If you were like me and played Guitar Hero 3 at one point or another you may have stumbled across a band by the name of Priestess. I had the chance to talk with Mikey Heppner (guitar/vocals) upstairs at London’s Call The Office. Topics ranged from the recording of new album “Prior to the Fire”, noise complaints during the recording process, Guitar Hero and Dave Mustaine!
WayTooLoud!: What influenced you to get into music and start playing?
Mikey Heppner: I guess I’ve always been into music. I was just curious as a young kid about playing guitar. My dad had one; he wasn’t like a great guitar player. He just had one around the house and I started playing it!
WTL!: What was the writing process like for “Prior to the Fire”
Mikey: A lot of the riffs and the bits and pieces were written on the road. We were touring a lot for “Hello Master”. We sort of had all these ideas and riffs that we had accumulated. We holed ourselves up in a jam space for five days a week and just put our heads together!
WTL!: How was that different then the writing for “Hello Master”?
Mikey: It was different because we didn’t write as a band too much on “Hello Master”. I kind of wrote the majority of the stuff alone and we sort of arranged it. A lot of the songs on “Prior to the Fire” were born out of the time we spent working together!
Mikey: Our A&R guy at RCA at the time and Dave are good friends. Dave had heard about us and he was curious as to weather or not we were looking for a producer. “I want to work them, are they looking for a producer?” We met up and hit it off!
WTL!: What is it that David brings to the recording process?
Mikey: He was a really open minded guy. He wasn’t the type of producer who wanted to direct the show or really take charge. He let us do what we wanted to do. That was really important to us because we spent a lot of time crafting the songs the way they sound on the record now! We wrote them and put a lot of thought and a lot of time into them. Dave basically was like “Ok, these are good!” If he thought something could be different he would be like “hey do you think you could go somewhere crazy off that part into another part?” Then we would look into it and try and come up with something. He was just very open minded and cool!
WTL!: Did you have any goals in mind when writing and creating “Prior to the Fire”?
Mikey: Not so much goals but more so we wanted to do what we felt like doing. What we really felt like doing this time around was doing something that was a little more complicated. A little more prog like in a way! Sort of more challenging to ourselves. We grew as a band and became a lot tighter and more confident. We wanted to push our potential playing wise some more!
WTL!: I understand that the song “Murphy’s Law” is about the epic movie RoboCop! How did that come about?
Mikey: Advice that I often get when I have a hard time writing lyrics is to write about what I love. And I love RoboCop! I was sitting in my room wondering what I’m going to write about. Then that voice popped in saying “write about what you love Mikey!” I looked up at my wall and there was my RoboCop poster so here we go (laughs!)
WTL!: Are there any other lyrical themes like that on the CD?
Mikey: There are a lot actually. That was kind of the first one and it opened the flood gate. Alright that was smooth, there was a song that didn’t make it onto the album but it’s going to be a single on a 7” that we’re making. It’s about Twin Peaks. There is another that is about An American Werewolf In London loosely. There is a samurai movie series called Lone Wolf and Cub that I really like “Sideways Attack” is about that! “Baffles the Mind” is about the tournament in Dragonball! Mega geek shit! (Laughs!)
WTL!: Does anybody other then yourself write lyrics?
Mikey: Those ones that I just mentioned I wrote. Me and Dan (Watchorn, guitars) put our heads together on a lot of it and completed the songs together.
WTL!: Does he take a different approach to writing lyrics then you do?
Mikey: He didn’t bring any songs lyric wise this time around. When we wrote lyrics together for “Ladykiller” we just sat there with beer, tequila and paper then tried to write the words!
WTL!: Is there a story behind the album cover?
Mikey: No, not really. It was a friend of ours who had done art work for us in the past. I would just send out a mass e-mail to all the artists that I know saying “hey we need new album artwork now!” People started sending stuff in. That guys name is Yardley, when he sent that in we were all looking at the computer saying “ah shit, that’s perfect!”
WTL!: What was it about the art that made it stand out?
Mikey: I just thought it was pretty classic looking. I don’t think it looks like it lends itself to a particular scene or anything like that. We didn’t want to have anything that was a typical rock or metal looking album cover! We wanted it to be a bit ambiguous. It’s sort of it’s own thing. It doesn’t really subscribe to a certain aesthetic that already exists!
