The Leena Joshi-directed video for Chastity Belt's dusky "Stuck," a standout from the Seattle-based rock band's excellent third album I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone that saw release earlier this year, documents the band in a sort of constant motion as drummer Gretchen Grimm takes lead vocal duties and strums away on an acoustic guitar—cowboy hat and all—with images of the American landscape layered over her.
And that sense of motion applies to the band as a whole, from their frequent and ever-bigger gigging around the States and beyond to their admirably scattered movements when we hit the Guitar Center in Times Square following a packed set at Brooklyn's Music Hall of Williamsburg venue. Upon arrival, Grimm and half of the other band—lead singer Julia Shapiro and bassist Annie Truscott—immediately hop on electric drum kits, banging away with abandon and losing themselves in the musician's playplace of a store. Lead guitarist Lydia Lund disappears completely into the store's deeper recesses, trying out axes with the stoic focus of someone who truly loves the instrument in their hands.
Eventually, we got Grimm, Shapiro, and Truscott in a few seats to talk about the origins of their band, being introverts, and notions of being "cool." (We couldn't find Lydia until after the interview was over, but that's okay Lydia—your guys' music still rocks.)
Noisey: Your music sounds very much like it came from Washington State to me—and I don't mean that as an insult. Do you see yourselves as a Pacific Northwest band?
Julia Shapiro: I feel like we're a Seattle band. Maybe it's the weather. I didn't actually listen to grunge music that much growing up. Seattle made me.
We're all in our late twenties—I personally didn't realize most of the music that made up grunge even existed until four years ago. What music did you guys listen to growing up?
Shapiro: I always loved Elliott Smith in middle school and it just stuck with me. I listened to the Cure a lot, and New Order.
Annie Truscott: I listened to the Strokes a lot. And Weezer. [Laughs] I love Weezer.
Gretchen Grimm: I really liked pop music—I listened to the radio a lot. In middle school and high school, I listened to Dave Matthews band a lot. [Laughs] Ani DiFranco and a lot of folk music, too. I didn't know about cool music.
It's always funny when people say the words "cool music." That's an association you have when you're younger, but when you get older, it's really just cool to listen to whatever you want.
All three at once: No shame.
Grimm: Whitman is far from Seattle, but there's a lot of Seattle people there. I instantly learned that what I liked was so uncool, and I had to reject it. I was like, "OK, I understand what cool music is now." But looking back, it's like, "Nothing's cool." It's just so subjective.
Annie, The Strokes were a huge touchstone for our age group when we were younger. What drew you to them?
Truscott: My older sister. One of her best friends was also in this band called Schoolyard Heroes, so I saw them a bunch as they played around Seattle. I got a little peek into that world, and it was a scary world to me. Very tense. Their fans were a little too much for my young self. But it was cool to get a peek into that world.
What was the first concert you ever went to?
Grimm: Mine was Backstreet Boys. I was, like, ten.
Shapiro: Jimmy Buffett, with my parents. My dad is a Parrothead—he loves Jimmy Buffett.
Mine was Dave Matthews Band, with my dad.
My second show was Blink-182 with No Doubt.
Truscott: That's a cool show.
Tell me about meeting each other at Whitman.
Shapiro: [Gestures towards Gretchen and Annie] I knew the two of you separately. Lydia and I were drunk friends. We'd get into fake fights and scream at each other—"You fucking bitch!" Just to get peoples' attention. We did a bunch of stupid shit like that just for attention. We'd flip over tables and we tried to steal this mini-keg from a frat.
Truscott: You borrowed Lydia's guitar, right?
Shapiro: Yeah, I knew her from freshman year. It was one of those drunken nights in which we decided to form Chastity Belt. We were with this other guy who we decided was our band manager. We had this elaborate story, but we didn't know any songs or anything. I went around and tried to recruit people for my fake band. [Laughs] I feel like you guys were my closest friends, and Lydia was more of a distant friend, but I came up with the idea with her.
Grimm: I remember we played hide-and-seek one night.
Is that why Lydia has vanished now?
Shapiro: She has a habit of wandering.
Grimm: She's an independent spirit.
Were you guys interested in making music before you started Chastity Belt?
Grimm: We were in a pop cover band before that—Combo Pack. We did "Kiss Me Thru the Phone."
Shapiro: We did a medley once—all these pop songs have one chord progression. We rapped, too. There's a video of it somewhere.
Grimm: I went to an arts high school, and a lot of my dude friends were in bands. I wanted to be in a band, but I didn't have the confidence to know how to do it. It felt intimidating, even though it seemed like a lot of people in my school could do it.
Why did it seem intimidating?
