[Originally published in Performer magazine, June 2015]
Like a prettily manicured hand wrapped tight after a brawl, Seattle’s Chastity Belt flexes a gauzy and bruised, unapologetically girly riot grrrl glee.
Their March release Time To Go Home is an intoxicating blend of fuzzy noise pop, with a spectrum that shimmers in shades of The Pixies, Sonic Youth, and especially Kathleen Hanna, of course, languishing in her electroclash era with Le Tigre. The women have the tremendous dexterity, from raging against rampant misogyny and mansplaining in “Drone” to making mischief and prodding the pearl-clutchers with “Cool Slut.” Like a rainstorm that slows into less and less soft, heavy droplets, “On the Floor” has a restlessness that is raw, drenching. It tapers into a disquieting and gorgeous guitar trance.
Chastity Belt has said that they realized they “didn’t have to play party songs” anymore after their first album No Regerts. Still seeking fun but also facing life’s fundamental realities, their follow-up work is a next logical step after that carte blanche to party and fuck, a reflection of the quintessential quarter-life crisis.
Lead singer Julia Shapiro says that she listened to a lot of Elliott Smith growing up. It emanates through her most gnawing, ennui-soaked vocals, and simple introspective lyrics. The band also factors rock icons Fleetwood Mac and UK indie band Electrelane among their influences. “I grew up playing violin, and both Lydia and Julia started playing guitar in middle school,” bassist Annie Truscott explains about the band’s foundation. “When I remembered I got a bass for my 16th birthday that I hardly touched, it made sense for me to play bass. Gretchen got the leftovers: drums.
“Chastity Belt was a name before it was a band,” she reminisces. “On more than one occasion, Lydia [Lund, guitar] and Julia attended college parties, broke some bottles (to later pick them up), and chanted ‘Chastity Belt.’ At the end of our sophomore year of college (spring 2010), Gretchen and I teamed up with Julia and Lydia to write Chastity Belt’s first hit song ‘Surrender,’ which we premiered at the frat-hosted Beta Fest’s Battle of the Bands. We won, by the way.” The foursome credits Seattle’s encouraging DIY community with coaxing them into “a cramped practice space” to emerge in seventy-two hours having finished the soon-to-be sellout debut No Regerts in 2013.
“We spent twice as long recording Time To Go Home,” Annie explains. “Six days is not long by most standards, but it felt significantly longer than the three days it took to record No Regerts. I personally feel like I connect more strongly to the songs on TTGH—they are a reflection of post-college ‘real life’ experiences that hit harder than the party songs that make up half of No Regerts. That isn’t to say I don’t relate to songs like ‘Pussy Weed Beer’ (because I do) but I do find that our songs on TTGH, while retaining a hint of sarcasm that litters No Regerts, have a more serious tone and sound that reflects the direction we are naturally progressing toward.
“Our songwriting process mainly goes like this: Julia comes up with a chord progression, shows it to the rest of us, we jam on it, then we find a part we like and BAM—we wrote a song,” she goes on. “We are definitely supportive of each other throughout the songwriting process and encourage exploring individual parts until it feels right (and sounds good).”
The quartet was itching to work with British post-punk band Wire’s guitarist Matthew Simms after opening a few tour dates for his band two years ago. Logistics didn’t let the ladies fly across the pond for recording, but they did get Time To Go Home mixed by Simms at the Record Room, in Kent, England. “He did an incredible job and it felt so good to work with someone who not only had seen us live so many times but also knew our personality as a band. I honestly couldn’t be happier with how the mixes turned out,” Annie enthuses.
Time To Go Home was then mastered at The Lodge in New York City by Sarah Register, whose dizzying discography of solo and assistant engineering spans over a decade and ranges from works like Lou Reed’s The Island Of The Misfit Toys to The Shins’ Chutes Too Narrow. “After we recorded TTGH,” she continues, “we decided that we wanted a woman’s final touch on the album. Matthew recommended Sarah Register to master the record and we are so stoked she did.”
An all-female group with a strident stance on women’s issues obviously faces being labeled the dreaded, if not deluded, f-word: feminists. “While I wouldn’t necessarily label our music as strictly feminist, the fact that we are all feminists does shine through our music,” Annie explains about the band’s buzzword status. “Rather than writing songs with a specific agenda in mind, our music and lyrics are inspired by experiences. Our experiences are authentic. If we have an experience that reflects a political issue, great, we might write about it.”
Chastity Belt modestly admonishes the hype about their feminist worldview, stressing, “There’s more to our music than our gender.” But they are universally applauded by reviewers for their status quo challenging lyrics and anti-misogyny anthems, and Annie says that tends to be the response from to audience, too. “In general, the reaction to our sex-posi, anti-mansplaining has been extremely positive. The music industry has always been and still is dude-heavy, but I do sense a shift happening and hopefully our sex-posi tunes hit a chord with teen gals and ladies everywhere. Maybe our male listeners will learn a thing or two, as well.”
The band is thrilled to be on the roster for Hardly Art, a division of Seattle’s legendary Sub Pop label, and digs the offerings from their lineup, too. “We are lucky enough have played shows AND be friends with so many of our label mates. I don’t like picking favorites but I will say that I played S (Jenn Ghetto) ‘Cool Choices’ on repeat throughout this past winter. Tacocat is great. Colleen Green is great. Both La Luz and Shannon and the Clams are, as well. I feel so stoked to be on a label with such awesome and different but all equally inspiring musicians.”
They also confess to being “obsessed with” comedian Chelsea Peretti: “Her podcasts make long drives on tour more than bearable—she’s just like another gal pal in the car who loves to laugh and be a silly billy.” Game of Thrones is another pop culture indulgence Chastity Belt enjoys, but if you’re hoping to hear the band on a soundtrack, they’ve got their fingers crossed to get featured on the bawdy Broad City, naturally.
Follow on Twitter @CHAST1TYBELT
By Casandra Armour, photos by Angel Ceballos