Spend half an hour with every member of Chastity Belt, the four-piece garage rock band from Seattle, and you just may walk away with a new appreciation for friendship—or at least theirs. It’s a bond that has fueled four albums across nine years. The Seattle squadron known for their dry humor and melodic punk, who retain a modest fanbase but have opened for huge indie acts like Kurt Vile and Death Cab For Cutie, know each other like family. Pay close enough attention to their rapport, and you may even glean some tips for being a better buddy yourself.
“You kind of have to pause your own emotions to listen, like truly listen, to other people’s emotions when they’re different than yours,” says drummer Gretchen Grimm.
Guitarist Lydia Lund chimes in, “You have to remember to be curious about each other,” citing Esther Perel’s marriage podcast as a guiding light.
Then, vocalist/guitarist Julia Shapiro discloses, “We don’t have any more secrets.”
Everyone laughs, a frequent occurrence throughout this interview.
“We always make new ones, though,” quips bassist Annie Truscott.
The secrets kept flowing, but last summer the band took a short hiatus to recharge, just over a year after the arrival of their 2017 LP I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone. Grimm and Truscott booked babysitting gigs and toured with other bands, Shapiro went on a silent meditation retreat and finished up her solo effort (Perfect Vision, out now on Hardly Art) and Lund relaxed with other friends and avoided emails.
“It was nice to not be like, ‘Oh, I have this interview that I have to do on Sunday,’” Lund says, drawing more uproarious laughter from the group, who are all gathered at Lund’s cabin (likely the same setting for this outrageous self-made video). “It was nice to just imagine that we were putting the band on the back burner.”
By fall 2018, they were all together again. They rendezvoused to record their fourth, self-titled album (out today, also on Hardly Art) at Way Out studios in Seattle, where friend Trevor Spencer produced and Jay Som’s Melina Duterte (who Grimm toured with) offered advice and support. It was the longest recording process of their career, stretched across several weeks, giving them lots of time to experiment and try on some new sonic hats. Chastity Belt is probably the softest music they’ve ever released. It doesn’t thrash and unleash feminist punchlines like their first three albums—it flickers and oozes with tenderness, the kind you start to feel when you get a little older and more sentimental. Yet it still feels right at home with the legacy of Pacific Northwest rock music.
“I tried new things, and I don’t always feel confident to do that, but I trusted myself a little bit more in this process, or felt more open to what everyone else had to say,” Truscott says. “And just took advice better.”
Not only did Truscott lean into her bandmates’ opinions, she also played violin on the record—a first for a Chastity Belt album. Songs they’d been sitting on for years got the strings treatment, both from Truscott’s violin and gorgeous cello by their friend Jessica.
“We’ve always kind of joked about having violin like, ‘Oh, let’s get the fiddle out,’” Truscott says. “It was like, ‘No guys, I’m going to actually bring it this time and see what happens.’”
There’s also the occasional trumpet, a bit more keyboard and even a slide guitar on the woozy “Half-Hearted.” As Shapiro puts it, “We just kept kind of adding more overdubs because we had more time.” But the result of all that action doesn’t feel burdensome. Chastity Belt is a laid-back contemplation.
“Maybe we were just putting too much pressure on ourselves before, or just got really heavy and unfun, and so over the break I think we just reset a little bit,” Shapiro adds.
But the best part of making another Chastity Belt album? Being together. Each member occasionally writes songs by herself (Shapiro recorded some of the vocals on this album at home alone, while Truscott fleshed out the beginnings of “Ann’s Jam” on her bass), but fellowship is at the core of the Chastity Belt process. And after nearly a decade of making music together, Truscott, Lund, Grimm and Shapiro are pros at relentless togetherness.
“I was so excited to play music again with everyone, and it was just so fun,” Lund says. “Annie lives in L.A. now, so we don’t get to hang out all the time. And so being present, it happens naturally because we’re so excited to be around each other and sit with each other and listen to each other. Also I’ve talked about this with my other friends who play music too, like how being in a band is actually like a really intense relationship, especially on the end of your album cycle when you spend so much time in the van next to each other. You learn how to operate together in a lot of unspoken ways, but sometimes those ways are actually frustrating. There’s a lot of undercurrent communication happening, and sometimes you forget to just directly say what you’re feeling. So I think taking a break is good to just reset all those weird habits when you’re spending every day with the same people.”
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, as they say, and in this case, these bandmates’ blood-pumping organs are practically bursting with love for one another. Halfway through the interview, they each take turns gushing about each other’s best qualities.
“I love how introspective Lydia is, and how she will take a thought and literally push it as far as it can go,” Truscott says. “I feel like I learn something new every time she does that. It stimulates me to think in a way that I maybe wouldn’t.”
Shapiro’s admiration for Grimm is one defined by humor: “I appreciate how Gretchen is willing to embarrass herself for a joke, and also let me embarrass her for a joke,” she says.
And, in turn, Grimm appreciates Truscott’s open-heartedness: “Annie is super open and not judgemental of other people and just super friendly and really welcoming.”
And lastly, Lund loves Shapiro’s daring energy: “I really love how Julia is so imaginative about coming up with things to do for fun and making things fun in a very interesting way. I think I have a tendency to sort of get trapped in these patterns of what I’m thinking about and what my interests are, and I really appreciate how Julia will make us do some stupid thing, just to bring something new into my brain.”
It’s safe to say these four women reveal the best in each other. On Chastity Belt in particular, they play up the four-part harmonies, which float above the buzzing amp feedback and slow-burning guitar patterns that so often drone throughout its 10 thoughtful songs.
“We each have our own interesting, complicated parts, but they don’t crowd each other,” Grimm says. “We make space for each other, and they all kind of work together in this way. But I think it’s pretty hard for a lot of bands to achieve that.”
And that achievement is an ongoing quest. They’ve already released two arguable masterworks, their 2013 debut No Regerts and 2015’s Time to Go Home, but it doesn’t seem like stopping the roll is in the cards. Lund says it best:
“Spending time playing music with other people really reminded me what an incredibly special thing we’ve got going on.”
Chastity Belt is out now. Buy the album on Hardly Art, and watch the premiere of the band’s hilarious new music video for “It Takes Time” below.