Portland, Oregon-based indie-pop/electronic-folk outfit Priory, comprised of Brandon Johnson (vocals, bass), Kyle Dieker (acoustic guitar, keys, bells, falsetto), Rich Preinesberger (drums), and Greg Harpel (lead guitar, bells, keys), follow up 2010's "Cold Hands" EP with their debut, self-titled full-length. "Priory" will be released on June 21, 2011 via Portland's Expunged Records (home of Blind Pilot).
Instantly infectious, yet not a sugar-pop album that will be easily discarded, Priory walks a tightrope between immediately catchy, instantly warming songs, and subdued, complex layers that take multiple listens to start to unravel and understand the true depth of their work.
"It's finding that balance between the standard acoustic instruments and partnering them with huge electronic bass and keyboard licks," says the band's Kyle Dieker when asked to describe their sound. "Priory is all about tones and where those sounds sit in a song. Blending folk melodies with pop sensibility, Priory takes from a collection of sounds and brings them together into something that is familiar yet innovative."
Defined as a house of men or women under religious vows headed by a prior or prioress, a priory is a place of seclusion. A fitting name for a band that made this record, with close friend Skyler Norwood (Blind Pilot, Horsefeathers) at his Miracle Lake Studios, shutting out the rest of the world and focusing on one thing: making the best record they could.
"The members of our band are family, and a priory of sorts," comments Johnson. "We are a group of people with the same obsession and in pursuit of a singular goal."
That goal culminated in their self-titled debut, a record the whole band agrees says: "Hello, we're Priory."
"We set out to make a strong complete record, keeping it self-titled was the best way we knew how to describe the record. It really is a 'Priory'-collection of songs and ideas that speak to us collectively but also individually," explains Dieker.
Besides layers of instrumentation that help develop the complexity of the songs, contrasting with the ease of the melodies and hooky-ness of their songwriting, Priory also puts a lot of time into their lyrics. Developing stories that also take the listener more than a few listens to start to completely digest the power of the music.
From comparing a drug addition to a bad relationship ("Devil vs. Heater"), how our perception of family and the importance of it changes as we age ("Searching"), and self-assessment in dying moments ("Coal Mine"). To songs about fighting for what you believe in ("Worthy Dreams"), being in a relationship with someone who is always being pursued by others ("Kings of Troy"), and realizing life is short ("Cold Hands"), the latter of which is about a couple dying together in a car crash. Priory doesn't shy away from tackling some of life's scariest questions or the thoughts that we all think, but oft-try to suppress.
They come out swinging; creating music that could simply be described as "beautiful," reeling you in, but offering up much more for those that take the journey and visit it over and over again.
"I want people that hear our album to feel something," admits Johnson. "Some of our subject matter is not all that light and fluffy, not unlike life, but I believe there is always a positive side. There is a glass half full, if we choose to perceive it that way. And, a little nursery rhyme melody can often add a sense of whimsy to a dark subject matter."
It is that contradiction that builds up and develops throughout the album, with the band toying with the playfulness of it all, while taking everything very seriously.
"Every song on the album means something to us. We did not want there to be any filler," Johnson adds.
One might ask, did the band accomplish their goal? The band asked themselves this the minute they got the final, mastered copy back. And, everyone looked at each other and answered with a resounding "yes."
"We came out of the studio with a record that sounds like we actually sound, and that is something Priory is quite proud of," says Dieker.
Songs were recorded. Lessons were learned. And one amazing debut album was born.
"I learned to trust myself in the recording process," Johnson says of the studio experience. "I have also learned that rabbit trails can lead to amazing places."
Dieker adds, "Pay attention. Amazing things can take place if you have patience and listen."
Priory's record is certainly the result of patience and listening. Whether it's listening to your band mates and their ideas, listening to the engineer, or just listening to yourself and going with your gut.
Now, with the record done, the band has a new goal, which they plan to accomplish with relentless touring.
"We want the opportunity to play for as many people as are willing to listen. Our goal is do this for a very long time," says Johnson.
"We want the album to impact people in a way that encourages and inspires them. We want to continue creating records that challenge us as musicians," adds Dieker. "We are probably more of a pop band than an indie band. We just love great songs and great songwriting."
After listening to Priory's self-titled full-length, great song and great songwriting is what everyone can, and will, agree on.