Gene Priest
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Gene Priest

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"Gene Priest Steps Away From the Drumkit on Folky Solo EP"

Local go-to drummer Gene Priest (Cold Hands, the HiLites, Hot Blood) steps out from behind the kit for his first solo project, and it’s a distinct departure. Priest takes a full turn away from his other bands’ punk and dance-pop tendencies for lethargic, free-floating art-folk (think Vic Chesnutt) on the four-song Living to Die. As moody as the songs are, though, and as uniform as the syrupy tempo is, Priest keeps the whole thing on track with disciplined songwriting, particularly long, billowy melodies that take a while to sink in but are inescapable once they do. -

"Cold Hands Drummer Gene Priest Takes Charge with Wolf at the Door"

It’s tough to call Knoxville alt-rock quintet Wolf at the Door a “supergroup,” especially when the band hasn’t even released a full-length album and hasn’t played many shows outside Knoxville. But with their newly revamped lineup and the cinematic ease of their music, they fit the bill almost by default. Led by vocalist/lyricist/Cold Hands drummer Gene Priest, Wolf at the Door specializes in moody, emotional epics that soar skyward in waves of guitar effects and piano.

The band’s origin can be traced back to late 2010, when guitarist Brian Woodruff and pianist Derek Jones served as Priest’s backing band, the Cardinal Sins. When Woodruff and Jones started bringing in their own material, the group re-emerged as a fully collaborative band, landing gigs as a trio at Pilot Light and the Square Room. Tracks like the spacious ballad “Just Like Being Born” showed a band with big aspirations (and a sound that recalled early Radiohead, just as their name refers to a song from Hail to the Thief), but Wolf at the Door quickly realized they needed to expand, literally, in order to expand sonically. To fix this problem, the group added drummer Nathan Gilleran and bassist Henry Gibson (Cold Hands, ex-Royal Bangs).

“When it was just a three-piece, there was a lot of space for those three instruments to live in,” Priest says. “That’s why the older stuff was kind of slow and sparse and what-not. And now the newer stuff we’ve been writing has a lot more going on in general, so we’ve kind of gotten to the crossroads of so much new writing to where we’re wondering what to do at this point.”

Wolf at the Door is a band in transition. The band’s in-progress full-length debut, American Castles, has been a long time coming, and the addition of Gilleran and Gibson has not only changed the band’s sound, it has also made them more confident and excited about what they’re doing.

“We started recording, but at the same time, during the process of getting into the studio, we added two new people, which expanded our sound tremendously,” Priest says. “And we kind of want to display that, and maybe at this point, it would be smarter to just release an EP than do a full-length, since we’ve written so many new songs that are better.”

“It’s a tricky question,” Woodruff adds. “We don’t know exactly what we’re doing. We have a large amount of material recorded at Rock Snob, but we’re not exactly sure what we’re going to do with it at the moment. We have the capability to record it another way with more time and more nakedness involved, so that’s a possibility.”

One thing’s for sure: Wolf at the Door has made giant leaps in songwriting with their newest material. Seeds of their new direction are displayed on the recently released Weary Bones EP—the cathartic title track, which, with its guitar-delay ripples and emphatic emo chanting, sounds like a seamless blend of Sunny Day Real Estate and early U2. But American Castles, judging by the “very rough” early mix, sounds even more thrilling, aided in no small part by the band’s newly instated muscle. The interlude leading into quirky sing-along “Black Eyes Black Heart” finds Gilleran nearly destroying his kit in a prog-rock frenzy; Gibson adds a smoky postpunk thump to “Head-On Collision,” in which Woodruff erupts into OK Computer-styled guitar seizures.

The long gestation of American Castles is due mostly to the band’s gradual reinvention of itself, but the sad truth is that recording a studio album isn’t cheap, especially for a group of guys who work 9-to-5s at used bookstores and pizza joints. Even worse, their Kickstarter campaign fell just short of their target goal.

“We failed at it,” Priest says. “We were $400 short. It was really close, but not close enough. We didn’t get any money, and we still haven’t finished our album. We’re still doing it, though. It’s still kinda happening—in process, just not as fast as if we had gotten a bunch of money. Kickstarter really would have allowed us to get that record out way faster, so without it, we’re having to do it on our own, which is pretty tough for most bands.”

