[Editor's note: You might recognize Katie Alice Greer as a regular contributor to The Media via her column FAN CLUB. We are also of the belief that our writers and contributors are interesting interview subjects in their own right. We are excited to include this interview with Katie by Laurie as the first installment of ALL MY FRIENDS, a new column featuring writers interviewing their friends. You might remember, Katie interviewed Laurie in issue 30.]
Katie Alice Greer is my friend, but I’m also an admirer of her band Priests, where Katie performs as the primary vocalist and lyricist. My fascination with the intensity of her performances has spurred me to request an interview. I’m also interested in her background; she and I both graduated from the same university in the same year, though we never met during our time there, and we both abandoned plans for a more financially stable career path in order to pursue a passion for making music. I’m interested in how the process has been for her. We began by discussing her work for FAN CLUB, and her desire to interview only those who interest her personally…
KT: I’ve never been good at doing work that I’m not interested in, which is horrible. It makes for a really bad work ethic. But I can confidently say that when I do work, my work is good.
LS: I think everyone’s that way, but maybe it’s to an extreme degree for someone like you.
Well I think that so much of culture is based around these normative ideas that are instilled in you from the time you're born, you're supposed to feel you know the answer to questions like “where will hard work get you?” “What does it mean to be successful? Why should you have a family?” For some people, the answers make sense I guess, you learned that it was the right thing to do. But for a lot of people, there's not enough motivation to just want to be super rich, objectively.
But you’re really motivated and hard-working…it seems like you can’t stop moving.
Some of that is just, I have a lot of anxiety usually and that is how I deal with that. And I don’t even mean anxiety, like, I’m freaking out and scared all the time, but it is really hard for me to sit still. And, I don’t know if I always felt this way when I was younger, but I’m just at a point in my life where I’m really aware that I’m not gonna be here forever and there are certain things that I won’t be able to do. I just wanna do stuff. I hate feeling like I’m wasting opportunities. I hate feeling like I’m wasting anything. My parents are great, but I don’t really wanna live like them. Don’t get me wrong; I love being comfortable. I wouldn’t mind having more money to be more comfortable. But there are just other things that fascinate me more that I’d like to get ahold of, in some kind of way, I'm not sure whether or not they'll lead to me making any money. The idea of working really hard so I can live in a really cool house and have a super comfortable bed and have a nice car… I don’t know, those things are cool but alone they’re not really motivating for me.
You’re not even talking about luxuries, you’re talking about basic comforts.
(laughs) I guess I just find luxuries boring too. I was talking about this with someone recently…my parents did fine. My dad is a minister, and when I was in second grade he was assigned to work at a church in a fairly wealthy suburb of Metro-Detroit. So we moved there and my parents were very happy about it, like, “this is gonna be great! You’re gonna go to the best schools in the state! This is gonna be really good for us!” But it was very weird to grow up in a place where my family’s income bracket was not the same as the people I was surrounded by. And, I’m not saying this to have some “I was poor!” sob story at ALL, that was not the case, but it is something that I’ve realized has really shaped my ideas of what I want to do with the world, because I was often grossed out by the excess around me all the time.
I didn’t identify with it, a lot of people who lived there were assholes and mostly, kind of boring. I lived there until I moved to DC. But then on top of that, something I didn’t think about till recently. A big part of why I ended up at American University is because they gave me what is a essentially a "minister’s kid" scholarship, it was traditionally a Methodist school. Otherwise, that school is super expensive. Anyway, so at first when I got accepted I was like “yeah sweet! I’m getting out of this stupid town!” And then, I got to the east coast, this college campus that was, in most regards, built on a lot more money than the town I grew up in. So then I often felt like I was surrounded by even RICHER assholes who had even more boring ideas of having fun. The wealth on the East Coast is a completely different kind of wealth, a lot of times, than the wealth in the Midwest in a suburb in Michigan. So I think that may have been the point when the bottom plummeted out of any ideas I had of, “oh, I should try to do well in the world.”
