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Music by VICE

It Might be Time for Chastity Belt to Go Home but Don't Worry, They're Still Laughing

The Seattle four-piece talk their upcoming LP, sex, drugs, feeling lost in the world, and how the best solution is to laugh.

by Zach Kelly
Mar 20 2015, 2:00pm

Julia Shapiro laughs a lot. She doesn’t guffaw, neither does she chuckle or giggle, really. Instead, her laugh feels a kind of subconscious punctuation, the natural byproduct of a funny, laid-back person with a lot to look forward to. As the chief songwriter and frontwoman for Seattle’s Chastity Belt, Shapiro’s warmth and ease could scan as a nervous diversion— when I call Shapiro, she’s speaking on behalf of a band whose sophomore full-length is due March 23, the week after their very first SXSW. Maybe it’s the last traces of painkiller lingering in her system, as she’s laid up with a bad back as the rest of her bandmates have left ahead of her for guitarist Lydia Lund’s parents’ beach house to play some music. But for anyone who has spent time with the quartet’s breakthrough 2013 debut No Regerts, her affability should come as no surprise.

Shapiro offered plenty to snort about, from a campy monster movie song about a “giant vagina” (“Giant Vagina”) to juvenile house party anthems espousing the virtues of pussy, weed, and beer (“Pussy Weed Beer”), but No Regerts's real strength was how relatable it was. Bubbling just beneath the surface were the many conflicts and contradictions that most young people (and more specifically young women) grapple with, from sex to drugs to feeling lost in the world. Much was made of their amazing press photos and the familiarity of their music (all the women in the band are self-taught), but to pigeonhole Chastity Belt as merely a party band was to deny the heartbroken humor and the subtle emotional complexities found in the melodies and lyrics that made No Regerts such a necessary listen. Now with the band’s second album Time to Go Home (Hardly Art), Shapiro is doubling down on those emotional complexities, exploring sexism, romantic disappointment and not giving a fuck, sometimes within the span of a single song. Like the hangover companion to No Regerts's late night out, Chastity Belt have come full-circle. In her convalescence, we talked to Shapiro about graffiti, mansplaining, sci-fi movies, and the new record.

Continued below.

Noisey: For the band that wrote “Pussy Weed Beer,” Saturday morning seems like a very bad time to talk. What’d you do last night?
Julia Shapiro: You know, I actually stayed in last night because I hurt my back [laughs]. So I was just like, bedridden.

What happened?
I really don’t know, I just woke up and my back is hurting. But [bassist] Annie [Truscott] just recently hurt her leg and has all this Vicodin [laughs], so I just ended up getting really high and watching Friends, and it was a great way to spend my Friday night.

That does sound pretty good, actually. Listening to this new record Time to Go Home, which I have been a lot lately— this is a really melancholy record. I’m worried about you guys. Are you okay?
[Laughs] Yeah, you know, we’re doing great. But everyone has to get their dark side out somehow [laughs]. I don’t know, we all have serious things that we wanna say on top of our sense of humor.

A lot of people could see Chastity Belt as just a good-time party band, but there always seems to be a flipside to that. There are consequences in your songs.
Yeah, for sure. It’s not just all just fun an partying, it’s almost like... complaining about partying so much [laughs]. Like feeling lost and not knowing what to do, which is kind of funny and a little bit ironic.

There seems to be more localized statements on this record. For example, the opener “Drone” seems to kind of take on the idea of mansplaining. Was that something that was on your mind?
Yeah, definitely. I’m sure it’s this way in anything that you’re doing, like any field you’re in. You interact with men who think they know more than you, and that’s something we’ve all had to deal with in music. I can’t tell you how many sound guys have tried to mansplain things to us [laughs]. But yeah, I think that it can take on some other kinds of meanings too. It can be looked as like, in a relationship, kind of mansplaining in a relationship and mansplaining in professional, everyday life.

So in a relationship, are you calling on personal experience?
A little bit, yeah. Not about any one particular person at the time, it’s just a general feeling that I think we’ve all got in. Have you ever heard of that book How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti?

I have not.
It’s really good. It came out a couple years ago, I think. She has a line in there about mansplaining, I was kind of inspired by that, and had everyone in my band read that book after I read it. It’s just a super easy read and that was the kind of thing where—it doesn’t happen to me that much but I started reading it and went, “Oh, yeah, I agree with everything. I feel like she’s my friend [laughs]. I totally understand this.” And yeah, I think I wrote “Drone” right after reading that book, so I was kind of inspired by that.

And then you have a song like “Cool Slut,” which seems like the big anti-slut shaming anthem. Did that spring from a similar inspiration?
Yeah, I don’t know, I’ve always liked the word “slut;” I think it should be a positive thing. That song was kind of inspired by this song that I would sing freshman year of college. [Laughs] It was maybe one of the first song I’d ever written, now that I think about it. It was like three chords, and I’d walk around like an asshole with my ukelele, which I had, which is embarrassing. I’d walk around with my ukelele, get drunk, and just be riffing about being a slut, just singing, “We’re just a couple of sluts, lookin’ for some peeeeeen” [laughs]. And that song kind of just wrote itself because I spent so many drunken hours already singing about it that when we did “Cool Slut,” it originally had different lyrics and I was like, “I don’t like what this song is about,” and then I just wrote new lyrics in like a second. Just like, “This song is going to be about being a slut!” [laughs]. And then I called it “Cool Slut” because that’s my “tag” that I do around town [laughs].

