By Nicholas Jason Lopez
Sierra Rose came up through the punk scene in Oakland, Calif., but was dejected by its toxic masculinity.
“[It was] just constantly men just trying to just get women drunk and do strange, harassing things to them without consent,” said Sierra.
Once they met Winter Zora and they played music together in 2015, Mystic Priestess was formed a year later. They found a safe space within the deathrock and dark punk community. Their perception was that silence creates violence and some people need to speak up and be heard. Here, everybody stands up for each other.
“I feel like the deathrock scene is all about being creative and having your small community and if somebody really does do something, we call them out in order to keep a safe space for queers, trans, non-binary people and fems within the deathrock scene,” Sierra said.
Besides Rose (vocals) and Zora (guitar/saxophone), Mystic Priestess also features Audie Zalavera (bass), Scarlet (synthesizer) and Alexis Blair (drums), whom later joined the band.
Strongly influenced by other deathrock and anarcho-punk traditions, Mystic Priestess’ sound immediately evokes Siouxsie And The Banshees’ haunting cries and Christian Death’s defiant growls. A West Coast mainstay, they’ve been included in the same conversation as other deathrock pioneers like Altar de Fey, Gitane Demone Quartet, hardcore punk trailblazers Negative Approach, post-punk luminaries 13th Chime and Chilean darkwave duo Diavol Strain.
Deathrock sends the overall message that people aren’t alone and don’t have to stay silent about whatever makes them angry. They can expose their inner feelings in a constructive way to improve and inspire the world.
“I feel like the energy that we strive for is just empowering people to feel that it’s okay to be themselves and one reason that I really identify with deathrock is because I feel like deathrock was started by the queer community,” Zora said. “I very much love the deathrock scene because there are a lot of queer artists within that scene that you wouldn’t find elsewhere.”
Despite that, the scene comes with its struggles. People can easily jump on the goth bandwagon just because they dyed their hair black and bought certain clothes.
“It’s DIY – Do it yourself,” said Sierra. “It’s not about buying the latest fashionable thing. It’s about supporting your friends that are artists and also supporting yourself, making cool stuff and inspiring other people and getting together with your community.”
In 2017, their first self-titled EP was released via Transylvanian Tapes. They were proud of the end result.
“We had a lot of time to just shape our band and shape our sound and find a common ground where we all felt that we were able to vibe with each other musically,” Zora said. “We had a lot of time to just look back at things and decide what worked and what didn’t and what kind of style we wanted to approach.”
They followed that up with another EP, ‘No Tomorrow, Only Today,’ released in Aug. 2018. Although they had songs like “Crust, Spikes & Mold” and “Where Were You” already written, the rest of it was put together a week before they recorded.
“We just kind of wanted to reflect and spread light on the issue that there’s a lot of things that are going on that people are being silent about or are choosing not to speak up about,” Zora said. “That whole EP is kind of focusing on the imagery or scenery of kind of like a dystopian point of view – looking at things from the real picture and we wanted to capture that in the best way we could.”
Sierra felt inspired to write lyrics for the EP’s namesake song when they walked into a house and saw the Summit of North Korea and America on the television.
“Our music is a representation of the traumas and situations that we’re all struggling to survive through these hard times that we’re all living in,” said Sierra.
Zalavera had joined the band the week they recorded ‘No Tomorrow, Only Today’ and although they got out a finished product, there was a sentiment that it felt rushed compared to their previous effort.
“When I listen to it, it doesn’t have the same feeling that the other EP did,” said Zora.
Despite that, the group found their “anthem song” at the last minute – a self-titled song, which got its own music video directed by Akiko Simpson of Ötzi and produced by Psychic Eye. It premiered in late Apr. via CVLT Nation. Visual elements of occult rituals under a seaside moon are strongly prevalent. The moon was captured to represent its cleansing power and the femme energy it holds to heal, which tied into the lyrics – a reminder of their connection with the Earth and how that energy can be utilized.
“It’s just giving a mental visual of who we are and our main focus for the band of empowering women and non-binary queer-identifying people just with magic elements and giving them ideas about how they can manifest the world around them,” said Sierra. “I would definitely hope that it would open their eyes and possibly make them think in a different way that they haven’t thought before or look at things in a different point of view.”
As for the future, the group is at work on a forthcoming full-length album with three songs completed, planned for release on 7-inch vinyl with a single on each side. They’ll also be releasing a live recording tape via Part Time Punks, with songs that’ll be featured on the album.
Mystic Priestess will continue to contribute to the deathrock scene – a sanctuary where people can go have fun, be themselves and have support with positive energy from others.
“It definitely is starting to become mainstream or trendy, which I think is hilarious, but I know that deep down inside, there’s always going to be that little tiny deathrock scene that only like 15 to 50 people will go out to a show and I very much enjoy that,” said Zora. “I like small spaces where things aren’t kind of blown out of proportion and things are very real and authentic and genuine and that’s most of the reason why I enjoy deathrock.”