Priestess worships at the altar of Angus Young



By Steve Newton

You may have seen the brilliant Saturday Night Live skit where Christopher Walken portrays a legendary producer in the studio with Blue Oyster Cult, imploring them to use more cowbell in “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”. “I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell!” urges Walken, cracking up the cast with his inherent wackiness.

The members of Montreal hard-rock act Priestess may have seen that skit too, because they don’t skimp on the cowbell on “Run Home”, the top track off their debut CD, Hello Master. It’s a boogie-blues tune that owes a lot to the sound of the ’70s, AC/DC in particular. No wonder singer-guitarist Mikey Heppner’s main axe is a Gibson SG identical to Angus Young’s.

“I bought that SG back when I was 14,” he relates on the line from his Montreal home, “just because it was Angus’s guitar. That was the only reason. Then, over the 10 years of playing it, it’s become my favourite guitar.”

When Priestess’s van was burgled in Brooklyn two months ago, Heppner’s prized instrument was spared, but fellow guitarist Dan Watchorn lost his sunburst Gibson Firebird. Also stolen, but later recovered, were some Richtone amp heads. When it comes to blasting forth their dual-guitar noise, Priestess doesn’t go the time-tested hard-rock route, relying on stacks of Marshalls.

“They’re not as good as Richtones,” Heppner claims. “There’s a guy here in Montreal that makes them one at a time by hand, and ours are personally customized, so there’s no other amp like it.”

Priestess’s supply of loud-as-hell Richtones came in handy when the band opened for Motorhead on a recent tour from Thunder Bay to Halifax. As Heppner is aware, warming up for the legendary British metal men can be a daunting prospect. “We were worried every night,” he recalls, “like, ‘Shit, is this town gonna be full of metalheads who just want Motorhead?’ But the crowds were totally amazing.”

Heppner is hoping for a similar audience when his quartet headlines Richard’s on Richards on Tuesday (November 22). They’ll be doing their best to represent Montreal’s booming indie-music scene, which currently has magazines like Spin tagging the city as the coolest place to live since early-’90s Seattle.

“I could list like 20 amazing Montreal rock bands,” Heppner gushes, citing Tricky Woo and Bionic as excellent examples. “There’s a pile of them. Obviously the softer kinda indie-rock guys are getting all the attention, like the Arcade Fire and the Dears and stuff, but there’s a huge hard-rock scene too.”

One of the finest ear-busting acts to ever emerge from the land of the Habs is Voivod, whose guitarist and main songwriter, Denis “Piggy” D’Amour, died of colon cancer in August. Priestess has been recently dedicating the song “No Real Pain” to his memory.

“I’ve become friends with Piggy and the other guys in the band,” says Heppner. “They started comin’ to our shows in the springtime, hangin’ out backstage with us. They’re really humble, awesome dudes, and we have a lot of respect for them. They influenced so many bands that we like.”

It remains to be seen whether Priestess will have as much effect on the hard-rock world as Voivod did, but they’re definitely on the right track. They’ve just gotta take a cue from BOC and keep pushing that cowbell!

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