Seattle’s Cool Sluts
Chastity Belt used to be a party band. They had songs called Giant Vagina and Pussy Weed Beer, as well as an album called No Regerts (typo intentional). Now it’s Time To Go Home – they’re older, spellcheck-ier, and less obviously concerned with making people move. But just because they’ve decided to have an early night, that doesn’t mean the fun is over.
Because Julia Shapiro, who we called to speak to at home in Seattle, is pretty much the concept of party in a person: she laughs incessantly, is completely hilarious herself, and has that laconic drawl that makes it sound like she’s an old person pretending to be ‘some high kid’. I basically want to be her best friend. .. which kind of sounds like the theme and title of a Chastity Belt song.
The video for the band’s recent single Cool Slut could be a 90s Disney Channel rundown of the band members and their only-slightly fictionalised hobbies. In the clip, guitarist Lydia earnestly observes some plants. “Lydia is really into gardening and stuff,” says Julia. “It’s one of her jobs here in Seattle. She works for the city, and was doing landscaping and working at the conservatory.” Do all the girls have day jobs? “Yeah, people should know that we can’t be fully supported by our music!”
Right now I’m a bartender on Capitol Hill, Gretchen nannies and tutors math, and Annie’s a barista and she also nannies.” But before they moved to Seattle and got jobs, Chastity Belt attended college together. The idea behind Cool Slut first took shape when Julia and drummer Gretchen used to walk around campus, shouting out sex-positive statements accompanied by a ukulele. “Yeah, it’s pretty embarrassing that I played a ukulele,” Julia admits with a laugh. Now she has adopted the song title as her ‘tag’ – the quotation marks are heavily implied. “I’m kind of a graffiti artist,” she smirks. “I started writing ‘cool slut’ on bathroom walls. Maybe some young girls see it and think, ‘Maybe it is cool to be slutty! Yeah! I’m a slut, and I’m cool!’ I also sometimes write little tag lines beneath it, like ‘super fucking wet tonight’, or ‘touch my clit’.
￼￼Like I said, Julia is funny. She has great taste in comedy, name-checking Abbi and Ilana from the Comedy Central show Broad City, and Californian stand-up and writer Chelsea Peretti during our chat. As for her own wit, it’s still present on Time To Go Home despite the fact that the band’s tone has become more downbeat, even poignant at times. “We kind of shifted into this more serious band when we moved to Seattle,” she explains. “Not that we’re all like, really serious people now, but we just started playing the kind of music that I listen to … I listen to slower, more contemplative music most of the time. So it was cool to finally be making the kind of music I’m interested in.”
Comparisons to Brighton’s Electrelane have been made since No Regerts, but this kinship is explored further on newer songs like Joke and Drone. Then there’s The Thing, inspired by John Carpenter’s 1962 film, which sounds like a grown-up Monster Mash or Giant Vagina, Part 2. “I normally save all my evil-sounding songs for my other band, Childbirth,” says Julia, “but The Thing works well with Chastity Belt. And Lydia came up with this really cool lead line on it, like ‘Dee dee deee dee dee dee deee deeee’, where she goes all the way down the scale. It’s really awesome.”
Julia’s affection for her bandmates is infectious – she giggles uncontrollably when telling of a recent occasion where they were driving together, feeling bored with nothing to talk about. “So somebody suggested, like, ‘Why don’t we just … like … complement each other?’ It was the cheesiest thing.
“So we did that, and everyone had picked out similar strengths for everybody. I thought about it afterwards and how our personalities totally match our parts in the band. One of Gretchen’s strengths is that she’s very calm, totally reasonable, but also down to do whatever … and I feel like she keeps the rhythm, you know?”
There’s a break for laughter. Julia resumes in her cheesy-but-genuine tone.
“Yeah, she’s drumming along, calmly. Then Annie is very loving, a really good listener. And her bass parts exude that kind of warmth, I feel…”
“It’s funny though! And then Lydia is very emotionally aware and very curious and I feel like her lead parts are like that. They’re very strange but manage to evoke some real emotions. And then mine was that I’m creative and witty, and that makes sense because I write the lyrics.
“And then I put all that together and I thought … ‘Woah, we’re the perfect band!’”
Time To Go Home is released 11 May via Hardly Art.