High Priestess interview
Psychedelic doom rock congregation High Priestess performs their esoteric sonic practices in LA since 2016. And as doomy self-titled debut has shown a direction the band was going to follow, brand new recording ‘Casting The Circle’ (released by Ripple Music on April 10th) serves as a clear statement of ladies’ intention to draw their followers deeper in hypnotic whirlpool of black magic rock.
Soothing and mesmerizing charms of High Priestess are deceptive as we remember how witchcraft through music may destroy minds and reap souls but is High Priestess’ sermons such dangerous? Throw aside this rude Coven-directed comparison and learn more about this with Katie Gilchrest (guitars, vocals).
Hi Katie! How are you? How are you coping with the pandemic?
Hey Aleks! We are currently trying to weather the storm that is Covid-19, we appreciate everyone who has supported the album in the midst of the pandemic.
How did you get together with Megan and Marianna? What’s the story behind your formation?
Mariana put up an ad that just resonated with Megan and I so much it prompted us both to respond. I knew I wanted to be in a kickass band and how Mariana described it just seemed perfect. Our visions seemed to align within that description. Her original ad was only for bass and drum instrumentation only though, but I managed to worm my way in!
Which bands were in your mind and what kind of sound did you aim to evoke with your songs?
Honestly the songs seem to pick their own sounds. We don’t set out to capture specific bands, more like a mood or a feeling. I think it’s much harder to try to sound like other bands. Every time I’ve tried to do that in my own personal practice it hasn’t worked exactly, it’s more like me trying to sound like them. But letting your influences come out naturally, not forcing a certain sound, seems to yield better results. The technique we essentially use with our songs is “that sounds cool, let’s use it.” If it evokes a real emotion, then we know we are usually on to something. Of course my influences will come out no matter what, but it is not a conscious process.
What’s the story behind your band name?
We had kicked around band names, but once we realized High Priestess was available we went for it. We all have an interest in the occult and the archetype of the High Priestess is one that we particularly admire, and thought the name really embodied the sound we were going for.
What kind of books would you recommend to read in order to get better understanding of High Priestess?
For the archetype of High Priestess, I would recommend getting a good tarot deck, maybe ‘Rider Waite’ or even a boutique one that just catches your eye, learning about the cards, what the High Priestess is about, how the High Priestess might interact with other cards. Coincidentally there is a book I really like called ‘Casting the Circle: A Women’s Book of Ritual’ by Diane Stein that has a great viewpoint on the Goddesses and various rituals. ‘The Charge of the Goddess’ is also an important text.
From my personal book collection for understanding the band High Priestess, I might recommend ‘Condensed Chaos’ by Phil Hine, or ‘Paradise Lost’ by Milton.
You are the band’s producer from the day one, how did you work on the band’s sound during recording of the debut self-titled album?
Honestly, it was all about capturing how we sounded in the practice space. We originally intended it to be a demo. The mic setup was minimal, Glyn Johns method of 4 mics on the drums, direct and mic signal for bass, front and back mics on the guitar amp. We did the basic tracks for the songs in two sessions. Then I did a quick guitar double one day, and vocals at my apartment with Mariana. Some other overdubs like acoustic guitar and organ. The ‘demo’ ended up sounding great. The song “Banshee” we recorded maybe 6 months later, the same way, as an addition to the Ripple release. That darker tune is probably the biggest sonic indicator of the next step in our sound.
Where did you learn all these tricks of studio recording?
I’ve been working with audio and recording since my teens, starting with classes at my high school radio station. I learned how to use Pro Tools in college, and I was the recording coordinator at the University of Southern Maine where I got my music degree. I went on to work in consumer audio, live sound, and have a masters in Music Technology from NYU. I’ve done internships, classes and have my own studio Mythology Mastering. I’ve been fortunate to record not just rock and doom, but also classical and jazz. I guess you could say I picked up some tricks!
How long did it too for High Priestess to bring you recognition? Did your collaboration with Ripple Music guarantee you reaching wider audience?
We just put the demo out, unannounced on Bandcamp in July of 2017 I believe. Overnight it seemed to gain a lot of attention, getting on the Bandcamp front page, beating other larger bands in our genre with sales. We started getting requests of different underground radio stations wanting to play us. It was definitely picked up on the underground radar. After this, we definitely reached a wider audience by signing with Ripple. It was then released May of 2018 as our first album. The sheer ability of distribution – getting vinyl printed, getting in record stores, capturing the Ripple fans, having Ripple PR, also entering in a network of other bands connected with the label to tour and play shows with has allowed us to reach a wider audience.
Much more effective than tape-trading in 90s! What are some of the bands you toured together?
Haha yes, although that was fun! Some Ripple bands we’ve toured with are Salem’s Bend, Ape Machine, Ride the Sun, and our European tour was with Cities of Mars from Sweden.
How serious were you back then? Did you spend a lot of time to support the album with gigs?
