‘We Don’t Have to Hide Behind Anything Now’
The rowdy, carbonated, guitar tenderizing music of Chastity Belt hails from Walla Walla, Washington. Through a cocktail of venomous riffs and feet stomping snark that bruises amps, the band released one of the best records of 2013. Lead singer Julia Shapiro’s sonic, booming vocals soar over the proceedings in a powerful – sometimes ethereal – way that culls not only the ire and rage of carnality, but the sadness and hurt of longing.
Robert Patrick: So where is the couch from the Seattle Party video right now?
Julia Shapiro: It’s in my living room.
Really? It still exists?
[laughs] Yeah, it does. It was my living room’s couch. It actually belonged to Lydia (guitarist of Chastity Belt) when she lived with me.
Seattle Party is the most amazing song ever. Can you talk a little about the origins of that track?
Thanks. I wrote it the summer after we graduated college. Lydia and I were living in Seattle, and Gretchen and Annie hadn’t moved here yet. Lydia and I were going to a lot of shitty parties. We were left with that feeling of not having fun, really. We started to think, “what are we doing?” and “is this even worth it?” It’s basically about Seattle’s party scene. Not that I don’t like parties here, but the song is just about the feeling that I had at the time. [laughs]
In the future someone makes a movie about the band, what would the poster say?
Oh whoa. I don’t know. Someone made a documentary about us, for a joke, and it was called “Unlocking Chastity Belt”. So that was pretty good. One stranger wrote an article about us and the title was “Chastity Belt: The Hardest Working Band in Show Business” [laughs]. I thought both of those were pretty great.
You could probably work both of those into the tagline, I’m sure.
If you had to pick one song for a new listener to hear, from the band’s catalog, which track would it be and why?
Seattle Party or James Dean. It’s hard to pick one song, because we have two different types of sound – at least on that record. James Dean was one of the first songs I ever wrote, where Seattle Party came later and had more of a melodic sound.
I love the whole album. But I read a recent interview where you said, “our new stuff sounds like Chastity Belt, but I think we’ve grown up a little bit.” Can you elaborate on that?
I was probably referring to stuff that we’re writing right now. When we first started we were such a joke. We were just in it because we were funny. We wanted to pretend that we were in a band. The problem was that none of us had ever been in one, so we didn’t know what we were doing. Now we have more experience. There’s still lots of humor in our music, but it’s not so obvious, because we’re actually good at playing music now [laughs]. Before we thought that our songs had to be funny to be entertaining, because we couldn’t play. We don’t have to hide behind anything now. My other band, CHILDBIRTH, is more about humor at this point. One of the songs is called “I Only Fucked You as a Joke”.
Pitchfork.com: Friend or foe?
Both, I guess? I was honored that they reviewed our album and got a 7.5. That gave us attention that we wouldn’t have otherwise gotten. We were surprised that they reviewed it or even cared. When we were recording the album, we thought, “this is for our us and our friends, because nobody else is going to care about it.” The way Pitchfork reviews things – and I didn’t know this until recently – is that they have a panel, a kind of board, that gives a record a score and then they average it out.
That’s actually kind of weird and terrifying for some reason.
[laughs] Yeah, it is. It’s crazy how much power they have. Another problem I have is that some of their reviews are so bad, but I know it’s hard to write about music. I hate writing about music. It’s a difficult task.
I feel like it’s so hard to decipher some of their reviews. It’s like reading James Joyce drunk or something. It’s a little esoteric and weird. But I guess it works for them.
They tend to namedrop a lot.
I feel like they compare albums to what a founding father would sound like over a cup of tea, which says nothing about the sound of an actual record.
[laughs] Yeah, they do use too many metaphors. But I will say that I don’t check too many music blogs, but I do check Pitchfork.
Bon Iver wrote his music in a cabin. Tennis were inspired on a boating trip. Where did Chastity Belt write their music?
All over the place. Half of it was written when we were still at school. Most of our music was written in my living room in Walla Walla. The other half of it was recorded in a tiny place on Capital Hill in Seattle. Or in my bedroom.
Those are all great places. I couldn’t imagine writing an album in a secluded cabin.
[laughs] You would have to have a lot of ideas going into it. Otherwise I feel like everything would sound the same. Everything would be about nature.
It would be like a Robert Frost book or something.
[laughs] Yeah. I guess it would be a concept album in that way.
Are you still on tour right now?
No, we actually just got back from touring with Wire in November.
You guys skipped San Diego. Is it because of the tired Anchorman reputation that we have?
I would love to play in San Diego. That was just Wire’s choice to not play there. We just sort of tagged along. I guess we could have booked a show there on our own. We didn’t really have that much time, though. We did a lot of driving.
What was the weirdest thing that happened to the band on the road?
We had a creepy experience in Omaha. I’m pretty sure everyone was on ecstasy at the venue. They didn’t even care that we were playing. It was a Halloween party, and everyone was in costume and taking hard drugs. There were naked Barbies on the ceiling everywhere. It was just a really weird show.
[laughs] It sounds like a David Lynch movie. When you guys were on tour with Pony Time, did you ever expect the footage that they shot with you to end up in a music video?
Not really. I noticed that we were being filmed as we did shit in the car, like headbanging. But I love the song they used the footage in.
What’s something that your band mates don’t know about you, that you can reveal here?
[laughs] I think my band mates know everything about me. I don’t have that many secrets, I wish I did. We would always joke about how it would be funny if one of us had a secret boyfriend. But I don’t think that ever happened – or maybe it has and I don’t know about it.
An hour before a Chastity Belt show, you can be found doing what?
Probably drinking and writing a set list. We don’t really warm up that much. Maybe five minutes before we play we’ll jump around and slap each other’s butts.
An hour after a show, you can be found doing what?
If we’re not playing last, we’ll be there dancing and watching other bands.
Have you ever thought about scoring a film, and, if so, what sort of film would it be?
I haven’t thought of that. I would probably do something for a rom-com, starring Nic Cage.