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Chastity Belt – Julia Shapiro on “Live Laugh Love”

staticwire | March 29, 2024
Chastity Belt Live Laugh Love interview Main

Chastity Belt – Julia Shapiro on “Live Laugh Love”

Spontaneity and Balance

By Michelle Dalarossa

Photography by Jena Feldman

It’s a tale as old as time: four friends in college decide to pick up some instruments and start a band together. With no experience and no plan other than to hang out and make music, indie rock band Chastity Belt could’ve easily seen its career start and end before graduation came around. Thirteen years later, though, the group and its four members—Julia Shapiro, Lydia Lund, Gretchen Grimm, and Annie Truscott—are as strong as ever as they release their fifth studio album, Live Laugh Love (out today via Hardly Art).

Like any band that’s been together for over a decade, Chastity Belt has seen its music evolve over the years, shifting from rowdy, scrappy slacker rock to more introspective expressions of modern malaise. According to Shapiro, one of the group’s vocalists and guitarists, their music-making practices have seen just as much change. “The way that we write and record music has changed over the years since we don’t all live in the same city anymore and Annie’s in school. Our last two recording sessions were over Annie’s Thanksgiving break. So we had Thanksgiving together in the studio, which was nice.”

As we chat over the phone on a chilly Friday evening, it becomes clear that the creative and songwriting processes of post-pandemic Chastity Belt are now characterized by the physical distance between them, making the rare times they’re able to meet all together moments of condensed, prolific musical output. It’s the reason why Live Laugh Love was recorded in just three sessions (albeit over the course of three years), all three with engineer Samur Khouja at Seahorse Sound Studios in Los Angeles. “We used to tour a lot and that would get really tiring. And ever since COVID, that slowed down, and it’s been nice for everyone to have different things to focus on because doing that for 10 years is a long time. Just realizing that there’s other things I wanna do also. But doing it the way that we have allows us to not feel that fatigue as much.”

You might think that this irregularity would amp up the pressure, but quite the opposite: with so much history playing together and a “friends first, band mates second” mindset, studio time became a space for collaborative spontaneity and the type of laidback brainstorming that emerges after years of shared experiences. “We went into recording Live Laugh Love like, ‘Let’s just use this time that we all have free,’ and we started practicing maybe one or two days before recording, and a lot of that is just everyone learning the songs for the first time…. We’ll each bring some songs to the band and then everyone else writes their part on the spot. Sometimes people don’t even figure out their parts until we record.”

This casual, offhand approach to songwriting means that, for the most part, the development of the album as a whole was led by intuition more than intention. “I feel like we’re all kind of unintentional about that stuff in, like, a cool way? We’ll have ideas depending on the song, but [not] as an album as a whole, cohesive unit…. We recorded a bunch of songs and some of them didn’t make the album because they didn’t fit nicely in this group of songs, so there’s gotta be something that connects them but I’m not sure what it is. To me it just sounds like Chastity Belt.” Unconfined by any conceptual or thematic objective, the process of bringing Live Laugh Love to life could instead flow freely, emerging naturally from the dynamic and history between the members. “It kind of forces us to make a decision and oftentimes your first idea is the best one. It’s just the one that comes most naturally. We had so much experience playing together at this point that it does really come pretty naturally. Things can happen really quickly, which is crazy.”

In a way, Shapiro concedes, the band has become a source of comfort, without the pressure to achieve anything specific besides playing music together. “We’ve always approached music in that way, and I think some people would be like, ‘Hey, I’m starting this band, it’s gonna sound like this and this and this, these are the influences,’ but when we started this band we never talked about that. It was our first band with other people and we were just like, ‘We’re just gonna play music and see what happens. So it is very casual in that way. It’s kind of unconscious, which is healing in a way.”

Despite the slapdash speed of their recording sessions and their on-the-spot decision-making, and even with songs individually conceived and contributed by all four members of the band, Live Laugh Love is cohesive and very much a Chastity Belt record: inky, rippling guitars and layers of muted vocals, fuzzed-out textures and dusky outros. But while their characteristically brooding, moody undercurrent snakes through the whole album, it’s balanced by moments of languid sunniness that sound more relaxed than ever before. Tracks such as “It’s Cool,” “Laugh,” and album opener “Hollow” feel loose and self-assured, cut from the same contemplative cloth as the rest of the album without as much shoegazey drone.

And while much of their lyrics are as bleak and blasé as ever (“Nothing that I do or say today / Will mean a thing / But I’m not that devastated”; “Why does everything normal feel so bad”), there’s a subtle sense of self-acceptance and optimism that’s stronger here than on earlier works, one that coincides with the album’s sonic forays into breezier terrain (“Don’t get upset about it, it’s gonna pass / Tell all your friends about it, they’re gonna laugh; “The warmth of everything / I waited, and it came”).

The raucous, free-wheeling, shit-shooting days of songs like “Pussy Weed Beer” and “Cool Slut” have been replaced with more grounded material, but instances of unbothered irony and deadpan sarcasm still litter the album, bringing a sense of wry humor and levity to the band’s existential musings. This tongue-in-cheek attitude is at the root of Live Laugh Love’s name and promotional material—poking fun at a certain type of aesthetic and ethos—and it’s this equilibrium between silly and serious that’s been a core part of the band itself since its inception.

“A lot of our songs are pretty emotional so we try to balance that with stupid press photos or silly music videos…. All of us use humor to process stuff and that comes out in our lyrics for sure. We can’t take being in a band too seriously. When I start doing that I have to check myself because it’s just not that serious,” Shapiro laughs. “We’re friends playing music together.”

Ultimately, Live Laugh Love is an embodiment of that attitude, a scrapbook of musings and memories shared between friends that swirls freely around similar themes, untethered by any premeditated concept or overarching goal other than to hang out and make music. It’s the same approach the band started with and one that continues to guide them today, proving that, even after five albums and 13 years, reinvention is overrated.

“It’s pretty nuts,” Shapiro laughs. “I’m like, ‘How long are we gonna keep doing this?’ But it does really feel like such a big part of me. At this point, I can’t really see us stopping.”

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Written by staticwire

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