Discovering the band Chastity Belt was like finding a bunch of old journals I’d forgotten I had written. Their music entwined humor with sadness, sarcasm with truth, and uncertainty with confidence in a powerful, poetic way. The Seattle-based band is made up of Julia Shapiro (vocals, guitar), Annie Truscott (bass), Gretchen Grimm (drums), and Lydia Lund (guitar), which started out as a joke during their time at Whitman College in Washington. But their music feels far from a joke—they are the real thing, singing authentic truths, and their music feels like therapy.
“We were just kind of messing around and we would start chanting ‘chastity belt’ at parties,” Gretchen tells me of how the band started. “Maybe if a band played, once they walked away from their instruments we would take them over and play Nickleback or something. But then we heard about this ‘Battle of the Bands’ and we were like, maybe we should actually write a song.”
“We sat down in Gretchen’s dorm room with a notebook and pen and two acoustic guitars and wrote a song,” adds Annie. After they played at the fraternity-hosted party, they kept playing together, knowing they enjoyed it but didn’t take themselves seriously. “It was something that we wanted to do, period. So we just kept doing it,” says Lydia.
Their first album, “No Regerts” (2013), captured fresh-out-of-college feelings beautifully. It balanced straight up songs about sex, such as “James Dean,” with more mellow, melancholy songs like “Happiness.” These songs fueled my late night bike rides home after work and laundry folding dance parties in my room alone, and they were able to welcome my hurting youth into my newfound adulthood. Their second album, “Time To Go Home” (2015), built on these maturing feelings, which the band describes as an “upward trajectory” to their latest and most striking album, “I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone (2017).”
Their growth from “No Regerts” to “I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone” is evident both lyrically and musically. This time around, with their growing confidence, they are ready to take themselves more seriously. “I feel like we’re less embarrassed about being vulnerable. This side of our music has always been in it, but we’ve been a little shy about it,” Julia says, referring to the differences in their new album. “Even musically, we’re like, yeah, I’ll try something that I think is kind of cheesy,” says Lydia. Describing the album in three words, they all agree on contemplative, vulnerable, and ‘noodle-y’.
Discussing their writing process, they say music almost always comes first, through a combination of writing retreats and jam sessions. “I feel like I just have a feeling when I’m writing lyrics when I think of a line I just have a feeling—it’s almost like I’m expressing something to myself that I wasn’t quite sure of before,” says Gretchen.
“Even if it’s cheesy, it’s like, well, that’s the truth,” says Lydia. “I definitely go through a revising process, sometimes we’ll just write a ton of stream of consciousness and then pick from that. Occasionally there are songs that won’t push through, that just fall by the wayside. But I feel like it’s more of a general vibe of maybe this isn’t working right now. Time To Go Home was a song that Julia played for us a long time ago and nothing came right away. She brought it back months later.”
Having just finished one leg of their tour, they will pick up at the end of the month across the west coast before touring the UK and multiple European cities. Although they all agree that driving around the country in a van together playing shows is super fun, they recognize the importance of taking time away from the band.
“We try to take breaks,” says Lydia. “It feels very healthy to be like, I’m not gonna think about the band for a month.”
“We kind of intentionally did that for the first time this winter,” says Annie. “but I think there was good that came out of that in a way. It is really consuming, so you can go down that track of band band band and a lot of other stuff can fall away and then you forget your place without the band. I’m a person outside of this band too, I need to remember that and know that I’m okay.”
Although they perform mostly new songs on tour, the crowd still awaits older favorites such as “Seattle Party”—and Julia tells me they still get requests to play songs from their first EP, “Fuck Chastity Belt” (2012). But as they discuss their growth and new, bolder, sound, I wonder if they are able to revisit the emotion of when they wrote their earlier songs when they perform them.
“For me, a lot of it honestly depends on the crowd’s energy,” says Annie. “I try to think of a new thing or associate that song with something newer, or think of a fun memory or how I was feeling when that song first came out.”
“I feel like I’m more into our newer songs, but I think that’s mostly because lyrically I’m like, I don’t really feel that way anymore for a lot of older songs,” says Julia. “My favorite thing is playing new songs live. People don’t always have that much of a reaction, but I just feel like, I’m excited.”
Discussing the differences between the studio and the stage, they express the stress that can come with recording when they know they only have a certain amount of time to get something done. “It can be kind of boring if we do it for too long,” Lydia says of repeatedly playing songs in the studio. “I really like having a reaction. I just feel like I cannot deny the energy when everyone is excited and you’re excited. Maybe for me, that is the best.”
When I watch them headline Music Hall of Williamsburg a couple hours later, I can’t help but feel inspired by their friendship and how far they’ve come since college. I’m reminded of what Lydia said when I asked them about navigating through their 20’s, post-college. She emphasizes how the school system values being above average—something that I found damaging to many throughout high school.
“You can’t just be yourself,” says Lydia. “Being out of school, I’m so much happier, because I can just be as good as I wanna be.”
“I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone” is out now via Hardly Art. Buy their album and view their tour dates here.