Three Great Things: Chastity Belt

Julia Shapiro and Gretchen Grimm profess their love for Ren fairs and a pair of identical twin harpists.

Three Great Things is our series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. In this edition, Chastity Belt’s guitarist Julia Shapiro and drummer Gretchen Grimm celebrate their new self-titled album — out today via Hardly Art— by telling us what they love about Ren fairs and a pair of identical twin harpists. 
— Annie Fell, Talkhouse Associate Editor

1. Renaissance fairs

Julia Shapiro: I hadn’t really been to that many Ren fairs. I think I went to some when I was younger, but I had a birthday party two years ago that was Ren-themed.

Gretchen Grimm: I kept my outfit and so did she. I guess you would say it’s a wench outfit. That’s the best way to describe it. I made this hat out of a Trader Joe’s paper bag — I just rolled it into a hat. That’s probably the best part of outfit. It’s really stupid looking, but when we were at the Renaissance fair, so many people commented on it, like, “Wow, I love your hat!” The outfits that other people were in were pretty amazing.

The first thing that drew my eye was these huge wooden rocking horses that you could ride. I was just like, “I want to get on one of those! Let’s do it!” I was really stoked about it, but after a few hours it became clear that no one else wanted to do it, so I was like, “Fine, I’ll just get on there by myself.” I walked by it and I assumed they were mechanical, like a horse outside of a grocery store, but a huge one. So I paid and got on, and then as soon as I was sitting up there, I realized that it wasn’t mechanical. It was just this guy standing right underneath me pulling the mane that was made out of yarn or whatever so that it was rocking. So just imagine me in what felt like an intimate position, and the ride went on for a really long time. Then this Ren fair enthusiast guy was talking to me about his drone. He was like, “Yeah, I park it by these railroad tracks about half a mile from my house. I’ve seen some pretty crazy stuff.” I was like, “Oh, what have you seen it?” He’s like, “One time there was this ambulance and it came by and it drove away, and I saw a yellow body bag.” And he said he saw a train crash once, and I was like, “I just don’t know if I believe you.” 

People were very friendly and welcoming. There was a moment when we went to Target afterwards. We parked in the Target parking lot, and I was filling up my water bottle at the drinking fountain, and this little girl was in her mom’s arms, just staring at me like, “What the hell?” Then she looked at me and was like, “Why do you have a bag on your head?” That was the only flak I got for it.

2 & 3. The Harp Twins

Julia: Our friend showed them to me like six years ago, and since then, we’ve gotten really into them, and we’ve gotten our friends into them and watched a lot of their music videos. But then, like a year ago, we went to see them play in Seattle. It was the most incredible performance we’ve ever seen. It was crazy. We went into it being like, “OK, we’re mature adult women. We’re not going to laugh. We can handle this. We’ve seen their videos.” We smoked a little bit of weed before, and we were just really stoked. Then we sat down, and they started off the set with that song by the Proclaimers, “500 Miles,” on harp. And we just burst into laughter. It was so hard not to laugh. I didn’t want to be offensive because no one else there thought it was funny. And you know when you’re not supposed to laugh, when it’s inappropriate to laugh, it makes it harder not to. I feel like there was snot coming out of my nose because I was trying so hard not to laugh. But I mean, it was amazing. They’re really talented.

Gretchen: That’s what was funny for me. Throughout that song, each part was more beautiful than the next, and I was just like, “Oh, my god, this actually sounds so good and is amazing, and is so ridiculous at the same time.” I couldn’t handle how beautiful it was.

Gretchen: The other, kind of surreal part was: their banter between songs was rehearsed. It was like bad comedy and really robotically delivered. They had all these weird bits and back-and-forth banter that they were doing that just felt so surreal.

They started with their acoustic harps, and then they were like, “OK, we’re going to have our stage techs change out our acoustic harps for our electric harps.” Then they went backstage and came back out wearing Harp Twins hats and then were moving their harps but being really dumb about it. It was so weird!

Julia: They were moving kind of robotically, like, “We’re stage techs now!”

Gretchen: Yeah, but like “We don’t know what we’re doing, oops! Why am I over here?” It was so crazy. I highly recommend to go to their show if anyone has the chance. It’s so worth it.

Julia: Yeah, I want to see them again. We’re hardcore over here.

Gretchen: We tried to email them, inquiring because they play private events all the time, and we tried to ask them to play one, but they didn’t respond. 

As told to Kyle Ryan.

Chastity Belt’s energy is like a circuit, circling around the silly and the sincere. Tongue-in-cheek shit-shooting and existential rumination feed into each other infinitely.

Theirs is a long-term relationship, and that loop sustains them. That’s a creative thesis in and of itself, but isn’t that also just the mark of a true-blue friendship?

The band talks a lot about intention these days — how to be more present with each other. The four piece — Julia Shapiro (vocals, guitar, drums), Lydia Lund (vocals, guitar), Gretchen Grimm (drums, vocals, guitar) and Annie Truscott (bass) — is nine years deep in this, after all. It seems now, more than ever, that circuit is a movement of intentionality, one that creates a space inside which they can be themselves, among themselves. It’s a space where the euphoria of making music with your best friends is protected from the outside world’s churning expectations. It’s a kind of safe zone for the band to occupy as their best selves: a group of friends who love each other.

Their fourth record, Chastity Belt, comes out of that safe space. With the luxury of spending several weeks in the studio with Jay Som’s Melina Duterte, Chastity Belt was able to experiment. The result is their most sonically developed and nuanced record yet; one that’s not only a product of, but a series of reflections on what it means to take what you need and to understand yourself better.