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Baby, It's Okay To Be Slutty: Chastity Belt Interviewed
Anna Wood , October 27th, 2015 10:27

The Seattle-based four-piece's singer and guitarist Julia Shapiro talks to Anna Wood about the underuse of the word labia, calling out mansplaining and taking lyrical inspiration from John Carpenter's 1982 cinematic masterpiece

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From throbbing, tumbling opener 'Drone' to the swooning, sublime closing title track, Chastity Belt's Time To Go Home is a five-star, listen over-and-over-again delight. The band's 2013 debut, No Regerts, included such highlights as 'Giant (Vagina)' ("Most dudes don't sing along to 'Giant (Vagina)'", guitarist Lydia Lund has noted) and 'Pussy Weed Beer'. Time To Go Home is darker and better, although there's still plenty of daftness and gleeful singing along to do (like "Baby, it's okay to beeeee, it's okay to be sluttyyyy" on 'Cool Slut' and "EVERYONE'S INFECTED!" on 'The Thing'.). Chastity Belt met at college in Walla Walla, then moved to Seattle, signed to Hardly Art (the Sub Pop spin-off which also homes Hunx And His Punx and Colleen Green) and mixed this latest album with current Wire guitarist Matthew Simms. Lead singer Julia Shapiro also writes songs with Childbirth, a band she's formed with Bree McKenna from Tacocat and Stacy Peck from Pony Time.

From your first album into the second is such a clear and strong development. The RRRAAAHHH! is still there, and the humour, but a lot more besides.

Julia Shapiro: We've come a long way since we started in college, but we definitely have a lot ahead of us. When we first started we had no idea what we were doing.

"He was just another man trying to teach me something" is a great lyric from 'Drone'. Anything else you want to say about it?

JS: Yeah, it's kind of a shout-out to all the mansplainers out there. It's not about any guy in particular. I was inspired by that line in Sheila Heti's book, How Should A Person Be. That book is so good. I'm usually a pretty slow reader, but if I really like I book I just burn through it. When I picked up that book I was like, "Whoa!" I read it in two days.

Where else are you picking up influences?

JS: A lot of my lyrics just come from things I say out loud or write in my journal. I'm also inspired by my friends. Sometimes they'll say something cool and I'll be like, ah, I gotta remember that.

Using your private journal in lyrics is pretty ballsy.

JS: Yeah, it's very 'intimate'! Kurt Cobain did it though.

I wish there was a better word for ballsy.

JS: Yeah, I'm sick of balls being such a part of everyday language. Labia should be used just as often!

Labia-ey.

JS: Yes!

It's not as good to say, though, out loud.

JS: Yeah, it doesn't really roll off the tongue.

Do you have a sense of power or influence when you're making these songs or playing live?

JS: Yeah, definitely. Playing live feels really good, especially when I'm singing a song with a statement like: "He was just another man trying to teach me something." Pretty much all the lines in 'Cool Slut', too. And I still get really excited about playing 'James Dean', even though I wrote that when I was 19.

In the songs you mix up joy and disappointment, happiness and rage. Is that something you carefully balance?

JS: It's not intentional, exactly - I'm trying to balance those feelings in real life, so it comes out in our songs. I'm a big fan of making fun of the things that aren't fun. A lot of bleak things are funny if you look at them the right way.

It seems like Childbirth serves a different purpose for you, compared to Chastity Belt - is that accurate?

JS: With Childbirth, the first thought is the best thought. We write songs in two minutes, and we all think up lyrics and ideas for songs together. It's definitely more of a fun thing, not that Chastity Belt isn't fun. Childbirth is just all laughs.

But still spiky laughs. 'I Only Fucked You As A Joke' is hilarious, but it's spiky.

JS: Yeah definitely. Humour is full of truths.

Humour can be a protection, but also give away quite a lot.

JS: Yeah. Some of the comments on Childbirth stuff can get really mean, so I'm not even sure if humour is protection anymore. Someone posted a rape threat on Brooklyn Vegan in response to 'I Only Fucked You As A Joke'.

Christ.

JS: I guess that's how offended people are by that song. BV is notorious for the worst kinds of comments. I wish internet comments weren't a thing.

Who starts the songs in Chastity Belt, is that an all-of-you-together process too?

