The L.A. doom trio High Priestess are in the spotlight for this week’s Meet The Band. They just released their self-titled debut album. Vocalist/guitarist Katie Gilchrest, bassist/vocalist Mariana Fiel and drummer Megan Mullins introduce us to their band.
Chad Bowar: Give us a brief history of High Priestess.
Megan Mullins: Mariana had the idea to start a bass and drum psychedelic doom project and posted an ad up on Craigslist searching for a drummer. Her vision sounded cool and like something both Katie and I wanted to be part of. We each hit her up and from there we met and started jamming.
Describe the songwriting and recording process for your self-titled album.
Katie Gilchrest: Every song’s incarnation was a little different, but basically all of them came out of fun and relaxed jams. One of us usually had a riff, (majority of the time it is Mariana, who is a riff machine), and we jammed the hell out of it until we found what clicked. Then we either structured the song in the practice room by jamming some more, or I’d listen to the jams and structure it out at home, then be like, “hey how about this?” Then we’d change it or leave it. For vocals, I’d get an idea out of nowhere while listening to the instrumental jams and work out the words and melody. Or Mariana and I worked out the vocals together. If she had a melody/words I usually write a harmony around it. If I had a melody I usually had an idea of how the harmony would go.
For the recording, we originally decided to just record a demo in our practice space. We used a minimal set up, only 8 inputs, with Glyn Johns system on the drums, and then later recorded vocals at home. Some of the songs, like “Mother Forgive Me,” weren’t even finished as songs, and we were literally writing the vocals as we were recording it. Then I mixed and mastered it in my free time. In my other life I am an audio engineer, so it was fun to do, and also I think because we are so sonically balanced, the album practically mixed itself. It came out really well, so much that Ripple Music wanted to release the demo as our first album.
How would you characterize the album’s style/sound?
Megan: It’s sludgy stoner rock drenched in heavy melodic psychedelic doom. The vocals are hypnotic and haunting on top of mean, heavy riffs and grooves.
Katie: We come out of the tradition of doom, classic metal and psychedelic music. Our long solos and jams echo ’60s and ’70s rock and heavy metal, while also being sort of spacey with weird sounds like psychedelia. As far as the vocals go, I’ve always loved harmonies, and that comes anywhere from late Renaissance style classical music to the Beatles.
How did you come to sign with Ripple Music?
Katie: Mariana posted the demo in a doom group on Facebook, where Christine from Tridroid records heard it and loved it. She offered to release it on tape for us, and she also shared it with her good friend Matt who works for Ripple. Matt showed it to Todd, who owns Ripple, he dug it and contacted us. We ended up meeting at Psycho Las Vegas, felt like it was a good match, and went from there.
What are your goals and expectations for the album?
Katie: We want this to be a strong start to a rich output from the band. The original expectation was just to have a demo on Bandcamp, and then record a “real” album later that year. These recordings have already exceeded our goals and expectations.
What has been your most memorable High Priestess live show?
Mariana Fiel: All shows are memorable in one way or another. Of course I can never forget our first show as a band. Our good friend Ruben from The Freeks (ex Nebula and Fu Manchu) invited us to play a show in December 2016. It was a 25 minute set and we haven’t had any of our songs finished, so we just basically jammed “Firefly” and “Earth Dive” for the duration of the set. Another great memorable one was a show we played in Palm Desert at The Hood. Just the general vibe of the audience and the desert itself made it all align into a great time.
What are your upcoming tour plans?
Megan: First up we’re heading north May 25-June 9 up the West Coast into Canada and back with our bad ass label mates Salem’s Bend! Pumped to rock with with them along with other heavy hitters Slow Season, Zed, and more! Our official album release show in LA is June 12 at the Viper Room.
How did you get started in music?
Megan: I started playing drums around 14. I was in a couple bands in high school, one of which was a metal band. The first time we played in front of anyone was during lunch at school. We set up in a parking lot in the middle of campus that everyone called “the desert,” and a small mosh pit broke out. We thought we were so cool, and that’s probably when I first felt “hooked.”
Katie: When I was a kid I was always finding melodies from movies on the piano, so my parents got me classical piano lessons. I played clarinet in band, and got into rock music at 11 or 12 and wanted a guitar. It was all over from there. My first band was in high school, and we played things like Lynyrd Skynyrd and Stone Temple Pilots covers at parties out in the boonies.
Mariana: My grandfather played the lute and the Portuguese guitar beautifully, so as a kid, every time I went to visit my grandparents at the farm, I watched him play with amazement. Fast forward to my early teens when I started getting into metal. My older brother and his friends would jam in our garage and I just thought that was the coolest thing ever. That’s when I picked up the guitar and the bass and started playing Sabbath and eventually started writing my own music.
Who were your early influences and inspirations?
Megan: John Henry Bonham. That man had such power, presence, and finesse on drums it is mind blowing! Early on I also really dug Dave Grohl and the energy and wild stage presence he brought to the table.
Katie: I totally picked up the guitar because of Nirvana when I was in middle school. Then because Nirvana was next to Metallica at the CD store, I started getting into Metallica. The bands I was mega into in high school were Pink Floyd, everything Jimi Hendrix, Black Sabbath, and Led Zeppelin. All the classic heavyweights, which also doubled as my first loves for guitar playing.
Mariana: The first record I chose to put on our record player when I was finally tall enough to reach it was Jimi Hendrix – Are You Experienced. I was extremely lucky to have parents with an incredible musical taste. Thanks to them, I grew up listening to Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, The Beatles, The Kinks, Rolling Stones, and Kate Bush. Then thanks to my older brother, I started getting into some King Crimson, Metallica, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains and thanks to the high school metalhead friends, Black Sabbath, Sepultura, Obituary, Death, Nile and a variety of metal. The internet happened and with Napster I got into stoner rock, and joined a cool message board that got me into Hawkwind, Melvins, Sleep, OM, Colour Haze and a bunch of other cool bands.
What was the first metal concert you attended? How about the best one?
Mariana: The best one has to be Roadburn 2006. Orange Goblin and Ufomammut absolutely destroyed that year. Hawkwind were awesome too. Solace killed it as well. I think it was a mixture of the bands and the environment that summoned this super powerful electromagnetic field of awesome at the 013. Honorable mentions to all Yob and Neurosis shows I’ve seen because they always deliver a crushing heaviness.
L.A. has a varied music scene. How strong is the doom scene there these days?
Mariana: The doom scene is definitely stronger now in L.A. than it was 10 years ago. Back then, you knew all the same 10 people that would come to the shows. Nowadays it’s a bunch of strangers (and I say this in the utmost positive way) and maybe two people you know. Also, big kudos to Dan Dismal from Church of the 8th Day for keeping the scene alive!
What’s currently in your heavy musical rotation?
Megan: Sleep, Monolord, Yob, Earthless.
Katie: The new Sleep album rules. I’ve also been listening to Windhand, Purple Hill Witch, and new Judas Priest.
Mariana: Sleep, obviously. That Giza Butler song gives me some hope that we will get some new OM material soon. I’ve been listening to a lot of Unsane, Harvey Milk and Karp lately again. I guess they’re just one of those bands that if they accidentally pop up on the shuffle of your iPod, you just have to obsessively listen to them to get it out of your system.
Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
Katie: I’d like to thank everyone who has supported us, lots of love and encouragement has poured out from the world even just from our little demo release. If we are playing in your town, come see us, we’d love to meet you.
(interview published May 19, 2018)