But in spite of these obstacles, Wolf at the Door finds itself in the creative home stretch, ready to test out new material in a live setting. Like Royal Bangs and Superdrag before them, they have undeniable potential to break out from the Knoxville scene—though this emerging quintet can’t even decide if they’re a part of the scene in the first place.

“It’s kinda weird,” Woodruff says. “At a lot of the places we play, it’s either country-fried rock bands or punk bands or complete weirdness. I think we’re kind of weird in the scene—I don’t think there’s a whole lot of bands doing what we’re doing.”

Gibson’s not so sure.

“I feel like it’s not really that different,” he says. “I think it’s pretty normal, but for this area, it’s not, I guess.”

“I don’t even know how to classify what we do,” Priest says. “I don’t know how we fit in. But I think our stuff is accessible enough that a lot of people can enjoy it and take something from it.” -

"Gene Priest and the Cardinal Sin get songs in shape for travel"

After some scaled-down test runs and a false start or two, Gene Priest and the Cardinal Sin prepare to unveil the full-fledged live show that has been meticulously primed in recent months.

The unassuming Priest once admitted to suffering from stage fright in regard to singing, but has since faced down his fears in scattered acoustic sets of his original catalog. With a fall tour approaching and a video released, Gene Priest and the Cardinal Sin are no longer pulling punches as they alleviate the suspense created with stripped-down acoustic teasers and studio recordings.

Following the release of Priest’s digital EP “Living to Die,” he took to the stage a few times, performing as a modest duo accompanied by Cardinal Sinner Brian Woodruff. Priest points out that the songs are constructed for both formats, and the two-man outings will still be offered as an alternate version of the band’s repertoire, but the band is now central. Originally recruited to actualize Priest’s writing, Cardinal Sin players Woodruff (guitar), Derek Jones (bass piano) and William Lamb (drums) now play a significant role in shaping the collaborative work.

“The new direction is more, in my opinion, just a completion of what I originally started and wanted to see happen,” describes Priest. “Obviously going from one guy with an acoustic guitar to adding three amazing musicians will bring the level of quality up and help to ‘define’ a sound. There is really only so much you can do as one person and one guitar, but when you add everything else on top of it, the possibilities are limitless.

The band’s influence is evident in some songs more than others. Much of the material stays true to old form with a good portion of simply structured, frill-free brooding ballads, but sprinkled into the mix is the inclusion of Pixie-approved washes of distortion ladled over rhythmic, acoustic strumming, to which Priest applies robust vocals with a subtle snarl reminiscent of Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore or The Rosebuds’ Ivan Howard.

At first hesitant to deliver his vocal stylings in public, longtime drummer Priest now finds it exhilarating and has even set aside time on the band’s upcoming tour to perform a solo New York City subway set.

“Playing in front of people will always be a stressful situation, but as a person I am generally not shy in the least,” says Priest. “If I can harness my day-to-day personality and bring even 50 percent of that to the stage, I have no doubt I will be all right. Plus I really enjoy the idea of feeding off of the energy of the other musicians in the band.

Upon their return from a brief tour of New England, Gene Priest and the Cardinal Sin will immediately hit the studio with Scott Minor to lay down tracks for a full-length. Having offered the “Living to Die” EP for free download, Priest intends to let freedom ring once more with the full album.

While presenting the tracks digitally, avid record collector Priest will also respond to fan demand for a traditional, tangible format.

“The full-length will be sort of a different beast I think,” Priest says. “It will initially be released as a free download, but I’ve had so many people ask me for physical copies of our EP; it’s nice to know people still enjoy the feeling of owning a copy in non-digital form. Instead of burning a CDR, they like to have the artwork and a real copy. I am the same way. There is something more fulfilling about being able to hold something in your hands, read liner notes and put the CD in your player.” -

"Drummer Gene Priest takes place in spotlight"

After a decade of drumming in bands of all types, Gene Priest has decided to champion his own project Gene Priest and the Cardinal Sin. While performing as a member of My Lost Cause, Cold Hands, HiLites and Hot Blood, Priest was all the while writing his own music, which he only recently mustered the confidence to unveil. Now the drummer aims to test his front man muster in true Dave Grohl fashion upon the release of his "Living to Die" EP, due out this summer.

