Bitchtopia’s Interview with Chastity Belt’s Julia Shapiro

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After hearing about Chastity Belt for more than a year, I finally succumbed and checked them out a month ago. It  like love at first sight—or first listen. Their lyrics are sarcastic, yet relatable and they’re genuinely talented musicians. Looking at how successful they are now, it is difficult to believe that before 2010, they had no prior experience of being in a band. I had the opportunity to chat with  Julia Shapiro, the band’s frontwoman, about Seattle, Childbirth (her side-project), and why the term “girl band” sucks.

You started out the band without having prior experience. What was the process of forming Chastity Belt and shifting from it being something you’re doing for fun, to actually working hard on it, and having it become basically your life?

Yeah. Um…(laughs) it kind of happened as an accident. We didn’t expect it to turn into, like, this big of a thing, but it’s cool and I am really happy about how far it’s gone.

I know that you all moved to Seattle as a band. How did you end up relocating there and becoming a part of the music scene? 

Well, we didn’t really know just what we were going to do after college, and Seattle’s kind of the closest city to Walla Walla, which is a small town where we went to school and we played a few shows here before, our senior year of college, so it felt kind of natural; it was just new. We felt like, “Oh, let’s just keep doing this, we’ll keep playing shows in Seattle and we will see what happens”, but we didn’t really think much of it. Then we thought , “Oh, yeah, maybe we will play music here a little bit, until we decide what we are doing.” Everyone has been so supportive and we were received so well that we were like, “Oh, we are actually doing this.”

Do you think that the DIY community in Seattle has inspired you in any way, since you moved there?

Definitely. Everyone in the music community here is really supportive and I’ve met some really cool people who are doing music here, I made another band called Childbirth and they actually just finished recording another album yesterday. But, ah, yeah. I met them just through the music scene because it’s just kind of like a small community. Bree, the bassist, she’s in another band called Tacocat, and they are also here. And then the drummer, Stacy, who is also in this band called Pony Time, who Chastity Belt went on a tour with once.  I feel like I’ve learned a lot from them.They definitely have been in the music scene for longer than I have. Stacy’s like 35 or something now so I know she definitely taught me a lot.

How did you end up forming Childbirth, with Bree and Stacy?

I followed Stacy, and she was in a couple of other bands at the time I saw her play and I was like, “Whoa, she has such a cool drumming style.” When I talked to her she was like, “yeah, we should hang some time.” We all happen to practice at the same practice space so Stacy tracked this room that’s like right across from ours and we were sharing (we’re still sharing), a practice space with Tacocat so that’s like kind of part of how I knew Bree. Stacy and Bree know each other because they dated (laughs).

Stacy and I kind of like met up and wrote a few songs, and then we were like, “Hey, let’s get a bassist.” And Stacy said, “I think Bree wants to join,” because at the time, Tacocat wasn’t getting much [attention] and Bree had a lot of free time. The three of us all have the same sense of humor so writing songs just kind of, will come up with song ideas before we write the songs and it would be like, “let’s write a song about this funny thing.” And then it kind of happens naturally. But, yeah, it’s like having Childbirth in addition to Chastity Belt, because Childbirth is a little bit more fun and lighthearted; it’s nice to have a good balance.

What’s the main difference between writing songs for Chastity Belt and for Childbirth?

For Chastity Belt, our songs are, like, all a lot longer and, like, most Childbirth songs are, like, underachievement (laughs). It is just kind of like a punk … it’s punk in that way, that we don’t really give that much thought to. We are kind of like, “This is our first idea. Alright, here we go.” But with Chastity Belt, I think we put, like, a lot more thought into it.It takes me a lot longer to write songs for Chastity Belt just because they are, like, a little bit more complex.

You received a rape threat after Brooklyn Vegan wrote about your song, “I Only Fucked You as a Joke.” How did you  deal with that?

That was crazy, yeah. The internet comments are horrible and Brooklyn Vegan is notorious for having horrible comments… It really sucks. We’re just girls playing music and, you know, I’m like, “we shouldn’t have to deal with people saying shit like that,” but, I don’t know. People are monsters on the internet so I try not to read internet comments very often.

Have you experienced any sexism from men who have gone to see your shows with Chastity Belt as well?

Yeah. I mean, nothing, like, overt, I guess especially in Seattle. Seattle is pretty liberal and people are very supportive here. Outside of Seattle it’s a little different but, yeah, I guess just in subtle ways, like, sound guys just kind of like treating us like we don’t know what we are doing, or like explaining something to us in a condescending way.  There is always that guy who wants to tell you after a show how you’re band works; he’ll “explain” your band to you, you know? Just talk at you about what your band sounds like so that’s always really annoying. But for the most part, there are a lot of women in bands in Seattle so it’s  definitely not such a weird thing here. But I think in other places it’s like, “whoa, a girl band.” As if that’s crazy, you know?

What’s your opinion on the term, ‘girl band?’

It sucks, I hate it (laughs). It’s like, no one ever calls a group of guys a boy band, you know? Yeah, it’s pretty condescending. We get called a girl band all the time so it sucks.

Many of your songs feature sex-positive lyrics and themes, which is not very common but it’s awesome and empowering. What made you decide to openly discuss these topics?

I feel like guys have been writing songs about sex for forever, you know, and kind of just like speaking their minds so I’m just trying to be honest and say stuff and not have it be totally weird and mind-blowing.

Does it actually feel very empowering, as it sounds like it is, to say, Pussy  Weed Beer on stage?