WTL!: What’s the significance behind the title?
Mikey: That is really open to interpretation! Where the album title comes from was from watching one of those crime stories on A&E. It was about a woman who died in what appeared to be an accidental fire in her house. One of the detectives comes on and says in a very serious voice “By the little amount of smoke in her lungs we were able to determine that she died prior to the fire.” The way he said “prior to the fire” kind of hit me as a good idea for an album title!
WTL!: Have you heard any other interpretations of it so far?
Mikey: I’ve heard a couple. It could be a pre-creation type thing or a Billy Joel reference!
WTL!: Do you write songs with the live aspect in mind?
Mikey: Somewhat, but we don’t angle ourselves to it.
WTL!: I understand that you were asked to move your recording studio due to the volume? What happened there?
Mikey: The studio was in kind of a residential area in Hollywood. It look suspicious and we asked the owners if they’ve ever gotten noise complaints. They assured us there was nothing to worry about. As soon as were done the drums and started doing bass we had the bass amp really cranked! We started shaking the houses next door. They told us they would keep giving us tickets if we kept doing that! We had to find a new place!
WTL!: Was that difficult at all?
Mikey: David Schiffman knew another studio that was available the next day. That night we packed up the shit and moved it to another studio! We got lucky it was kinda seamless!
Mikey: We toured like crazy without any regard to having another album ready! Two and a half years in from releasing the first album we were ready with a lot of the material that is on “Prior to the Fire” and other stuff that we don’t play anymore. We were ready to record then but we were battling with RCA back and forth. They weren’t hearing songs that they felt like they needed to have in order for it to be marketable by major label standards! It was frustrating us because we were really stoked on our new stuff. Just sort of that back and forth with them for a whole year, after that we decided it was time to look for a producer. Two producers then fell through in a row which was another 6 months wasted. Finally we got David Schiffman to record it which was last fall we recorded it with him. Then it was the same thing again from RCA, “we still don’t hear a song that could be a single. Can you record more or take your record elsewhere!” So we took our record elsewhere! Which was a really, really lucky scenario for us. Usually what happens is they’ll tell a band to keep writing more songs, the record isn’t ready yet! And if we tell them “no screw you this is our record!” They would then drop us and keep the record, shelve it and have it never come out! So we got the best case scenario, it took a bit of time to negotiate with TeePee so that’s why everything took so long!
WTL!: Now that it is out do you think that the wait was worth it?
Mikey: I would have to say yeah. I tend to live in the present and don’t dwell on the time that was spent going through all this battling. I’m happy that it is out and is good and we’re all proud of it!
WTL!: What roles do the members play beyond their instruments? (The manager, tour manager, booking agent, driver, PR guy, the tech, the person who gets drugs)
Mikey: Yeah, Vince (Nudo) our drummer is the money man. I am the navigator. Vince and Mike (Dyball, bass) share the driving. Dan does all the merch stuff.
Mikey: We have a projectionist as well!
WTL!: How does that work out for a venue this size? (Call The Office is a smaller venue)
Mikey: It looks pretty good! A lot of it ends up on us instead of on the wall but it looks pretty trippy!
WTL!: Have your friends and family been supportive of you being in a band?
Mikey: Yeah, totally!
WTL!: You managed to get a couple of your songs onto some different video games, notably Guitar Hero and NHL 10. How do you think that has affected you as a band and coming across new fans?
Mikey: It is defiantly big exposure! A lot of kids end up wanting those games. Pretty much every kid ends up wanting Guitar Hero 3. A lot of them hadn’t heard of Priestess at the time. Now we have snuck into their house, it’s an in to the mass population. A lot of people have mentioned to me that they didn’t know us until they were playing the game!
WTL!: How did you get hooked up with TeePee Records?
Mikey: They were interested in us when we recorded “Hello Master” on an indie label in Montreal. They were a label we had talked to about releasing “Hello Master” in the States before we got the big offers from RCA. We have been friends ever since. Half always joking “when we get dropped we’ll be back together again!” (Laughs!)
WTL!: How has the atmosphere changed with the new label?
