Band of the Day

2015.02.13

Priory

Filtering the neon-lit gloss of new wave into modern rock aesthetics
She’s so quick to anger, she cuts like a razor. But who am I kidding? That girl is my savior.
lyrics from Call to Arms

Most artists don’t start with a leg up or an unfair advantage; they are the bootstrap pullers who make sacrifices and put the long hours in before finally breaking into the public consciousness. Such is true for Priory, the duo consisting of multi-instrumentalists Brandon Rush and Kyle Sears, but their journey runs much deeper: both men risking failure and poverty, betting everything they had on their music. “We didn’t have a backup plan,” Sears says. “Which is good because if we did, we’d more than likely have used it. We both had regular paying, steady jobs. Now we’re here and it’s pretty fantastic.” Where they are is LOUDWAR Studios, a recording studio tucked away into the outskirts of the pair’s hometown of Portland, Oregon. In the ‘60s and ‘70s it was called Gibson, a place for country artists like Willie Nelson and Red Simmons to lay down some new material. Now, it is Priory’s home base, where the band finished their latest and grandest full-length album. It’s a step up from the cement factory the pair helped build from scratch into a welcoming creative home for the Portland music community, and where they wrote the music that would become their newest effort. And it’s one hell of a leap forward from scratching away at tracks in the basement of a flophouse, but that’s what makes their current musical output that much more exciting and inspiring. The project got started by pure chance when both men found themselves living in an absolute shithole of a bachelor pad (“It’s been torn down now, but it should have been torn down back then”) and bonding over their musical interests. “I had a recording setup where I was living,” Brandon says. “We both had a ton of instruments and recording gear because we’ve been playing in bands since we were 12. I remember the first time we played music together, with just two acoustic guitars, it was like, ‘Oh shit, we’re actually communicating.’ That kind of interaction can be very difficult to achieve but we had it from the get-go.” While the boys went their separate ways for a stretch - Kyle to Seattle to do some nonprofit work; Brandon to Oklahoma to work as a journeyman farrier (the man who puts shoes on horses) - both made their way back to Portland to make Priory a priority, writing songs in a basement practice space, fueled by their deep musical connection and homebrewed beer. “We wrote an album’s worth of songs in a matter of weeks and immediately began booking shows,” says Kyle. With the help of a hometown label, the two put out an EP and a full-length, and spent the better part of two years on the road, juggling the touring life and their day jobs. But the more they played those songs in front of people, the less connected they felt to them. “We had fun,” Brandon explains, “but at the same time, we were touring on a record that we had outgrown. We felt like it was time to write more honest music.” To do so, though, meant leaving the working world behind and quitting their respective day jobs. It was a decision they didn’t take lightly, but one that was easy to make with the support of their families. While making the record, we both got down to our last $5 in the bank almost every month and would have to scramble to keep the ship from sinking.” Kyle literally wears his struggles during this period with a big dollar sign tattoo on the crook of his right arm, as a reminder of how much blood plasma he had to sell to make ends meet. “We became accountable to each other,” he says. “Every day we would work from 9AM through the night, and if one of us was late, it would be up to the other to give him hell. You can find excuses all day long to not go in and create, but we were always pushing each other. Once we committed, it was as if a wall had been removed. We felt free and our songs seemed to blossom from there.” And no one can argue with the results. Priory’s forthcoming album is a lean, sinewy beast given strength by filtering neon-lit gloss of new wave into modern rock aesthetics. Dark, almost morose lyrics are interwoven through uplifting melodies, giving the album a strong sense of duality that further enforces their difficult upbringing. One of the themes of the album is “surviving one’s youth,” a message that becomes clear in a song like “Friends & Demons.” The upbeat, hip-hop flecked track was inspired by Brandon’s friendship with two brothers who died within a year of each other - one of a cocaine overdose, the other of a drug deal gone bad. The album is also about moving beyond one’s troubled past, as the booming choruses and electro beats of “Weekend” play out as the soundtrack to starting over. Elsewhere, “Put ‘Em Up” stands firm in support of sexual freedom to the tune of wiry synth melodies and African-inspired guitar work. There’s a soulful quality to be found within the album, as well, with “Lost Gold” telling a Moonrise Kingdom-like tale of two runaways, while “Big Love” urges listeners to embrace life before it’s too late. The album is an impressive enough achievement on its own, but made even more so by the fact that the two did it all themselves, with the only help coming in the mixing stages by no less than Mark “Spike” Stent, the renowned producer/mixer who has worked with everyone from U2 and Madonna to Frank Ocean and Muse. “We almost feel like this is our debut record,” Brandon says. “We put everything we had into it and are so proud of what we achieved. We hope that means something to people.”