Yeah, definitely. We don’t, we don’t sing that song very often anymore. It’s kind of an older one. But, like, when we were first starting it was like, “Yeah, I want to say all this stuff! It’s fun to say it.” Just like saying pussy and, like … (Laughs).  It’s kind of like what Childbirth is turning out, because I guess Childbirth is a lot like early Chastity Belt, in the way that it’s thoroughly funny and a little bit shocking, but it is fun to say that stuff.

Time to Go Home sounds a bit more of a mature album than No Regrets but listening to it felt like out of this, like, really nostalgic about high school and those awkward early teenage years and freshman year of college. Do you actually feel that nostalgia while you’re writing?

I feel like the music kind of sounds nostalgic, not even the lyrics but the music. To me, when we play together, a show would become a sort of nostalgic sounding stuff. The lyrics are mostly just like where I’m at at the time, and maybe it (laughing) sounds like high school,  which is funny. But, um, but yeah. I don’t know. Like, on No Regrets that was the songs were written, in college. We actually like to have a very college-y life to them. But, I’ll tend to go home and think of, like, my experience coming out of college and, like, trying to not face the real world or whatever.

Are there any bands that particularly inspired you as you were growing up, that made you wish to start your own band?

Yeah, definitely. I’ve always been really into music. I was into a lot of Elliott Smith in high school. Fiona Apple, maybe one of the earlier female musicians that inspired me, because in the Fiona Apple mentioned high school, and she’s, like, a very strong empowered female.  I guess  I never really thought I would be in a band but I always thought it would be cool. In the back of my head, I was like, “that would be so cool” but it just seemed impossible. I only had one other friend who played guitar and I didn’t really know how to start something like that. Even in college, it was like, “I don’t really know anyone who plays the drums.” For Chastity Belt to start, it was kind of like we had started a joke and, like, it was supposed to be, like, my friends who didn’t even really play instruments or anything in my band. (Laughing).  But, yeah, I guess it was a bunch of bands that inspired me to want to be in a band.

Was that intimidating for you to start from scratch and not knowing how to do any of that as a band and figuring it out?

Yeah, it was a little hard, definitely.  I’m still learning, but I think just keeping it as fun and lighthearted at the beginning really helped because we didn’t take it seriously. It was like, “Oh, we can suck up and not know what we’re doing and it’s not, like, a big issue.”  But yeah, it is crazy how you’d actually just have to learn how to be in a band. There are a lot of things about [learning to be in a band] like setting up your gear and stuff that you have to figure out, and just how sound checks work. No one really teaches you that. We didn’t go to a rock camp or anything to learn that so, yeah. No. It’s kind of a big thing to take on. We are still learning. (Laughs).

I really like that in your music video, for “Time to Go Home”, you had a bunch of half-naked guys dancing around you, while you are all fully clothed.What was it like to film that video because it looks so much fun?

It was really fun, yeah. We actually filmed it in a day, and that part was actually during the day, so we filmed the part in that bar before it opened, in there with a bunch of my friends, and just kind of danced around and drank. Then later that night we were just walking around Capital Hill. I think it was a Saturday night. Just kind of like getting reaction from people walking around. We just kind of just hung out and did what we wanted to do. Maybe did a little bit of stuff for the camera but, but we just walked around and drank. So it was really fun shooting it. It was like the easiest video we put out this year.

So that would basically be the same as your typical night out?

Yeah, totally.

In your songs, you talk about being bored and being bummed about the party that is going on, and it’s not really that fun. Do you think that still happens to you a lot?

Yeah, a little bit, especially when I was writing those songs, maybe not as much anymore but, there is always this feeling, like, “Oh, I don’t … I guess I’ll go to this party” and then getting to your party and being like, “Wait, do I even like parties? I don’t know…I don’t know who to talk to. I guess I’ll just get drunk so I don’t have to, like, worry about feeling uncomfortable and bored, you know?” (Laughs).  I’ll drink out of boredom. And, I feel like I used to do that a lot. (Laughing). It’s just like, “Well, this party isn’t fun so I guess I’ll just get really drunk.”

So do you actually get to experience hanging out with like-minded bands like Tacocat, and so on? 

Yeah, definitely.Most of my friends are all in bands and I see them all the time.  I’m hanging out with Bree from Tacocat all the time and all of the other ladies in Tacocat, and then my other good friends have all been inside. Robin Edwards has a project called, Lisa Prank, which is pretty cool. But, yeah, I have met so many cool people here, it’s such a cool community to be a part of.

Sounds like you’re all very supportive of each other, which is great.

Yeah, there is no sense of competition here. I think that’s kind of a setting in New York and there may be some other cities, but here everyone is just really happy when the other bands succeed. Since we moved here we never had an issue [with other bands] or getting shows. We were always just being asked to play shows, which is really cool.

You’re going on a North American tour soon this month.  Do you think you would actually expand a tour and go to Europe and other places that you haven’t been to so far?

Yeah. We are planning on going to Europe and the UK in October, I think. We’re really excited. We definitely want to make it over there.

You’ve mentioned at previous interviews that there weren’t that many feminist female-fronted bands during your teen years that you could relate to. How does it feel to be able to perform with these people who you relate to in such a way?

I feel really cool. I mean, it’s really nice. I think part of, part of the reason, like, I didn’t know and didn’t have any female role models in bands is because I lived in Palo Alto and I just didn’t even see any live music. There wasn’t a place to go so I just felt like very unacceptable to me. Um. But yeah, now it’s so cool. It’s like, if someone plays, I would probably get a lot less time in Seattle. I just feel like I sound like my people here, which is really cool.

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