JS: It's usually me. I'll come up with some chords, maybe some lyrics or a melody too, and I'll play it for the rest of the band. Sometimes it'll morph into something else when the band starts playing along. Sometimes I won't have a chorus or anything until I hear their parts. We're in the middle of writing like a hundred new songs right now, but we have no time to work on them.

How do your skills all work together as a band? If you were superheroes, would you have complementary powers?

JS: We've actually talked about this a bit as a band! Our greatest musical skills sort of go along with our best personality traits. Annie [Truscott, bassist] is really loving, and a good listener. I think her basslines reflect that. They're warm, and she leaves space for the other guitars. Gretchen [Grimm, drummer] is very calm and collected. She's also a math major. Her drumming is super calm, and not overpowering. Not dramatic, a little awkward in a good way. Lydia is very curious and emotional. She comes up with some really odd lead guitar lines, and they also evoke a lot of emotion. I remember listening to her lead on 'Full' for the first time when we recorded No Regerts and wanting to cry. And, not to toot my own horn, but my bandmates said something about me being creative, sarcastic, witty…

Toot away.

JS: I guess I have a knack for coming up with witty lyrics, and creative chord progressions…

And does that fit with other aspects of your character?

JS: I think that I say some pretty outrageous stuff in real life. Annie told me that I have a unique way of looking at things. Apparently I have some kind of brilliant insight about certain things.

What makes you want to say outrageous things? Do you do it when you're around people you're angry with?

JS: No, I don't usually say stuff straight to people's faces. Although I get sort of enraged by the oblivious tech bros moving into our neighbourhood [Capitol Hill in Seattle] and taking over. Childbirth just recently wrote a song called 'Tech Bro' about that. Some oblivious dude walked by me with a sombrero yesterday, for Cinco De Mayo, and I said under my breath: "Take that fucking sombrero off."

Did he hear you?

JS: I don't think so. He was very oblivious. It used to be cool here but now all these tech bros from Amazon are moving in and rent prices are going up in a really extreme way.

I'm going to assume 'The Thing' is not about Cold War paranoia, so does the "everyone's infected" line have an analogy? What might the infection be?

JS: Someone recently asked me if it was about STDs, I thought that was funny. But that is probably the most literal song on the record, aside from 'Cool Slut'. It's just straight-up about the movie The Thing, and the infection is "the thing".

Is it weird having someone ask about your lyrics? I would find it strange.

JS: Yeah, it is strange. It's weird to analyse your own writing. I can't really put into words what my lyrics mean. That's why they're in lyric form in the first place.

Like, "I wrote it, you listen to it, what more do you want from me?"

JS: At least it's easier than talking about music. Talking about music is impossible.

Do you read horoscopes? I know you've mentioned them before, and I saw Kim Gordon talking recently about the appeal of horoscopes. How would you describe that appeal?

JS: Yeah, I've gotten more into them since moving to Seattle. Everyone here is really witchy. I'm a Libra, and I have a bunch of Libra friends who are really into being Libras. I like horoscopes. It's not that I necessarily believe in them, it's just fun to analyse your life in that way. It opens up a conversation and allows you to talk about people and their differences in a cool way.

Right, a few quick ones before you have to go. What's the greatest gig you've played so far?

JS: We had a really good time at our record release show a little while back. Lots of friends came out, we'd just gotten back from tour, and it felt cool to be so supported. In college, we played naked in the middle of the quad during Beer Mile, which is an annual naked run. That was maybe our greatest gig, although we probably sounded like shit.

Do you ever wish you had a dick?

JS: I don't really wish I had a dick, but sometimes I wish I had everything else that comes with having a dick. That unwarranted male confidence. It would be cool to just wake up in the morning and feel like I could do whatever I wanted and people would love me for it.

What was the very first music you made?

JS: I used to make a lot of weird songs on GarageBand. I would sneak into my brother's room and use his computer. He recently told me that he still has all of my crazy songs on there. The first 'band' I was in was this sort of rap duo with one of my friends in high school. I made beats on GarageBand, and we both rapped over it. The idea was to make it sound sort of like Gravy Train!!!! or Le Tigre. We were called Apple Saucey. We had a Christmas song called 'Mistletoe Hoe' and a birthday song called 'Birthday Suit'. And another one called 'Octopussy (Party At The Beach)'. The name of our album was going to be Pussy Olympics. I still think that's a cool name for an album.

