Chastity Belt

No Joke!
Chastity Belt’s Key to Happiness

For Seattle punks Chastity Belt, the journey from being a joke band with just one song to a hyped touring act signed by Hardly Art, a subsidiary of legendary home town label Sub Pop, has been a ride shared by four best friends, willing to let listeners in on their inside jokes.

Five years ago, Julia Shapiro (guitar, vocals), Lydia Lund (guitar), Annie Truscott (bass), and Gretchen Grimm (drums) were just trying to share a laugh, playing their lone song about angst-filled teens stealing cigarettes from their mothers near the Whitman College campus in Walla Walla, Washington. Things got more serious once band members relocated to Seattle. Shapiro and Lund moved there first, briefly working with Peter Richards and Andrew Hall from Dude York during Chastity Belt’s Dude EP era. Those earliest recordings have a fast, relentless punk sound that has since been abandoned in favor of a scuzzy yet dreamy approach, without overshadowing the lyrical sarcasm and humor that’s always been present in spades. Once Truscott and Grimm also moved to the Emerald City, the band starting developing its new identity, captured first on 2013’s No Regerts.

The biggest development to date for Chastity Belt was the announcement back in January that the group had signed with Hardly Art. “It’s great to work with people who live so close to us,” said Grimm. “We can pop in if we have any questions. Also, they are our friends, so we can hang out outside of working with them.” This working relationship found Chastity Belt joining Sub Pop employees as guests at Sleater-Kinney’s recent Seattle show, allowing Grimm to glean some pre-tour inspiration from finally watching Janet Weiss play drums live.

Local friends, true inventors of Katy Perry’s left shark, and fellow jokesters Tacocat, whose bassist Bree McKenna plays with Schapiro in equally amusing side project Childbirth, had already made the jump to the Sub Pop subsidiary a year earlier. “When they approached us about signing with Hardly Art, we asked Tacocat if they had a good experience working with them,” Grimm said. Tacocat’s feedback must have been glowing, as Chastity Belt is now part of a growing roster that already included fellow hometown act La Luz.

The Hardly Art deal has already netted a well-received LP, Time to Go Home. The record is steeped in satire, from its ghost costume cover inspired by Schapiro and Grimm’s most recent Halloween costumes to sardonic standout track “Cool Slut.” That’s not to say there are not serious moments. While it seems like every band from the West Coast nowadays has songs about smoking weed, few of those “fun in the sun” cassette fetishist groups have written something as haunting and downright depressing as “Joke” – “Everything that’s heavy is all a joke, when we smoke.”

Plus the last two songs, “IDC” and the title track, perfectly capture that feeling at the end of the night, when the self-inflicted pains some associate with partying start taking their toll. It’s a pretty accurate summation of many folks’ after-hours college experience, told by friends who first met on campus.

While touring on the album to and from SXSW, the band’s hype increased, partly for reasons beyond music. In the era of Instagram and Twitter, a funny image can bring as much positive attention as a well-received gig at a corporate music conference. This proved true when a picture of Chastity Belt, all wearing wacky ‘80s throwback sunglasses, seemed to get as much positive attention as the tour. “We started this tradition where we all buy one really dumb matching item,” Grimm explained. “We toured the West Coast this past fall, and we all got bucket hats in Venice Beach. Then on our way to South by Southwest, we were looking around dumb tourist shops in San Antonio and saw these sporty glasses and were like ‘We’ve got to get these.’ I’m not sure what our next item will be, but it’ll be fashion forward.” Between the bucket hat and sunglass combo, and an equally infamous set of press shots that show the girls in mom jeans and black turtlenecks, the band has been looking like extras from Roseanne on lockdown.

Shopping for clothes is not the only tour pastime for Chasity Belt. Hours are spent on the interstate listening to Chelsea Peretti’s podcast. “Her special on Netflix is One of the Greats, and in interviews she is so confident, calling herself an outstanding comedian of her time,” said Grimm of one of her personal heroes. “Women in her position are usually modest and like, ‘Yeah I guess I’m alright’, but she’s like, ‘Yep, I am one of the greats!’”

Dispersed between Peretti podcasts are tracks by one of the groups’ favorite contemporaries, teen best buddy duo Girlpool. “You can tell on stage that they are great friends,” Grim said. “They are good people, too. I couldn’t believe how cool and mature they are, because I was not that cool at that age.”

Like most band activities for Chastity Belt, long van rides sometimes turn into a strengthening of long-running friendships. “Annie sometimes chews this gum that has truth or dares on the wrapper,” Grimm said. “One was a truth and it said to give a complement to the person on your left. We took a while and each of us thought of a complement for the other three people, and we each read them aloud to each other. It was a very tender, summer camp-like moment where we explained what we like about each other.”

The next step in promoting Time to Go Home is an ongoing tour with Australian songstress Courtney Barnett, including the band’s first East Coast dates in several years. While Barnett is not a member of Chastity Belt’s traveling friendship adventure just yet, she had met her tour mates briefly. “Before we actually signed with Hardly Art, we met up with Jonathan Poneman, who is one of the founders of Sub Pop,” Grimm explained. “We went out for ice cream with him, and Courtney Barnett happened to be around the corner doing an in-store, so he introduced us to her.”

A trip to Europe is also in the cards for the fall, including some dates in the UK. “We get a lot of press there, even after we released No Regerts,” Grimm said. “We also started getting a lot of random emails asking us when we’d play the UK, and now we can reply ‘In October!’” Brits liking tongue-in-cheek punk is hardly a surprise, based on the response the Coathangers’ earlier, sillier material has gotten there.

In between tours, the band hopes to slow down long enough to write songs to add to the three new cuts that have been popping up on set lists. Whatever direction the band takes next, there’s no reason to think its members will not enjoy taking that step together.

From playing fraternity houses in Walla Walla to wooing a storied record label in Seattle, Chastity Belt has existed as friends wanting to play music together, as opposed to the marriages of convenience that create some bands. “On tour, you spend so much time with your bandmates that I can’t imagine doing that with people I just half like,” Grimm said. “I’d go crazy. It’s nice to know your bandmates are going to support you when you are having a bad day. We were joking that we should all get one day on tour where we just get pampered by the others. You wake up that morning, and if you’re in a terrible mood and can’t change it, we’ve got you.” Swapping that kind of mutually beneficial band relationship for pretty much any other type of bandmate would not be worth even half liking.

Photo by Angel Ceballos