Grimm: It was just like, "Those boys—they can do it."
Shapiro: There's a lot of stuff you just have to know when it comes to doing a show—how to do soundcheck, how to set things up.
Truscott: I remember one of our first soundchecks with Wire, I was like, "What's a monitor?" [ Laughs]
Shapiro: No one teaches you. You just figure it out.
Do you guys feel like you're still getting the hang of that stuff?
Shapiro: We're constantly learning, but at this point I feel pretty comfortable. Soundcheck finally makese sense to me.
Truscott: We're still learning how to get our levels.
What led to you guys recording No Regerts?
Grimm: We played this frat party and we were like, "We should probably write an actual song." So we sat down and wrote it together.
Truscott: It was about being an angsty teen in Walla Walla and stealing cigarettes from your mom.
Shapiro: We dressed up really punk.
Grimm: We had all this eyeliner on.
Shapiro: We didn't even think about recording, but our friends in Dude York noticed what we were doing and were really supportive. They were the ones who pushed us to record. They were like, "We're going to record this for you!" And we were like, "Are you sure?" When we moved to Seattle, our friends started this label called Help Yourself, and they were like, "We want to put out a Chastity Belt LP!" And we were like, "Do we have enough songs?" We counted and we were like, "I guess we do."
No Regerts and everything that's happened since has been a really organic thing for you guys when it comes to building a fan base. That doesn't happen too often anymore. How did you take that sudden success?
It was really surprising.
Truscott: I remember when "Black Sails" got on All Songs Considered. Then I was like, "God! I can show my parents this and they'll know what it is!"
Were your guys' parents like, "Why are you in a band?"
Shapiro: Once we started getting real press, my parents were like, "Oh!"
Grimm: My dad asked if the songs on No Regerts were finished yet, even when it was already pressed on vinyl. [Laughs]
Shapiro: Lydia's parents were like, "Change this one part." It's already done!
Grimm: My dad loves the new record, though. He plays it all the time.
How did Hardly Art come into play?
Shapiro: We had already recorded and mixed Time to Go Home, and Hardly Art met with us because they were interested. We didn't know who was going to put it out—we just figured we'd put it out ourselves or on Help Yourself.
Grimm: At that point, we were like, "Maybe we can be on a label!"
What were you guys doing before things started picking up, job-wise?
Truscott: We still have jobs. I nanny and tutor.
Grimm: I nanny also.
Shapiro: I bartend.
Grimm: But this is the first time where we have enough tours booked where I'm like, "Maybe I don't have to go back to that." We'll see what happens.
Over the course of your three records, your music has become more melancholy and emotionally complex.
Shapiro: It's about the environment we've been in. Half of the songs on No Regerts were written when we were in college and trying to please people at drunken parties. We had to have upbeat songs—we weren't trying to play slow songs for college kids. But once we moved to Seattle, we realized that we didn't necessarily have to play party music. We felt more comfortable being vulnerable in front of people.
Truscott: I feel like the complexity comes from us playing in front of more people. We're more comfortable because we're doing it more and better.
This isn't an insult, but I think a lot about Real Estate when I listen to you guys.
Grimm: We got that in college a lot. [Laughs]
Shapiro: We originally called our song "Nip Slip" "Fake Estate." It was about buying houses, too.
What are the themes behind this new record?
Shapiro: The pains of getting older. Growing up and thinking about stuff. [Laughs] Aimless feelings and not really knowing what you're excited about anymore, and being able to complain about stupid things. There's a song about how going out in Seattle, and how it becomes not fun anymore after a while.
Truscott: A difference I've felt over the last five years is that I'm way more aware of how I feel and how people in close relationships are making me feel—things they are doing, and whether they make me feel good or bad.
The title of this record and Time to Go Home seem to embrace a sort of solitude, a willingness not to go out. It's a certain wistfulness about staying in you don't hear much anymore.
But I feel like that's how so many people feel. Last night, we were at a bar, and I had to go outside for a bit because my mouth was hurting from talking to so many people. I had to go for a walk around the block with my girlfriend, and she was like, "Does anyone actually want to be in there right now?" Of course I was having fun, but I have fun being in pajamas in my bed too.
Grimm: I stopped drinking for a bit this summer, and I'm not super comfortable in large crowds, so going to shows I felt super awkward. Not drinking, you pick up on other peoples' awkwardness more. I had this not-totally-true realization of, "Is everyone just drinking more so they feel more comfortable? Why don't we just be ourselves?"
Truscott: We're more comfortable watching our favorite TV shows.
Larry Fitzmaurice is a senior culture editor for VICE. Follow him on Twitter.