Give me a lyric.

JS: From our first song, 'We Bring The Party': "He makes my heart beat like a fucking drum and I don't know where we're going but he's making me come". Another line from that song is: "Back at his house, I flash him my titties but he can't get it up and it's such a pity." I don't know how much that band influenced my music today, but we definitely had some very sex positive, funny lyrics.

Time To Go Home is out now on Hardly Art and Childbirth's album Women's Rights is out now on Suicide Squeeze Records. Chastity Belt are the support band on Death Cab For Cutie's European tour beginning on November 2 at O2 Academy Glasgow; for full details and tickets, head here

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Germane Agreer
Oct 27, 2015 12:17pm

I suggest 'labial' as gender appropriate synonym for 'ballsy'.

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Glyph
Oct 27, 2015 1:22pm

I like this band, but this, re: being a man:

"It would be cool to just wake up in the morning and feel like I could do whatever I wanted and people would love me for it."

Eccch. I take her meaning that many things are, generally, easier if you are a man; but anyone who's ever been a (hu)man can tell you that this vision of anyone, anywhere waking up feeling that they will receive unconditional love without fear of failure or disapproval or rejection, is bullshit fantasy. Hell, you could make a good argument that 99% of the things men (and women!) do, they do out of fear. Fear of death, fear of being alone, fear of not living up to societal expectations when it comes to job or money or appearance.

A man making such a sweeping (and patently-inaccurate) statement about what it must be like to wake up every day as a woman would be rightly smacked about. For someone who seems to be pretty insightful, this is a statement with a remarkable lack of empathy or understanding. Maybe she should put on a sombrero and reconsider.

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Ally
Oct 27, 2015 7:51pm

In reply to Glyph:

"I wish internet comments weren't a thing."

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Glyph
Oct 27, 2015 8:08pm

In reply to Ally:

Ironic, no? But anyway, I'm not making threats or doing anything weird. Just commenting on a strange, out-of-place line.

I mean, we're on a music site, where probably 99% of the artists featured here started making their art because they felt like outsiders, and by no means had some sort of feeling of unearned confidence and universal love and acceptance just because they were male. You ever hear a Smiths record?

Like I said, I take her underlying point that a lot of things are easier for guys. I'm not sitting here spinning a lament for all the poor misunderstood oppressed men of the world.

I'm just saying that being unconfident is pretty much the human condition, we all face it every morning. Nobody can do whatever they want and have people love them for it (except, ironically, celebrities who achieve a certain amount of fame).

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Oct 27, 2015 8:31pm

In reply to Glyph:

I kinda think what she means is that if she was a man in a band she'd be more likely to be loved for whatever she wants to do - as opposed to being perceived as just another whiny woman in just another whiny woman band. I have noticed men and women who I have played Chastity Belt react in this way - one said they knew it was a female band just from the opening chords of Drone (they know I listen to alot of female-fronted bands so this is clearly BS). You might not think so, but people of both genders still won't listen to women making music like this for no good reason other than rock being perceived as a male-dominated form, whereas women should be sticking to pop.

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Oct 27, 2015 8:35pm

In reply to :

Also, the lyric from Cool Slut begins 'Ladies, it's OK . . .', not 'Baby'! Completely ruins the lyric's intent. Album of the year for me still though, saw them last week and apart from set being too short and Julia's vocals too high - over-touring? - they were great and very charming. New songs they played were good too, I said to Lydia the guitarist that some of her licks reminded me of Kristin Hersh's playing in Throwing Muses, but she'd never heard of them! Always nice to hear a band have hit on their sound innocently / naturally, as Julia has said several times in interviews.

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seancooper
Oct 27, 2015 8:37pm

like the shags but not funny?

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Glyph
Oct 27, 2015 8:49pm

In reply to :

"what she means is that if she was a man in a band she'd be more likely to be loved for whatever she wants to do - as opposed to being perceived as just another whiny woman in just another whiny woman band"

Ah, if that's the implied context then that makes more sense to me.

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Dondi
Oct 28, 2015 8:53am

Hating on men is like so hot right now.
Good band, good album though.

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