Chastity Belt matures beyond their college jokes and still have No Regerts
Bluebird Theater | February 23
By Michael Chary
Photo by Beto Barkmo
There’s something distinct about the sound of rock that comes from the PNW — that certain je ne sais quoi fusion of reverb, distortion, fuzzy noise-pop, and unparalleled existentialism. It’s a combo that never seems to work for artists who try to embrace the style, unless they’ve actually spent enough time living in the gloomy, dank (but also gorgeous) climate of Cascadia.
It also seems that any artist worth their weight in the amount of PNW precipitation they’ve endured, has been influenced by that atmosphere. And though they say they don’t see it, Chastity Belt’s sound seems to have been influenced by the Seattle troposphere more than they’d like to admit.
“People say we sound really Seattle, but I don’t know what they mean, and I also don’t think — we’re not one of those bands that’s like ‘Oh we wanna sound like this. Let’s try to create that.’ We kind of just write how we know how to write and it turns out like that.” Julia Shapiro of Chastity Belt told The Marquee in a recent interview. “And I’m sure that stuff has influenced us, but not in a conscious way. We aren’t intentionally trying to sound like anyone else.”
Whether or not Shapiro consciously acknowledges the connection, it’s hard to deny the unmistakably northwestern elements oscillating from the band’s opus. Not to mention, the fact that one of her go-to instruments is the Fender Jaguar — a guitar saved from obsolescence by Kurt Cobain and others in Seattle’s grunge scene and its subsequent offshoots.
Though reading that deeply into something not meant to be read that deeply into was probably the thesis of Chastity Belt’s 2013 freshman release, No Regerts; an album whose subtly snarky lyrics underscored by clever, third-wave-feminist sarcasm, took aim at those who take themselves too seriously. The opening lyrics of their catchy break-out track “Seattle Party,” serve as prime example: “Your tattoos are so deep. They really make me think. And your life is so rough, you’ve been through so much,” croons Shaprio.
“Seattle Party” still stands as one of their top tracks, leaving behind the more vulgar and humorous tracks of that first album, recorded when the all-female quartet formed at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash. But as they’ve progressed as musicians, found success touring at a national level, and their sound has deviated slightly from their Riot grrrl roots.
“Once we graduated from college and moved to Seattle, we were like ‘Oh, we don’t have to write songs for drunk college students anymore,’” Shapiro said. “Because we were really just thinking about our audience back then, like we were just playing to drunk people at parties. But once we moved to Seattle we kind of realized people would listen to us regardless of how danceable our music was.”
And while their creative output and touring schedule has been consistent since those formative collegiate years, a medical situation in 2018 required Shaprio to take a six-month hiatus; a time when she also said she felt the need to do a little soul searching.
The ladies cancelled their tour midway through citing “health concerns,” though Shapiro has been candid about their, and particularly her, feeling of existential curiosity outside of music.
“It’s weird because the band has really just been my entire life for my whole adult life after college. It’s always felt exciting being in the band, so I don’t really remember what it was like before being successful,” Shapiro said.
In an April 2019 interview with The Fader she said, “I had a lot of questions going through my mind: ‘Should I be doing something else with my life? What else could I do?’ I felt really confused about what I even liked about music to begin with. I think touring had lost its luster.”
This yearning for some philosophical depth is evident in the band’s latest self-titled album, released late last year. The new LP offers a sedated and pensive iteration of the group with lyrics and atmosphere that undoubtedly show more emotional depth.
“It’s gotten a little more serious because we did start the band as a joke and all the songs we wrote were joke songs, which was nice at the time because we were pretty inexperienced, so as long as people were laughing with us and not at us,” Shapiro said. “But yeah, I think our songs have gotten more intricate, we’ve all gotten better at our instruments and better at playing with each other. And it’s become easier to work songs out that are more complicated, ones we wouldn’t have been able to work out earlier on.”
The album also represents their first time working with outside producer, Jay Som, another multi-instrumentalist, female virtuoso who came up in the same wave as Chastity Belt.
“She was really helpful with big picture stuff, it was nice working with her because we were really comfortable around her,” Shapiro said. “We just wanted an outside perspective on the songs to make sure we were on the right track and she had a lot of good ideas about guitar tone and stuff.”
But despite the health scare and subsequent hiatus, as well as the ostensible toning down of Chastity Belt’s sound, Shapiro says they have no plan of hitting the brakes too hard. And this is certainly clear in the ladies’ happy-go-lucky best friend rapport.
“Yeah, it might be different in the future, in terms of how much time we commit to the band but we don’t plan on stopping making music together ever,” Shapiro said. “In my head, I think we’ll always be a band and we’ll always make music. Who knows, we’re willing to take breaks and come back to it, but I don’t think we’re ever gonna break up.”
Bluebird Theater | February 23
Go if you Dig:
- Jay Som
- Courtney Barnett