Despite his membership in a handful of successful local acts, Priest lent few vocals from behind his drum set. Priest credits friends with providing the encouragement necessary to attempt his own project. And while Priest had recorded others in his home studio, Brooklyn's Lapdance Academy label owner Brian Grosz convinced Priest to use his equipment for his own efforts. Upon completion, the EP will be released through the exclusively digital Lapdance Academy label.

"I really have to put it on Brian," says Priest. "He kind of pushed me to do this. He told me my stuff was good and people needed to hear it. Whether I believed it or not, he believed in it enough to put it out, so I concentrated on it and got serious about it the beginning of this year.

"I'm an extremely self-conscious person. That's why I've never done my own thing. I've always written music, but have never had the confidence to play it in front of people. I've been playing only drums in bands for 11 years ever since I got out of high school, and I've come to the point where I wanted to do something different."

While Priest harshly describes his music as "depressing," the songs are downtempo and melodic with lyrics that are thoughtfully philosophical. Though he originally intended to record all of the tracks for the EP himself, he now includes the input of numerous friends to round out his ideas. Contributing the song structures through vocals and guitar, he turns the foundation over to guitarist Brian Woodruff, bassist Derek Jones and drummer Bill Lamb who make up Priest's backing band. The recordings are elaborated upon further by studio musicians and orchestral instruments.

"On the EP I'm recording, there are so many people playing on it," Priest says. "I want to lay down the core of it and have a group of people contribute to it and make it something more than just my song. At the heart of it is my vocals and guitar, but it's got so much else going on.

"The beauty of the way I've set the band up is that I can play by myself if I want to, and I likely will. At the same time I can mix and match and bring in a bunch of people. When we play live we want it to be more of an event than just a singer-songwriter show. We're not going to be playing tons of shows just for the sake of playing tons of shows. Every show we play we want to be something special."

In addition to involving many players, the EP will also make use of three separate studios. Priest's home studio provides the base recordings and demos before former Sparklehorse drummer Scott Minor records the remaining tracks and mixes in his studio. Finally the work will be sent to Brian Grosz for mastering. Priest is particularly pleased by the contributions of Minor.

"I'm really excited about Scott Minor working on it," Priest says. "For me that's huge because Sparklehorse is by far one of my biggest influences. Basically Sparklehorse was Mark Linkous. I'm kind of doing what he did. It was basically him and he brought in friends to play. He unfortunately committed suicide. It was devastating to me, and I'm going to dedicate this album to Mark Linkous. He was such a huge songwriting influence, and he was one of those amazing artists who did what he did regardless of what people would think about it."

Priest says the "Living to Die" EP should be complete by mid June when it will be made available through and other digital sources. Physical copies will be distributed locally. Priest hopes to follow the initial release with a full-length, not to mention an occasional local live show and East Coast tour in promotion of the recordings. Following the initial run of Gene Priest and the Cardinal Sin, Priest hopes to rejoin his three other projects all of which are currently on hiatus. -


Living to Die (2011)
Breathe In, Breathe Out (2012)



It can't be easy to be an agnostic when your last name is a religious title, but the world of Gene Priest's songs is not a very friendly place to begin with.

Gene Priest is ordinarily a sideman mainstay in the Knoxville, TN, music scene - manning the drum-kit for indie-rock acts HiLites and Cold Hands and the sludge-metal quartet, Hot Blood - but with equal doses of ego and humility, he has stepped into the footlights with his debut EP, "Living To Die," mixed in Knoxville by Sparklehorse's Scott Minor.

Melding the lo-fi sentimentality of Minor and Mark Linkous' Sparklehorse with the ethereal escapism of Radiohead, Priest delivers songs with intent on the exploration of the darkest corners of self-worth. The music crawls along through the dust on "Living To Die," not because it hasn't learned to walk; rather, it simply doesn't see a need to stand. It's with underlying confidence and defiance, rather than apathy and malaise when Priest sings, "No, I don't care if I ever see the light."

You can keep your world, because Priest has found salvation in his own surroundings: a land of damp earth, cold waters and revelation hidden under every stone.

Brian Grosz - Founder of Lapdance Academy Music