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Chastity Belt on Balance, Gear, and Being Sincere Without Taking Yourself Too Seriously

May 31, 2017
Written by
Claire Lobenfeld
Images courtesy of the artist

Chastity Belt is known for hazy post-punk that has its quirks—they’ve been releasing songs with names like “Giant Vagina” and “Cool Slut” since their 2013 debut album No Regerts—but also has an earnest melancholy that makes it nothing but appealing. The Seattle four-piece’s ability to balance such sundry visions of sincerity is something that they apply to real life, too. While they’ve amassed a lot of acclaim for their live shows, including gigs opening for Wire and Courtney Barnett, they are focused on the importance of having a work-life balance—a thing many musicians forget is vital, even if you have a pretty cool job.

Now Chastity Belt is gearing up to release their third album, I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone (Hardly Art/Sub Pop, June 2), which is their most self-assured record to date. The band—Julia Shapiro, guitar/vocals; Lydia Lund, guitar; Annie Truscott, bass; Gretchen Grimm, drums—know sincerity comes in many forms and, although their latest material may sound a little bit more stark on the surface, the group is still full of the same jocular energy their fans have grown to love. They are a long way from their “joke-band” origins and have grown just as much as musicians over that time.

Chastity Belt talked to She Shreds about their upcoming, feelings-driven album—and why you don’t have to be serious to be sincere—and their hopes to someday have enough lightweight, small gear to load in and out of venues in one fell swoop.

I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone comes out on June 2. Pre-orders are available now through Hardly Art.

She Shreds: How does it feel going into the release of what’s being touted as your most serious record when the mythology of your band was that you started as a joke? I mean that as respectfully as possible.

Annie Truscott: It feels good. At this point, it’s kinda like what we’re doing has gone beyond a joke, for sure.

Do you guys have expectations that you may be interrogated over [not having song titles like “Giant Vagina”]?

Lydia Lund: It doesn’t feel that different, it doesn’t feel like that much of a departure. It’s different, but it’s not black and white. There was always an element of seriousness to our band and there’s always an element of healthy self-aware humor and I feel like that still exists in this new record.

Julia Shapiro: It’s been so long. We wrote those songs when we were still in college, so it’s been five or six years. It’s been a gradual change. But I still think [the songs] are cool. “Giant Vagina” is a good song, I would say.

How do you deal with misinterpretations of your music? Do you take it in stride?

LL: Nothing about it is contrived, so you never have to put any effort into any answer or any analysis of the wackiness. We were in college and thought that was the best way to express ourselves.

Gretchen Grimm: I’ve been thinking about this lately, and I just have a hard time taking it seriously, in general, but that doesn’t mean that what I’m doing or the way I’m expressing myself isn’t really sincere. Everything I’m doing is really sincere and earnest, I would say, but I still have this awareness that I can’t take it seriously.

Divvying up songwriter responsibilities—what goes into writing a Chastity Belt song?

GG: It’s always been like this, but usually Julia or Lydia, or on this album I have a couple songs, we usually a chord progression pretty much worked out and then we jam on it with everyone else. Everyone makes up their own parts. A few of them kinda came out of jamming more. “Different Now” was just us jamming together and then Julia worked out a structure and we all worked on our parts.

What are your preferred gear set ups?

AT: Our gear’s pretty basic. I know Julia has expanded her pedal count recently, but I got my Orange Tiny Terror amp and my Fender Mustang—I almost said Ford Mustang. But I know that there were more pedals on this record compared to the last one that Lydia and Julia could talk about.

JS: The guy that we recorded with, his name is Matthew Simms, he’s really good at finding interesting sounds using guitar pedals. He’s in the band Wire and his main role is to make atmospheric sounds with the pedal board. He had a lot of ideas about what we should. But I have this pedal called the Death Metal Pedal [from Digitech] and it’s black with red writing, it’s really punk-looking and I just use that on one song and it just basically creates feedback. I have an Ibanez chorus pedal and then three basic overdrive pedals.

Is Wire a band you guys were into before you started playing as Chastity Belt?