So you’re the “cool slut”?
Yeah, I’m kind of a graffiti artist. I started doing it just because when you’re on tour it’s kind of fun to leave your mark in different cities. But I also thought it would be a cool sex-positive tag.

Do you do anything else, or just tagging?
No, I don’t do anything like crazy or big, just “cool slut” with maybe a funny one-liner. I had this one that was like, “Touch my clit tonight,” that was one of them. If you look on Instagram for #coolslut, a whole bunch of them will come up.

When you guys made your debut full-length No Regerts, it was part of just wanting to be in a band, so you picked up instruments and kind of figured it out. Now with the second record, do you think you’ve grown musically?
Oh definitely. When we first started, we had no idea what we were doing, which was cool in a way. It kind of made our songs look like pretty original, because we were just making it up as we went along. But now I think we’ve not only learned to play our instruments better, but to play together better. We know each other’s styles so well now that it kind of comes naturally. We’re really good at creating spaces for each other and kind of filling in where there needs to be stuff. Songs just come together pretty naturally now, which is cool, and I think that this record has a much more cohesive feel to it than the last record, because the last record was kind of half stupid party songs we wrote in college, and half newer songs we wrote once we got to Seattle and realized that we didn’t have to write party songs anymore. So yeah, this one feels way more cohesive compared to that.

I guess I have to ask about your great promo photos. For the first record, you guys had like the best fucking promo photo I’ve ever seen, and now we have the Sears portraits. Where do they come from?
For the first photo, that was mostly [photographer] Sarah Creighton’s idea, she was the one that took that photo. I think we kind of met with her and told he we wanted to do something with raw steak, and then she came up with this idea to have me wearing a steak chastity belt. And we just went along with it, we were like, “Oh yeah! Whatever!” We didn’t even expect people to see the photo, but we also just thought it was funny. We’re pretty easy going people, so we just went along with it. But then for the Sears photo shoot, that was all our idea, like mostly [drummer] Gretchen [Grimm] and I. We were on tour this one time and just kept coming up with ideas of what we could do. But we have so many ideas for press photos. We just want to make it interesting and funny. If you have an opportunity to take a photo with your friends, why would you just want to stand in front of a brick wall?

And frown.
I don’t get it! It really confuses me when bands just wanna take a picture of them standing there. So boring.

What do you think the state of feminism in popular music is like right now?
That’s a heavy question. Let me think about it...

Well, obviously your band is a sex positive band and a feminist band in a certain sense, even though I don’t know if you’d tag yourselves that way. And you’re able to address sex in a very frank way, which I feel a lot of bands are very timid about. But I do feel like people look to you and your band as one of the more interesting voices when it comes to a broad topic like feminism.
I agree with that. I mean, we’re all feminists in the band, so I think that definitely comes across. It’s not like we have an agenda or anything. But yeah, we definitely didn’t want to just sit back and not… the thing is we have something to say, so we’re saying it. Some bands don’t have anything to say about feminism, and that’s fine. But as a woman, I want to say something about it. Not all our songs are about that, but it comes up because it’s something that we’re all passionate about. I feel like there’s a lot of cool feminist stuff happening in maybe popular hip-hop, almost? I feel like Beyoncé is a super feminist.

With the word “FEMINISM” behind her at the [2014] VMAs.
Yeah, totally. But there’s not even any popular female rock bands. A lot of the all-female or female fronted bands here in Seattle I feel like send a pretty feminist message. Like Tacocat has a song about catcalling; they have some really cool feminist songs. But I guess I wish there were more females in rock that were known, because after watching the Grammys, I got pretty upset at there being so few females who were even nominated. There weren’t any females nominated for Best Rock Album—all men. I feel like we haven’t come that far, really. I’ve been watching some Missy Elliot music videos, and do you know that song by Tweet? It goes like, “Oops…”

“Oh My”?
“Oops, there goes my shirt” [laughs]. I got on this YouTube search crazy thing with Missy Elliot and I saw that video, and was just like, “This is such a feminist song, it’s about a lady thinking that thinks she’s hot, looking in the mirror thinking she’s hot and masturbating” [laughs]. It’s crazy! And I don’t even think songs like that happen as much anymore.

Do think that because there aren’t more prominent female rock bands, does that have something more to do with the culture, or is it just rock music in general? Which people seem to not give a shit about much anymore.
I think it’s a little bit of both, maybe. I also feel like a big part of it is just like... people have really bad taste [laughs]. I think that mainstream culture is... I don’t understand people’s tastes. The more people are fed something or see something, the more they end up liking it. If somehow, female rock bands were able to get a lot of money, or just be promoted a ton, then people would probably like them. People aren’t that smart, they just like whatever’s out there, and a lot of people don’t even try to access other things. They don’t even know it’s available. I guess also a big part of it is that electronic music—like dubstep and all that—is getting more popular than rock. People like clubbing and stuff like that [laughs].

Zach Kelly hasn't been to a club in like 17 years. Follow him on Twitter.

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Music
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Noisey
Chastity Belt
Time To Go Home
Laughing
Not Chuckling
No Regerts