlight right now. It's like, whatever was big five or 10 years ago, I'm sure there's still as many bands doing that now as there were then. I'm sure if you go to any city you'll still see a million ska bands. They're still there, they just don't have the spotlight on them right now.

I read somewhere that you're really into [obscure '70s British experimental prog-rockers] Gentle Giant....

Oh yeah! The thing about them was that they said super blatantly in their liner notes, "We have decided to abandon all this and that and go our own way at the risk of being unpopular, and we don't care." And it's kinda cheesy now that I think about it, but back when I was a kid I was like, 'Aww, fuck yeah!' I didn't even know what punk rock was at the time, but that's basically what it means. So yeah...they just lived in a bubble and did what they wanted to.

So would you like Priestess to be seen that way?

Well, compared to Gentle Giant, our music is a lot more straightforward. Gentle Giant is completely polarizing, but I think we're more accessible. People just like to hear good rock songs that stick with them, with that good riff effect we were talking about. That's pretty much what we're about.

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