JS: We got asked to do this west coast tour with them back in 2013. It was our first time playing some bigger venues. But at that point, we hadn’t heard of Wire and we just really hit it off with them after that tour. We’re big fans now. Very chill guys. But on that tour, Matthew said he had some good ideas about what we could sound like recorded. He just mentioned wanting to record us. He mixed our last record, Time to Go Home, but we didn’t quite have the money at that point to flying him out [from the UK] to record. This time, he flew out and we recorded everything in Portland at Jackpot! [Recording Studio].

LL: I know Julia really loves Elliott Smith and I do, too. Every time I listen to his music, it makes me want to go play my guitar.

JS: Yeah, that’s the type of songwriter I would aspire to be.

LL: I also love Lucinda Williams. I saw her and that was really inspiring because she’s been doing it for so long, but she was still just like so warm and grateful and humble and just seemed to be so happy to be on stage.

How do you guys feel about playing live versus recording. To be real, I’m trying to casually ask you guys about the Bowery Ballroom show in 2015 when someone threw a bra on stage and can’t figure out a good segue. The only other time I’ve seen something like that at that venue was for Frank Ocean.

GG: That was actually my friend! It was my friend Courtney and it was really funny.

AT: We haven’t recorded that much. It’s always for pretty short periods and it’s always a little bit more stressful than I want it to be, but playing live gives us more room for playfulness in a way.

JS: My favorite thing is jamming, that’s my favorite.

AT: I think if we had more time to record, it could be more fun. Since we’re trying to get so much done in a short amount of time, if we had more time, it would be more relaxed. It can be a little stressful.

Are there musical avenues that you guys would want to explore if you did have more time to do stuff like that?

AT: I wanna get some violin or cello going on. When we go to the studio, we have to have all of our parts pretty much all figured out except for maybe a couple things. There hasn’t ever been much exploring in a studio setting. I think that would be fun, to mess around with.

JS: I’d like to come up with some more pedal [tricks].

LL: I think it would be fun if we had a recording studio or we recorded ourselves. Songwriting, to me, it’s like I’m listening to what’s coming right out of the amp, rather than [recording a song] and listening to it recorded back. For me, it’s just easier to tell based on feel and how it feels when we’re all playing in the room. I don’t even know if I would be interested in a exploring writing in a different way, but it’s like Julia said, jamming is the most fun. I just wanna go on retreats and jam all the time.

Do you guys get many opportunities to just do that? How do you balance being in Chastity Belt and having day jobs?

GG: I feel like if I had an answer to that, I would be a more balanced and happy person. I don’t quite know yet. I think all of us agree that we don’t want to be touring all the time. We try to not go on long tours and if we go on a tour for three or four weeks, then we’re gonna take that amount of time off. We’re not really road dogs, we’re more like, “Let’s try to make this feel balanced and keep the connections we have in the city we live in.”

Is there anything else that you feel like the She Shreds readers should know?

JS: We’ve been meaning to do a gear talk podcast, so look out of that eventually.

Tell me more about that!

GG: We have this Facebook video about it, that’s when it all started. We just wanted to start a podcast where we talked about gear the whole time, we always talked about doing it in the van on tour and then we never do it.

JS: One of the episodes, we’re gonna hit up Guitar Center and we’re gonna interview some dudes that are really into gear. The whole time we’ll be talking “like this.” [in best “gear dude” voice]

AT: Anytime you mention a piece of gear we’re gonna go into that voice. We’re all just getting really into gear, so we’re trying to embrace.

Before we go, tell me your favorite recent gear discovery.

JS: I just have this Memory Boy delay pedal that I think is really fun.

LL: My favorite piece of gear has always been a loop pedal. I encourage anyone, especially anyone who plays guitar alone, to get a loop pedal because I feel like it just opened up all these different ways of playing to me and ways of layer and conceptions of melody. I think it’s a really cool thing, especially if you don’t have anyone else to play music with.

AT: I just got a stand for my bass and it’s encouraged me to play my bass more because it’s just out and ready to go!

[everyone erupts in laughter]

AT: You guys, I don’t have that much gear. But the other thing I would say is that we’re really into small gear. Tiny amps.

JS: Anything easier to load.

LL: Lightweight gear!

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