For Chastity Belt, it’s ‘Time to Go Home’

Sarah Cornett

“It was just an illusion,” sings Julie Shapiro on “Drone,” the opening track of Chastity Belt’s latest album Time to Go Home.

Some things may be an illusion for Seattle band Chastity Belt, but their success is not one. A group comprised of four Whitman ‘12 grads, they recently released their sophomore album, Time to Go Home, and have been featured in NPR, The New York Times, Rookie and Pitchfork

Comprised of singer Julie Shapiro, bassist Annie Truscott, guitarist Lydia Lund and drummer Gretchen Grimm, Chastity Belt will be making a return to play at Whitman on May 12. They’ve made quite an evolution since their 2010 inception on Whitman’s campus; since their graduation in 2012 and a move to Seattle, the band has released two full-length albums, played shows across the country and recently played at the Austin, Texas arts festival South by Southwest.

At its formation, Chastity Belt was a group of four friends, looking to escape from the monotony of life at Whitman. The band ultimately started out of “boredom,” according to Truscott.

“Walla Walla is small and as most of you reading know, you have to find ways to entertain yourself when you aren’t doing schoolwork. Chastity Belt was created from this angst,” she said in an email.

That angst led them to play their first show at Beta Fest, a battle-of-the-bands competition held at Beta Theta Pi, in 2010 as sophomores. They won and continued to play at Whitman house parties (most especially the now-defunct Condemned house) until they graduated in May of 2012. In a particularly memorable event, Chastity Belt played in the center of Ankeny field during the 2012 Beer Mile run.

“It was ridiculous and fun and terrible,” said Truscott. “After people were done running, they started a naked dance party around us. It was fun at first, but gross dudes kept wagging their dicks in our faces. That was the worst.”

While the band was busy playing at parties, making music post-Whitman wasn’t something they thought seriously about.

“It wasn’t until senior year that we took a couple of weekend trips to Seattle to play shows that we started toying with the idea [of continuing Chastity Belt],” said Truscott.

Reconvening in Seattle after graduation, Chastity Belt kept making music and came out with the album No Regerts (yes, that is how it’s spelled) in 2013. The album and the band received significant attention after a particularly memorable press photo, in which Shapiro held up her dress to reveal a large piece of meat connected to a real live chastity belt, made the rounds on the Internet.

According to Truscott, No Regerts was a nod to many of their experiences playing at Whitman.

“No Regerts is pretty evenly split between songs written during college and then after living in Seattle for a bit,” she said. “While some songs are serious, a lot of songs on that record were written to cater to drunk party-goers at Whitman.”

When listening to the tracks from No Regerts, it is clear why Chastity Belt’s sound was so successful at raucous college parties. Song names include “Giant Vagina,” “Pussy Weed Beer” and “Nip Slip.” While it all seems tongue-in-cheek, it still feels important, like Chastity Belt knows something we don’t.

For a band that formed as a joke, its songs touch on surprisingly serious themes, including slut-shaming, sex-positivity and what seems like fourth-wave feminism. In a mini-documentary on the band created by Advanced Filmmaking students in 2012 and cited in a Rookie interview with the band, their friend and fellow Whitman graduate Peter Richards (a member of the Seattle band Dude York) said this with a smile:

“At first [I] didn’t know if Chastity Belt was serious. Then [I] realized that Chastity Belt was both not serious and very serious.”

Time to Go Home, Truscott says, is similar in tone to No Regerts, but it shows how the band has developed in the two years between albums. In the end, it is the sophomore effort of a group on the rise, and one that is planning on making more music.

Time to go Home, while sarcastic throughout, takes on a more serious tone and is reflective of the musical direction we are naturally progressing toward,” said Truscott.

In a culture where irony reigns, Chastity Belt successfully dives right in, only to emerge with questions about what that means with tracks like “IDC”: “Is it cool not to care?” Shapiro sings, “I got drunk out of boredom.” On “Joke,” a slower, surfy-rock song with a pulsing guitar riff, she muses, “Nothing’s serious. Everything’s a joke.” But unlike No Regerts, it’s hard to imagine Whitman students drunkenly dancing to this track at Condemned.

Their success with Time to Go Home, released on the Sub Pop created label Hardly Art, has meant much more publicity for Chastity Belt. A few weeks ago, the band played at the famous South by Southwest festival (SXSW), which coincided with their album release.

“We played eight shows in three days, which made it feel a little bit like band boot camp … Overall we had an amazing time and are definitely already stoked to go back,” said Truscott.

With both No Regerts and Time to Go Home, critics have been quick to point out a connection between the punk-feminist themes of Chastity Belt and bands from the ‘90s riot grrrl tradition like Sleater-Kinney. Many of Chastity Belt’s songs feature sex-positive themes (think “Giant Vagina” and “Cool Slut”), and there’s a general “I-don’t-care-what-you-think” attitude throughout the tracks.

But while it’s easy to label Chastity Belt as a “girl band,” its members have a keen understanding of the undertones that can go along with assumptions like these.

“While I think it’s definitely complimentary to be compared to Sleater-Kinney and the riot grrl scene in general (I’m a fan of both), I also think it’s sort of a cop-out comparison,” said Truscott. “Yes, we are all feminists and some of our songs reflect this fact, but I find it frustrating that the main reason people make this comparison is because we are an all-female band.”

Comments like these that generalize female bands have accompanied many reviews and articles about Chastity Belt. The Pitchfork review of Time to Go Home cast the band in a similar vein with the “female fuck-up phenomenon” found in culture today with shows like “Girls” and “Broad City.” Though it’s done in praise, according to Truscott, it is ignoring other factors, like the band’s sound or musical style.

“People can easily point to our gender and make the comparison,” she said.

Generally, though, the band says that the press attention validates what Truscott says is, ultimately, “four best friends hanging out and playing music together.”

“Bottom line: Positive validation always feels good,” said Truscott. “Also, it’s cool that NPR likes us so much because I can always point to that when my parents are confused about what I’m doing with my life.”