We were excited to support the album. We went on US West coast + Canadian tour, a SoCal / Nevada desert tour, played SXSW, as well as local gigs here in Los Angeles. I think we were serious as we could be, while still having other jobs, other obligations. Touring, while fun, requires large time and money investment, as well as emotional and mental resilience for what might not exactly provide a large financial return – at least at this stage.
What is your longest tour with High Priestess?
April-May 2019 we went on a European tour that was about 30 days. Playing live, at least from the stage perspective, is very vivid! There’s just an energy to playing live that you can’t duplicate on a record. It’s a whole body, 3D experience. I would love to also have more effects, lighting, video, sounds come into our stage show to make it even more vivid.
What are some negative and positive sides of touring? And what’s the main difference between US and Europe?
I guess one thing that bums me out is reading about how the music business used to be, that once bands started getting momentum and if they had a commercial label behind them then everything was taken care of. Nowadays everything about a tour falls on the band’s shoulders. If you want a cool light, screen or stage show, you have to plan it, the logistics, the setup, the cost, etc. You usually have to front the money for a place to stay, a booking agent, the van…when all you really want to be is just a musician, not an accountant, a manager, a psychologist, or travel agent. It can be a lot of work. The plus side, is that touring, playing every night and meeting new fans is just great. You get to share your music with the world and make people happy. US and Europe are different in that, it seemed like at the European venues they usually fed you and gave you a place to stay. US that can happen too but I don’t think it’s as common.
Ripple Music recently released new album ‘Casting The Circle’. How much did virus situation change your plans?
The release was kept on track. We decided last year in 2019 with Todd to have it released on April 10, 2020. There might have been a delay with some of the physical media, but for the most part it went as scheduled. The music video release had to be delayed but not by much. We had to cancel a few gigs though, including our release show. The pandemic and the shut downs happened so fast, honestly, there wasn’t too much we could do to alter the planning since it was already in motions.
The album sounds more matured and more rocking in some way, what was your aim when you entered the studio?
Thank you so much! Again, it was really an attempt to capture us in the practice space for the most part, but I did have a bigger vision with more keyboards and elaborate harmonies in mind. It was surprising to me how different we sounded when I listened back the first few times to the basic tracks, how we had evolved, and I can attribute some of this to simply spending more time as a band and playing the songs a lot on tour. Also, my main guitar this time was a Gibson SG instead of a Fender strat. I tripled guitars at places instead of just doubling them. The SG has a darker sound. Plus I think the keyboards add an extra dimension.
Wouldn’t you like to do a record live at studio? I was just listening Godthrymm live EP ‘Dead In The Studio’ and it kills!
Yeah! I didn’t know about it but I looked it up – that one has great production, and they have all these camera angles. It would be cool to do something like that.
“A manifestation of looking at your dark side”
It seems this time you have a clearer message with songs like “Invocation” and “Ave Satanas”. As your first album was kind of neutral in this sense, ‘Casting The Circle’ proclaims its manifest quite directly. What did inspire you to write these particular songs?
That’s cool that you noticed that. There is more of a ritualistic, spiritual viewpoint with those tunes. I wanted “Invocation” to be like a Satanic hymn, a manifestation of looking at your dark side, questioning Christianity, embracing all parts of yourself, and ultimately becoming whole. A sort of commentary on shadow work. As far as “Ave Satanas”, I’ve always loved the vocal works in the Renaissance and Middle Ages, I thought it might be nice to write a polyphonic, holy tune from the point of view of the Satanic Temple. A song to elevate you into a swirling cathedral of lost souls coming together, disembodied and beautiful.
I think the concept can be limited in itself, meaning that when you’re stuck to monotheistic concept you make yourself choose between two options.
Haha, I know what you mean. And that’s what all the Gods and Goddesses can be for, to break that duality! Those songs aren’t about choosing, it’s about embracing both, all sides of yourself. I am not totally anti-Christianity, I just think a lot of it has been tainted by centuries of twisting the history of it into egomania, patriarchy and all that stuff. There’s a lot of beautiful concepts and poetry in the bible. I think more what we were going for is don’t ignore your dark side. Satan is just one vehicle into that world, and it does not have to be dark and evil like Christian theologies say. I think Satan is probably used more often because he is traditionally famous. But there are others. And besides, metal has almost always been associated with exploring that duality and going to the ‘dark side’. But I agree, it’s not necessarily black and white, a dual system. That’s why I like Chaos Magick and Wicca!
You have now this satanic vibe and the band’s up-to-date photo has its warm vintage feeling, how often do you receive comparisons with Coven because of your image and music?
Yes, I’ve seen quite a few comparisons to Coven in reviews and interviews! It’s flattering.
Thank you for the interview.
You’re welcome, it was my pleasure! I’m not sure we missed anything, you are very thorough! I would say our message is, be true to yourself and do no harm.
– Aleksey Evdokimov
Ripple Music Official Website