Thirteen Minutes with Chastity Belt

The first article of my Deputy Music Editor career…

First impressions, moving out and Soundcloud’s recent struggles: Deputy Music Editor Kate Hutchison chats with alt-rock band Chastity Belt ahead of their sell-out gig at the Exchange.

Originally formed in Walla Walla, Washington, Chastity Belt – consisting of Julia Shapiro (vocals and guitar) Lydia Lund (guitar), Annie Truscott (bass) and Gretchen Grimm (drums) – have risen through the indie ranks since 2013 following the release of their first, definitively playful album No Regerts.

Although admitting an evolved maturity since, the four remain loyal to their warm melodies, simple drumming, and fun but fundamentally, empowering lyrics. Towards the end of their UK tour, I speak to an almost restless Chastity Belt after what their tour manager described as a ‘tough soundcheck.’

Over our brief chat, I gauge that there is a strong friendship underpinning Chastity Belt. Responding to my call for advice regarding first-year musicians, Gretchen provides a sincere sentiment, ‘my advice would be to find people you like playing music with…I feel very lucky to be in a band with my best friends who I can talk to and feel comfortable with on tour.’ Julia echoes this position: ‘It feels more sustainable that way.’

Gretchen explains how the four met at college and started making music as a good way to ‘occupy’ themselves. I ask them about their first impressions of each other, uncovering a tale new to Julia:

Annie: I remember Gretchen and her roommates used to throw these punch-bowl parties, and they just seemed super fun and easy-going.’
Gretchen: ‘I remember on the very first day there were two people that stood out to me and one was Julia. She was walking in this big field of people…wearing this tie-dye hat, and I was like, oh that girl looks cool.’
Julia: ‘You’ve never told me that.’

Since graduating, the group has moved to Seattle, finding themselves planted in an established DIY scene, which Lydia confesses, has relieved some angst:

‘…I feel like one thing is that in Walla Walla, we are in this really small town with not much…it wasn’t the same like alt culture. There wasn’t much alt culture.’ ‘It felt like in Walla Walla we had a lot more to push back against – almost? I felt a lot more angstier. Then we moved to Seattle, where there were so many more likeminded people. It was kind of like – I couldn’t be so whiney anymore.’

Alongside a withdrawal from the birthplace of Chastity Belt, an abandonment of their placid lyric topics has occurred too. In the band’s latest album, I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone (2017), a matured and at times, a melancholic sound is united with increasingly introspective lyrics. The most poignant of these lyrics relaying an autobiographical, yet relatable monologue of the troubles affecting the typical breed of twenty-something-year-old in the confusing, post-university shadow. Something Else, for instance, deals with the supposed incompatibility of doing ‘something cool’ but also ‘getting paid.’ This worry, Julia thinks, is something ‘that a lot of musicians’ at their level can relate to.

Their latest album cannot be completely characterised as vulnerable gloom, though. The record contains a renewed collection of spirited tunes hung with a familiar blasé attitude, reinforcing a further finding of mine: the band prioritise fun, despite underlying anxieties:

Gretchen: ‘We’re not really making much money out of this…but maybe we could if we did certain things. But then, if we did certain things would it not be as fun?’

I’m intrigued as to what these types of ‘things’ are. Julia explains, sparking laughter among them: ‘Selling out, having different personalities, stage personas. I think there’s ways of acting that can make you more money. Not cooler or play better music.’

Currently signed by Sub Pop’s respected sister-label Hardly Art Records, the band has gained online momentum through Hardly’s presence on platforms such as Bandcamp and Soundcloud. In response to Soundcloud’s recent struggles regarding its investment, I ask Lydia and Annie about the importance of this music outlet to them:

Annie: ‘I think it’s really important to allow artists to share their music without any sort of labels. It’s a really good way for people to get discovered without having a ton of money, or a ton of recording experience. And I’ve discovered new music on there, so – personally its benefitted me.’
Lydia: ‘I think Soundcloud is really cool…I’ve put a bunch of stupid stuff on Soundcloud under various names, and it’s just really great to be like, oh yeah it’s out there – no one is gonna find it – but it’s out there.’

Having toured with the likes of Grammy-nominated Courtney Barnett, Chastity Belt are modestly accomplished in the DIY scene. While we talk about Soundcloud, I’m able to snatch a few highly-informed music recommendations from Lydia – ‘Our friend is in this band – Big Priest. Their music is only available on Soundcloud, and they haven’t found a record label to put it out, and it’s so good.’ Lydia also endorses grungy support band GANG and the ‘pretty awesome’ indie-pop trio IAN SWEET from New York.

Following our discussion, I catch the beginning of Chastity Belt’s show. Upholding a strong musical delivery from the outset, the band’s mutual comfort shines through exchanged giggles and simultaneous swaying throughout the set. The group interacted – even if a little awkwardly – with the crowd, but allowed a roaring chorus of Happy Birthday for Big Jeff, Bristol’s famous gig-goer. Hopefully, we’ll see the fun-adoring four back in Bristol again soon for another sell-out show.

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