Chastity Belt's Julia Shapiro on Reclaiming the Word "Slut"

Chastity Belt, set to perform this Friday, June 26, at Dryer Plug Studios, is now based in Seattle. But the band got started at Whitman College in Walla Walla. There, the fledgling group played impromptu street performances before going on to play house shows. Without a music scene that the band could plug into, Chastity Belt often found itself playing a place like the Condemned House.

“It was this really old house that has since fallen apart, and no one lives there anymore,” says vocalist Julia Shapiro. “We'd get a big crowd in there, and people would be jumping up and down, and the whole floor would be bouncing. I was nervous sometimes that the house was going to fall down. At one show, the P.A. fell down because people were dancing too hard — it got crazy. I think Gretchen's drum set also fell over.”

Chastity Belt's debut album, the amusingly titled No Regerts, reflected the band's earlier, punkier sound. But it also contained hints of the coming shift into the more nuanced rhythms and atmospheric melodies of its latest album, 2015's Time to Go Home.

“A lot of the songs on our first record were written when we were going to school in Walla Walla, and they were written for a different audience — college students,” says Shapiro. “I guess we are taking the band more seriously and the songs more seriously. I guess it took us a while to figure out what we wanted to do with our music. We grew into it together. We realized we could make great songs in a different way.”

Chastity Belt's earlier music didn't exactly suffer from a lack of development, and the poignancy and contemplative undertones of the music were always there. But with the new album, the songwriting has become more sophisticated.

Early on, after Chastity Belt relocated to Seattle, the group got a break when the tour support act for the legendary post-punk band Wire had to drop off the bill. KEXP, the well-respected, Seattle-based public radio station, suggested bands that Wire might be into — including Chastity Belt, which became the opening act for that leg of Wire's tour. One stop on the tour was the Crystal Ballroom in Portland. The large room inspired Wire guitarist Matthew Simms to suggest ideas for how Chastity Belt should be recorded and mixed, and the band later approached Simms to mix the album he put the finishing touches on Time to Go Home.

“He made it sound fuller and gave it a bigger sound and a bigger-room kind of vibe,” says Shapiro. “I think Wire see a lot of themselves in us, and the way we write songs is kind of similar.”

And like Wire, Chastity Belt is no stranger to a creative use of language and the use of humor to transform meaning through context. This is vividly the case on one of the best songs on the new record, “Cool Slut.” Originally, it was a tag that Shapiro used in college as a playful bit of subversion of a maligned word and concept.

“[We're] reclaiming the word, making it a cool thing. It started with that tag. I wanted to do a sex-positive tag, and it kind of fit that song. Men are always singing about fucking a lot of women, and they have been forever. So why can't women sing about that, too?”

If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.