Priory's Brandon Johnson Talks The Ups and Downs Of His Band's Potentially Religious Name

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Portland's Priory only recently issued its debut effort, but main songwriters Brandon Johnson and Kyle Dieker have been collaborating for several years. It just took getting a couple of other band members in place for the band to finally hit the studio with its plethora of material. It explains a lot -- like why their self-titled album resonates with a maturity and clarity missing from most first efforts.

Combining the new folk of bands such as Fleet Foxes and Grand Archives with a sleek pop influence and a dash of electronics, Priory has come up with a interesting hybrid.

Speaking from a tour stop in Kansas City (after working out at a 24 Hour Fitness), lead singer Brandon Johnson caught his breath long enough to chat with us about his band's first national tour, which brings them to La Grange this evening.

You guys have to be one of the few bands that work out before a show.
I think that, since all of us have been in other bands and out on the road before, we realize the need to stay in shape just to maintain ourselves on stage. A lot of bands get into that cycle of driving, playing, drinking and we've learned to try to even things out a bit, to keep ourselves working right.

Does having members with a lot of previous band experience help in other areas as well?
Yes, definitely. I think it helps in many areas. It makes everything a lot easier, particularly touring. Kyle [Dieker] and I have been writing song together for so long, long before we had this band. And, now, it feels like everything is working out pretty well. Everybody has been through things, in the studio and on the road.

The band's debut album got a very positive critical reaction. Did that surprise you? And do you even take notice of reviews?
It's an honor. I think it has been a bit of a surprise. When some of the local Portland papers started writing nice things about us, we were super happy to get good reviews and a positive response. We worked on this album for a long time and it feels like we've been rewarded.

Some reviewers have lumped Priory into the new folk-rock bands out of Seattle -- acts like The Head and the Heart and Fleet Foxes. Do you like those comparisons?
Some folks have mentioned us sounding like Band of Horses or Arcade Fire, too -- and I think those bands are great. I think we are pretty poppy and it's harder to associate us with some of the other bands that have recently come out of Portland. As far as the new folk bands out of Seattle, I don't see that comparison. We've had people say strange things about our music. One guy in Colorado said I had gothic vocals.

I guess the next stop is the Warped Tour?
[Laughs.] Yes, but that gothic comment is the weirdest one I've ever gotten. I mean, I do love The Cure, Bauhaus and all that stuff.

Priory is an interesting choice for a name. Do people think you're a religious band?
I think we saw the word on an old record. And even though the word has religious connotations, we chose it because it also symbolizes this idea of having one goal. Some people come up and talk about being raised Catholic and knowing what a priory is. But our name is definitely not derived from any religious practice. The worst thing about the name is some people have trouble pronouncing it.

What's the story behind the song "Devil vs. Heater"?
I think Kyle came up with that. I think I just came up with the title. I just thought of the devil versus a heater, and we all just went with it. A lot of the time, I will come up with one phrase and everything will go from there. I might expand the concept. With that song, I started talking about drug addiction and breaking up. It all depends on how people want to take it. I think some of the best songs take melodies from nursery rhymes, something that is immediate. And then I add in the dark subject matter.

Priory plays tonight at La Grange

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