With their moshpit-ready cacophony of distorted guitars and wry takes on modernity; TV Priest would appear, on the surface, to be the last act who would flourish as an online sensation.
Due to the Coronavirus pandemic cancelling live music for the past year, however, the post-punk quartet have become unlikely breakthrough heroes, releasing their debut album Uppers this month through legendary Seattle label Sub Pop.
“It was mad. Absolutely mad,” frontman Charlie Drinkwater says of their recording deal with Sub Pop, which was penned via a Zoom call. ‘It’s not something that was expected at all. I suppose you don’t necessarily miss what you’ve never experienced, but I’m very aware that our route to being signed to a label like Sub Pop has not been ‘normal”.
TV Priest signed with the US Indie mainstays in October, after releasing a handful of singles in 2020 – joining a roster which has included Nirvana, Sonic Youth & The Smashing Pumpkins. An insane accolade for a group of schoolfriends who formed the band relatively recently as a creative escape from life in their early thirties: work, marriage, fatherhood.
This un-super origin story grounds the band in a world of relatable hyper-realism. “I had just become a dad and moved away from the guys, I suppose life was getting more complicated in a way,” Charlie recalls. ‘In the first instance, the band was a way of carving out time for ourselves and being back in a room together… it might sound as if we had some kind of expectation for the project, but it started from a weirdly pure place.’
Within the lyrical themes of Uppers, misremembered quotes from Simon Cowell can be found bookending larger political statements. Veering subject matter, from Brexit to media ethics, via Carpool Karaoke gives this release a real sense of pub-philosophy, written by a group of friends for one another and creatively liberated by not yet realising how many ears will eventually hear these tracks.
The album’s early tracks leave the gate with a thump of immediacy. ‘The Big Curve’, ‘Press Gang’ and ‘Leg Room’ ride on a familiar perpetual beat, reminiscent of the big-hitters in accessible post-punk. As the first quarter of Uppers burns out, however, ‘Journal of a Plague Year’ eases off of the accelerator, allowing the LP to grow beyond a collection of singles.
“We definitely wanted the album to be an album, it has got an arc,” Charlie assesses. ‘We were thinking very specifically about people listening on vinyl; having those moments that just take you out of the record, take you out of this chaos and put you somewhere else.
This debut arrives amidst a golden period for the once rather niche intersection between irreverently delivered spoken word and punk-informed guitarwork. At the time of writing, Black County, New Road are perched at fourth in the album charts, and the likes of Do Nothing, Dry Cleaning & Yard Act are garnering more press attention with every release.
“Maybe there are historical chimes between when post-punk originated and now,” Charlie contemplates, between stressing that he is no spokesperson for the genre. ‘Both periods were maybe driven by collapses in economic systems, political division, cultural division. I think there are a lot of historical parallels as to why people are using that medium again.’
Being influenced as heavily as it is by nostalgia, whilst also traditionally holding up a mirror to modern society; post-punk sits in a precarious position between the past and the now. As white dudes with guitars have less of a role to play as society’s marginalised voice, Charlie discusses what the term means to him in 2021. “There is a narrow view of post-punk – and we do fit into it – we are 4 white men playing guitar music. Whereas, when I think of post-punk, I think of a whole raft of different things, a polyphony of different voices. I think of [70s avant-funk group] ESG, I think of early sampling, I think of Detroit Techno and house music. Those are all coming off of the back of punk and post-punk as a form of expression”.
In regards to other artists that he views as contemporaries, Charlie is quick to namecheck Bournemouth’s Billy Nomates. “I love her view of the world and how she frames the world. I think there is so much interesting music happening at the moment, certainly in the UK.”
For all of the compromises that have arrived with a national lockdown, TV Priest have experienced their entire debut album campaign in a musical landscape that is entirely unrecognisable from anyone else’s before them. Traditionally, album release week is universally recognised as a stressful affair. With shows to play, interviews to attend and the occasional in-store appearance, there is very little room to evaluate and appreciate the milestone.
“I just spent release day with my family: my wife & my little boy,” Charlie laughs. ‘I just tried to take it in. We worked on the record very quickly and it came together in 3 or 4 months, but we’ve been writing this record probably since we were 15’. The distraction of a chaotic release week leaves the point rarely acknowledged, that dropping your debut album is the start of a new chapter and, as such, signifies the demise of another chapter. “I had real levels of excitement and elation, but also I was strangely self-reflective, which I didn’t necessarily expect. Perhaps [releasing during lockdown] was more of a personal experience than it would have been otherwise”.
There is a good chance that we are closer to the end of lockdown than we are to the start of it. Vaccines are being dished out across the UK, and gig venues will be soon be reopening. Fondness makes the heart grow stronger and – having known life without it – live music will be sweeter than it has ever been before. For a multitude of reasons, no faction are more excited about this than the bands themselves, with Charlie confirming a busy end to 2021, “if it’s safe to do so.”
“We are dying to get out there and play to people, to see how these tracks live in a live space.” The frontman reels off the tracks that he is waiting to play live; ‘Press Gang’, ‘This Island’, tracks like ‘Saintless’ that are yet to see a live audience. This kind of enthusiastic fantasy is normally reserved for the teenager who is yet to become a rockstar, and it’s unprecedented that a group who have already released their debut LP are waiting in anticipation to actually play the tunes. Then again, these are unprecedented times.
“I’m just going to be excited to be on the stage with my mates again,” Charlie concludes. “That’s gunna be incredible.”