Mikey: We haven’t really felt a huge difference yet! It isn’t out on TeePee yet, it’s still talk at this point. Being on RCA we didn’t get the big major label benefit other then the money that they advanced us! We didn’t get any of the huge promos. They didn’t want to push us the way they’d push say the Foo Fighters because of the kind of music that we are. We aren’t a commercial band really. For better or for worse we didn’t get the big major label push other then some money. I think it will be better because TeePee really cares about us being one of there important bands now. On RCA we were dead last on the list!
WTL!: You have listed Mastodon as your favourite current metal band. What is it about them that you like so much?
Mikey: I like put on their music and love it! They are just insanely talented musicians and really creative song writers. They just give it all! It’s 100% what they want to do, it’s inspiring!
WTL!: Do you take any of that as things you can do yourself?
Mikey: I think a lot of bands in our scene look up to them as that. They have sort have broken into the next level by sticking to what they do! What they do is pretty different in terms of what else is popular in metal!
WTL!: Do you have any pre-show ritual
Mikey: No not really, do a couple interviews, drink a couple beers! (Laughs!)
WTL!: Have you had any Spinal Tap moments on tour?
Mikey: For sure, every day. It’s a perfect movie because it is exactly true! The characters might not be as funny but that shit happens all the time!
WTL!: Anything more memorable along those lines?
Mikey: We were on tour with Megadeth in the UK and we were playing this venue in Glasgow, Scotland. It was a sprawling maze, I got virtually lost when we were supposed to get on stage! I remember turning around thinking “it’s not this way”. What I thought I was going back to looked completely backwards. I ended up completely lost! (Laughs!)
WTL!: When touring, do you prefer a smaller-sized venue with a small number of people, or a large stage and a massive crowd?
Mikey: I prefer smaller! A small place that is packed is my favourite! I like being closer to the crowd. Especially if the crowd is into the show and is really intense. It makes the music better! On a big stage it can be fun sometimes, usually when we play those huge stages we’re an opening band. The general crowd when you’re an opening band isn’t that excited! I should say they aren’t as excited as your own crowd in a smaller place!
WTL!: Who would you like to tour with again that you have already toured with?
Mikey: Defiantly Mastodon again and Megadeth I would love to tour with again!
WTL!: What was it about Megadeth that you liked touring with?
Mikey: Everything about it! (Laughs!) They were super cool, Dave Mustaine gets a bad rap, the guy is such a cool guy, watch us play and hang out with us. He would tell us cool stories and shit! He was a super really cool guy, didn’t have the rock star head at all with us! That was really fun and the crowds were insaine!
WTL!: Do you notice any difference between the US and Canadian audiences?
Mikey: People ask that all the time, the truth is that each city has a different crowd. Montreal and London are completely different as well as Boston and Seattle!
WTL!: With that in mind are there any cities that you look forward to going to?
Mikey: There are a bunch! Actually London is a city that we look forward to coming to! We’ve been coming to London since we started; we’ve seen our fans grow here! It can be really crazy here!
WTL!: Who would you tour with if you had no rules?
Mikey: Black Sabbith!
WTL!: Who would you like to tour with who’s both feasible, but not obvious?
Mikey: Jethro Tull unfortunately they aren’t very good anymore! They are one of my favourite all time bands, top 5! I saw them about 12 years ago and they were amazing and then I saw them last summer and they don’t have it!
WTL!: Where in the world would you like to tour?
Mikey: Everywhere! I really look forward to going to Asia. China and Japan!
Mikey: Not as a band. Last year I went there for about a month. It’s an amazing place and I can’t wait to play there.
WTL!: Since bands get asked about their name a lot have you ever lied about your band name and what it means?
Mikey: I do everytime!
WTL!: Any good stories?
Mikey: None come to mind, you should have asked me what the band name means!
WTL!: So what does Priestess mean? Have you ever faced any controversy for the name?
Mikey: Everytime at the border the conversation goes along the lines of, “what are you guys doing here?” “We’re going on tour!” “What is the band called?” “Priestess!” “Priest what?” “Priestess.” “Priestess? You got a girl in there?” “Nope!” “Your name is Priestess and you don’t have a girl in your band?” “Um, no sir!” “Ok, you’re just going to have to pull up there and go in that room there!” “FUCK!” (Laughs!) “Who’s the Priestess now!”
Priestess at Myspace!
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