That kind of reality is so boring to me and so stultifying. So that’s probably part of the reason why I can’t sit still. I’m trying to make things fun for myself so that I don’t die of boredom, I know that a lot of traditional goals don't appeal to me so I'm still trying to figure stuff out. And also, I don’t know, I can just keep myself really occupied. I would just rather be awake than sleeping.
Are you uncomfortable being comfortable?
I don’t think so. But maybe, because I’m not really into drugs. I’ve tried drugs like Oxycontin or Xanax. I HATE, I HATE that shit. Like, HATE it. It feels like that part in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy’s going through the poppy field. That’s like, my worst nightmare. Cause I just don’t wanna do that. Don’t get me wrong, I relate on needing coping mechanisms. And it’s not that I don’t feel the intense pain that everyone feels sometimes just being alive. But I don’t wanna live life just coping. And I wanna swim as far away from the things that are painful to me, whenever possible, so I don’t have to be just coping with them. Which is probably kinda messed up. In a bad light, it’s me ignoring it or running away from a problem. In a good light, swimming away from it is, instead of taking drugs and letting the problem exist, I like trying to remove myself from the problem or make the problem stop.
You feel like you have a lot to get done before you die?
Yeah. I just hate being bored. Boredom is a product of your environment, in the sense that… everyone has dreams and stuff that they want to do. Most of us grow up in a world where that stuff isn’t possible, so you’re forced at a pretty young age to stop dreaming or stop being imaginative or just thinking at all about what you really want or what your desires are. I was totally bored in college cause nothing that I wanted to do was going to come to me through college.
How did you decide to major in Political Science?
I've pretty much made art, in some capacity, my whole life. But, cause no one ever told me, I didn’t really think that was something I could really “do” or pursue. My parents were definitely not gonna send me to art school. Only place I could go where I wouldn’t have to stay home was American So I went to American. What were my options there? I think I studied sculpture for a little while. And then I studied documentary filmmaking, cause I’m just interested in the world. And I studied politics, again, cause I’m just interested in the world. But I don’t know, I didn’t know what I was doing.
I’m really interested in the concept of “identity salience”, which is basically a sociological term describing the degree to which you feel each of your disparate identities best defines you, and your core values or responsibilities. You have many different identities, as a woman, a musician, a daughter, a DC resident…I was thinking about this in preparation for the interview, but how do you identify yourself?
It would be hard for me to answer that in words. I don’t feel identity in a singular way. Whatever my identity is, it allows for a lot of different identities. I guess that’s why I like performing so much. It allows me to harness all of the different energy that I feel. It’s all me, it definitely is always all me. I feel like I can wear a lot of different kinds of clothes and they all feel like me.
Recently you’ve been experimenting with femininity. Like, you shaved your head. That was one experiment, maybe?
So, I really like traditionally feminine presentations. I always have, for whatever reason, probably the way I’m socialized. But I’ve also come to recognize that if I want to present myself in that way I’m often punished for it, I don't get the reactions I want from people. And then, I wear boy clothes and I feel strong and powerful in a way that I don’t if I’m wearing really feminine clothes. I feel like an idiot if I’m wearing a dress or if I’m wearing heels. If I’m wearing those things alone in my house, I feel awesome! It’s really cool. But a lot of times, you go out, and it’s very hard to maintain the same level of self-confidence.
So I think me shaving my head was, I noticed that a lot of times, if I can put something on and feel like I have manipulation over it, it’s not like “oh this is part of my body and you guys are laughing at me and I’m embarrassed”. It’s like, no this is something I put on. When I shaved my head, I wanted to see more what it was like to experience the world as a person with a shaved head. Just, less traditionally feminine without having a choice in the matter. I wore a wig a lot when my head was shaved and a lot of people thought that I had head shaver’s remorse, but really I just wanted to be able to put it on and take it off. I want femininity to be something that I can construct around myself. There’s an Avital Ronell interview, in that Angry Women book [by Andrea Juno and V. Vale] that has always really resonated with me, when she talks about so much of femininity being the power to play with artifice, and how, in a lot of cultures, that’s tied into viewing women as these deceptive beings. But really, femininity is not at all about being deceptive, it’s about being able to show the pluralism of life and the multiple angles of things.
