I first heard the band Chastity Belt when I was over my best friend’s apartment. We were out on her balcony, breathing in the smell of an L.A. summer — car exhaust and spun sugar and marijuana and magic — when her music shuffled to a song I’d never heard before. I distinctly remember pausing our conversation to ask, “Who is this? It’s really good. And different.” I fell in love even further when she told me that the band was called Chastity Belt (because, um, best name ever).
I spent the next day listening to all of their songs, caught up in the wonderful mix of melancholy and wittiness, the interplay of gauzy gorgeousness and humorous lyrics about sex and parties and nip slips. What struck me, and continues to strike me after two albums, is just how relatable the band’s music is. Each song gives me a dreamy sort of déjà vu: It conjures up memories of wild days and crazy nights, thoughts about sadness and emptiness, but also moments of euphoria and youthfulness. Mostly, it reminds me of what it’s like to be growing up, and to this day, their music reassures me that everything I’m feeling and experiencing is totally okay.
So, suffice to say, when I was given the chance to interview lead singer Julia Shapiro, I was beyond excited. I called her at 11 a.m. on a Friday morning to chat, and it was like hanging out with a super chill friend, the kind of chick who’s way cooler than you but never makes you feel bad about it. We talked about Chastity Belt’s origins, being labeled a “girl band,” the vibe of their next album, and our mutual love for sleeping in late.
So, my first question, which you’ve probably been asked a bazillion times, and you’ll have to forgive me for asking it again, is where did the name Chastity Belt come from? I mean, it’s pretty much the greatest name ever. And did you all consider any other options?
We never really considered any other names, because we had the name before we had the band. Lydia and I came up with the name one night when we were drunk at a party, and we were like, “That would be a cool name for a band!” And then we had a fake band manager and we’d just tell people we were in this fake band called Chastity Belt for a while, before we were even actually doing anything. Yeah, so the name actually came first.
I know the band was born in Washington, but how did the four of you [Julia Shapiro, Lydia Lund, Annie Truscott, Gretchen Grimm] come into one another’s lives?
We all went to college together in Walla Walla Washington. Lydia played guitar, and I met her — she was on my floor freshman year — and I didn’t have a guitar at school then, so I’d borrow hers. It sort of worked out that these three other ladies wanted to be in a band. I think for a while there I was actually going to random people asking, “Hey, do you want to be in Chastity Belt?” But I’m really glad the three of them ended up being in the band.
It seems like it all came together sort of organically. Have you always been interested in music? Was it something you were into before you went to college?
Yeah, I’ve always been into music. I mean, starting a band seems kind of intimidating, which is pretty much why we started Chastity Belt as a joke. But, yeah, I don’t know, I learned to play guitar when I was twelve, but it wasn’t really until Chastity Belt that I started writing songs and playing with other people. I think I always wanted to be in a band, but didn’t really know how to make that happen. And then it sort of happened accidentally [laughs].
So, I’m a writer, but definitely not a songwriter. I’m always curious about this next question: What’s your process for lyric writing?
Well, usually I’ll come up with a chord progression first for the song. I don’t know, sometimes I’ll take notes on my phone of things I’m feeling and observations, and then I’ll look through them and see what could be a lyric. I do it differently for every song. But yeah, most of the time I’m just trying not to write anything that’s going to make me cringe [laughs]. It’s a lot of trial and error. Sometimes I’ll sing something at practice and I’ll hear it out loud and be like, “ehhh…”
I’ve been listening to Chastity Belt for a while now, but I remember the first time I heard it, my immediate instinct was to give a copy to all of the women in my life, especially the teenagers I know.
I’m 26, and I feel like it’s really relatable to me, but I also feel like it’s super important for younger women to hear — nd men, and anyone really, but especially young women. What are your thoughts on girlhood and how your experiences as a woman have influenced your music and your lyrics and your life?
No, I totally get that. That’s one of our goals — to kind of influence younger girls and show them that music’s not just a man’s thing. I mean, growing up I didn’t have that many female musician influences; I didn’t know many women who played in a band. So yeah, I think it’s cool. I hope that we can reach out to younger girls and they can look up to us. That’d be really cool.
On another note, I also feel like it’s got to be so frustrating sometimes, being a band comprised of all women. You automatically get labeled a “girl band,” or you get shuffled into one of very few categories. Whereas, you know, unless you’re One Direction, no one’s going to call a group of guys a “boy band.”
