The neck on Colin Tyranny's Gibson SG has been broken at least six times and apparently reaffixed each time with model airplane glue. The bridge was reinstalled crooked after he added a whammy bar. It looks like hell. Yet, plugged in and turned up it sounds incredible. Tyranny strikes the opening note on the opening track, "Not From Me," on The Priests' new album, Tall Tales, and it quivers, trembling into feedback before being joined by other notes in an ominous progression --- a loud, crude, primal parade.
The band joins in: trance-inducing jungle drums with as little crash and flash as possible, eerie organ that also covers the bottom end, and vocals that are one part wounded, two parts pissed. The whole ensemble sounds alluring and menacing on this nine-cut descent into a maelstrom. Tall Tales is sinister and macabre rock 'n' roll.
"We're not trying to do things deliberately scary," says Tyranny. "It's just the way the music comes across. On the first two albums there was more of a creepy theme. I think with our new album we're getting away from that --- but we still have that sort of dark energy thing."
"I always tell these guys, 'Write a song that doesn't sound dark and evil and I'll write some more positive lyrics,'" says lead singer Matt Allyn.
What probably strikes most as scary is the band's penchant for minor keys beneath vocals that capture an undeniable essence of want. And though the instrumentation is quintessentially garage rock, earning them numerous comparisons, The Priests offer a lot more.
"I never felt we fit in the genre anyway," Allyn says. "It's definitely an influence but it's not like, 'We're a garage band.'"
"We're always trying to do more with it," adds Tyranny, "push it further, do something different."
That something different is the band's choice of tempo --- slow and sexy. Within the garage genre --- despite the band's protestations --- the majority of groups opt for the quintessential: a maniacal stomp, an accelerated drive, and plenty of fuzz and buzz.
"We don't play good fast, I don't think," say Allyn. "It's always a train wreck."
But the band's choice of a slower, slinkier grind isn't merely a concession, it's a strain evident on its first two records as well as where The Priests have arrived today, sounding even meaner and nastier with Tall Tales.
"This new record is pretty much how I've always wanted it to be," says Tyranny, who founded the group with drummer Billy Jacque in 1997 after moving to Rochester from just outside Boston.
An early version of the group was playing "House Of The Rising Sun" in a friend's basement when Allyn, already friends with the guys, started to sing. And though Allyn had stolen the bass player's girlfriend earlier on, they asked him to join anyway.
Soon after the first album was in the can, the bass player, Father Blood, lit out for California unannounced and Rob Filardo (who was putting out the record on his GaragePop label) stepped in as Lord Robb on bass and Farfisa. It's within this quartet that the signature wail began to gel and The Priests' sound began to dictate itself within the creative process like messages on a Ouija board.
"Usually I'll have a riff I've been working on at home," says Tyranny. "Or I'll come in here and if the energy's right I'll just start writing something. Everyone jumps in with their own parts."
"There's no ideas," says Billy Jacque, who refers to the band's approach as instinct more than technique, "just chemistry."
This chemistry is readily apparent on Tall Tales and was brought out with the help of Tim Kerr, a producer who has worked with Big Boys, Poison 13, Jack O' Fire, Monkey Wrench, and The Cynics.
"He pushes you to the absolute edge to get the best performance," says Tyranny, "trying to make you let go of what you think, trying to get rid of your preconceived notions of what you should play like and sound like."
Kerr successfully harnessed the group's sound above and beyond their cited influences like Can, Link Wray, The 13 Floor Elevators, and The Doors. It's the organ on this disc that may remind some of The Doors. It has replaced the bass on virtually all of the album's tracks, and this is just fine with Tyranny.
"I've always been pushing for it," he says. "It fits in with what I'm playing, what I hear in my head."
Tall Tales (available in gatefold vinyl) is The Priests for those who have always enjoyed their sinister strain. It's also a polished, concise, mature record for those hearing the group for the first time. Tyranny downplays the perceptions of creepiness.
"We're not like a happy good-time band," he says. "I mean, we don't try to be deliberately dark or anything. We do have some upbeat songs."
The Priests, Goblet, and St. Phillip's Escalator play Saturday, November 6, at the Bug Jar, 219 Monroe Avenue, at 9 p.m. Tix: $6. 454-2966