So anyway, I guess shaving my head and many other things that I try to do, and have always tried to do, have gotten me to a place where I feel much more strong and powerful wearing traditionally feminine clothes than I used to, which I really enjoy. And listening to Taylor Swift! I’ve gotten really into Taylor Swift this year. When I initially started listening to her music, it was really embarrassing to me, I think because it struck a chord. Like, I relate to her songs so much. She’s so fucking romantic and in love all the time, it's no way to live if you ever want to get anything done but it's a real thing if you can let yourself feel that way. I found all these old notebooks of songs I used to write when I was a kid, and it’s all kinda similar. I always felt like if I wanted to be powerful in the world and just be respected, I had to hide that part of myself. And it’s really empowering to me to hear a someone who’s really laying it out there and being so in love, and it’s not a weakness. I’m totally interested in playing with that stuff and figuring it out. And also figuring out how to be … I’m so jealous of how dudes, if they do it the right way, get to be so sexual. And it’s fine and it’s not a compromise for them. And women don’t have that power.
Sexual in what way?
Just like, whatever the dude equivalent is of wearing heels and a short skirt. I’m being really broad and general, cause some dudes wear heels and short skirts and some women are really sexual and don’t do those things. But I’m definitely trying to figure that shit out right now. How does being ultra-feminine and sexual not put you in a compromised position for the rest of your identity? Like how can I be sexual and feminine and very interested in having a conversation about what’s going on in Palestine without the other person punishing me for wanting all three of those things. Maybe I can’t. I’m not sure.
Help me better understand what you mean by “being sexual."
It’s a really intangible thing. Just, learning how one’s sexuality doesn’t have to be put in a drawer in public, but also not feeling like people are resenting me for presenting it. How to just exist with it and not be embarrassed, not feel disrespected.
See I feel like that’s something men and women both deal with.
You’re right, it’s something that’s just difficult for everyone to deal with. I still think that dudes can be more sexual without reproach. Dudes can get away with maybe more than women. Like, Iggy Pop. If you look at old Iggy Pop footage or photos it’s just like my god, this is just unbridled libido and it’s really not predicated on a woman that he’s trying to seduce. It’s just his performative state. How can I do that? Not trying to say I’m trying to mimic Iggy Pop, but how can I be sexual? As a performer, but also in life, in general. In a way that can just exist. I just kind of feel my way around the world and do what feels right. I’m truly working this out in my head as I am speaking about it, which typically makes me uncomfortable, I’d rather figure it out ahead of time. But maybe the conclusion really is just that sexuality is something that is in private and not on public display, But at the same time, being a performer is, like, I wanna seduce everyone at the show, but not in a false way, not in a "leading you on" kind of way. But in the way that, I LOVE being on stage and it turns me on and I want people to have a good time.
Usually at shows I seek some kind of connection with the artists performing. I try to understand whatever they are trying to tell me. There are some shows where I feel connected to you, and some where I don’t. Half the time I almost feel like you’re holding back. Though I know you give a lot to the performance.
I’m always trying to figure out how to not hold back. I feel like I get better at it with each show. Sometimes I hold back because it doesn't seem fair to "give" the audience certain things to deal with.
I’m definitely very conscious of being a performer and making my art. I feel silly saying stuff like that sometimes, but I don’t think that I should because it’s definitely what I’m most passionate about and definitely consumes pretty much my entire life and all the decisions that I make. In that sense, I guess I'm practicing all day for being on stage. It never stops, it’s never something that I’m not thinking about. I’m definitely practicing for being the most real and open that I can be with people.
Is that hard for you usually?
No, I think there were points in my life where that was hard for me. Not now.
Does it start to feel like it’s all just waiting for the moment when you’re on stage?
Kind of, yeah. I’m definitely always psyched about playing a show. I remember the first couple times after playing a show, the next day I was SO depressed afterwards. I was SO depressed. I think it was just such an emotional rush to be preparing for it. And then it was over and it was like, now what am I gonna do? But I also just don’t feel like performance, or my art, is gated around being on stage. It’s everything, it's any place where I end up.