Chastity Belt’s first show was “a total joke” — at least that’s how Julia Shapiro, lead singer and guitarist for the Seattle four-piece, tells it. Now 25, Shapiro recalls how she and her friends (fellow guitarist Lydia Lund, bassist Annie Truscott, and drummer Gretchen Grimm) joined forces in their sophomore year at Whitman College in Washington state, entering a “Battle of the Bands” with just a single song to their collective name. “It wasn’t until junior year that we started playing shows in Seattle,” Shapiro says over the phone. “We were like, ‘Oh, we can keep doing this after we graduate.’”
In the few years since their 2012 cap-and-gown ceremony, Chastity Belt have gone from college-campus lark to a fully fledged band, signed to Sub Pop’s impeccably curated Hardly Art imprint and having opened on tour for breakout singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett and major-indie institution Death Cab for Cutie. They’re still in need of day jobs (Shapiro tends bar), but they’ve already released two albums rich with their particular strain of post-punk: dreary yet melodic songs that volley between taking the piss out of twentysomething concerns and staring them down. (Past song titles include “Nip Slip,” “Cool Slut,” and “Why Try.”) Currently, Chastity Belt are in the process of putting together their third full-length; when Shapiro and I talk in early August, it’s a few days after she and her bandmates have finished recording material for their next album, which is likely due out in early 2017.
Camping out in Portland’s Jackpot! Recording Studio, the band spent eight days recording 14 songs, from which they’ll likely choose between ten and 12 for inclusion on the upcoming LP. (One strong contender is “Dull,” a live rendition of which can be heard below.) Matthew Simms, guitarist for art-punk elders (and former Chastity Belt tourmates) Wire, is producing the new set, after mixing the quartet’s sophomore record, last year’s Time to Go Home. Fans of that effort know what to expect on its successor; Shapiro notes that while their playing has become tighter and more confident, and the songwriting is a bit more assured and collaborative this time around — Lund and Grimm penned a few of the fresh tracks — many of the sounds and themes from Home will carry over, albeit with clearer, fuller production and more guitar overdubs.
One shift, though, will be an extra dose of emotion. Asked which song she’s most excited for listeners to hear, Shapiro singles out one called “I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone,” which may or may not end up doubling as the record’s official title. “There are a few songs I’ve written where I’ve been like, ‘Oh, this is gonna be a hit,’ and I just felt that with this one,” she says. “I played it for my friend and she cried. I wrote it in a day — lyrics and everything — and it felt really good.”
But don’t expect the outfit who christened one of their earliest songs “Giant Vagina” to be completely drained of their sense of humor. They may be years removed from the college kids that signed up for that “Battle of the Bands,” but they’ve held onto their playfulness, even if they’re pivoting away from it a bit on their next album. “That’s something we realized,” Shapiro says. “That we don’t have to play joke songs in order to have fun. We can play serious songs and still have fun with it.”