Yeah, it’s really frustrating! One of the things that I’m kind of frustrated about is people lumping us together with bands just because we’re female. Even though we sound completely different from them, they’ll just be like, “Oh, you want to play a show with this band, because they’re girls?” [It’s] almost like we’re only interested in interacting with other all-female bands. And also just comparing us to bands I don’t think we sound like. Like, are you sure you’re even listening to our music?
Do you feel like, since the time you started the band, that’s changed at all? Are people still really apt to label you a girl band?
It’s hard to say. I think in Seattle we’re pretty good about it. There are a lot of women in bands. If anything, it’s just sort of blowing up, how many women are in bands here. And that’s kind of funny to me, because suddenly everyone wants to talk about feminism, and it almost feels like a weird trend. Like, feminism is “trendy” and oh, you’re an “all-girl band” and that’s why you’re doing well… I read a really mean Internet comment — it might have been about my other band Child Birth but it said, “They’re just feminists because they think it’s cool. They’re posers.” I was like, what, are you kidding me? Can you really say that to someone? You can’t just tell someone that they’re not a feminist!
People are the worst sometimes.
They really are. And Internet comments… I don’t know why I even read them anymore.
The Internet is a weird, weird place. On that note, what are your views on social media and using it as a platform?
I think it’s really fun. I think it’s a good way to make jokes [laughs]. I like using it to be funny. But honestly, I don’t think it’s necessary. I know a lot of bands who don’t use a whole lot of social media. But the bands that I follow on social media, I feel like I get a better sense of who they are and that’s fun.
What is it like working with three of your really good friends? That sounds like a dream job!
Yeah, it’s really great. I would recommend it! Being in a band is so cool. It’s definitely a lot of work; we’re basically running a small business. We don’t have a band manager, and we do all the driving when we’re on tour. We’re doing our taxes and answering all these emails, so it’s not, like, that glamorous. But it’s cool, I feel like I’m learning a lot about things other than just music. Touring is so fun.
What’s it like being on tour? It sounds amazing but exhausting.
It’s really fun. It’s so cool that we get to travel because of our band. We’re going to Australia soon, and we’re going back to the U.K. in May.
If you could tour anywhere you’ve never been, where would you go?
Japan. I think I would love it over there.
So, switching gears, “Cool Slut” has got to be one of the greatest songs… I mean, it’s basically my anthem. So thank you for writing and putting that out into the world. What’s your take on the word “slut,” and other feminine words like “bitch,” that are typically deemed negative?
I love them. I like to put a positive spin on those words. I just bought a hat in Venice Beach that says “bitch” on it and I’ve been wearing that around. I think it’s cool to reclaim those words. It’s not cool when they’re used in a negative sense. But when “slut” is used as a sex positive thing, it’s great. That’s what I was trying to do with that song.
I just feel like last year was the craziest year of my life — probably all of our lives. We went on tour with Courtney Barnett, then with Death Cab for Cutie. We went to the U.K. It was like, what are our lives now? It was a really intense year for me, but really cool, really exciting. But now the record has been out for a while, so the pressure is a little bit off, and we have a bunch of new songs. We actually just played a show the other night, like a house show, where we played all of our new songs and none of our old songs. So we have, like, nine that are ready to record, and then we’re working on a bunch more. We’re trying to record sometime this summer/early fall.
Are you excited to have some new stuff in the works, and to have some new songs to play?
Yeah, very excited! It was really fun playing the new stuff the other day, all the songs back to back. It kind of gave us a feel for what the new album might feel like.
What do you feel like the vibe is, if you were to put it into words?
I really don’t know. That’s why I make music, because I can’t describe it. One person said the new songs kind of wander a lot, which I thought was a cool way of putting it, like they meander. Another person said it sounded pretty mellow, which I don’t know if I really agree with. One of our friends said the songs all have a different feel to them… They all feel distinct.
I’m excited to hear it, whenever it comes out. So, what’s next?
[In May we’re] going to the U.K. Then some East Coast dates in June, [and] I think in August we’ll probably do a West Coast tour! … Look out for the new album in 2017. Someone last night told me that we should name our next album Masterpiece, so look out for Masterpiece in 2017!