An active figure in the Seattle indie rock community, Julia Shapiro is known for her work in the bands Chastity Belt, Childbirth, and Who Is She?, as well as making music as a solo act. As a guitarist, Shapiro's music is wiry and purposefully rough around the edges, falling somewhere between indie rock and garage punk, though she brings an accessible if elemental melodic sense to her work. As a vocalist and lyricist, Shapiro can sound sincere or snarky depending on the material, with a sharp wit informing most of her bands' work (especially Chastity Belt's 2013 release No Regerts and Childbirth's 2015 LP Women's Rights), while her solo material (2019's Perfect Version) is more reserved, personal, and introspective. And in all contexts, Shapiro is a songwriter who has plenty to say about feminism and American life in the 21st century. A native of Seattle, Julia Shapiro learned to play the guitar when she was 12 years old, but throughout her teens she gave little thought to performing in public or making a career out of music. In 2010, the 19-year-old Shapiro was attending Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington when she formed a band with three fellow students; Shapiro played guitar and sang lead vocals, Lydia Lund played lead guitar, Annie Truscott was on bass, and Gretchen Grimm handled the drumming. They called their band Chastity Belt, and despite Shapiro's inexperience, they made a reputation for themselves with the keen wit of their lyrics and the rough but exciting indie punk of their music. In May 2012, Chastity Belt self-released a four-song digital EP titled Fuck Chastity Belt, and a three-song effort appeared the following October, Dude. They struck a deal with Help Yourself, which brought out their first full-length album, No Regerts (the misspelling a reference to the ultimate bad tattoo) in 2013. Meanwhile, Shapiro had also been working up songs with Bree McKenna of Tacocat and Stacy Peck of Pony Time, and they started playing out as Childbirth; performing in maternity clothes, they followed a similar musical template to Chastity Belt's, but with a broader sense of humor and a more garagey sound. Help Yourself brought out a ten-song cassette from Childbirth, It's a Girl!, in 2014, and the song "I Only Fucked You as a Joke" became a modest hit after it was praised in on-line publications such as Vice and Pitchfork. Childbirth signed with the indie punk label Suicide Squeeze, which issued their album Women's Rights in 2015. Meanwhile, Chastity Belt was picked up by the Sub Pop-distributed Hardly Art imprint, and Shapiro was competing with herself in the marketplace when the sophomore Chastity Belt LP, Time to Go Home, came out the same year as Women's Rights. In 2017, Shapiro and McKenna debuted yet another side project, Who Is She?, in 2017, which also included Robin Edwards of Lisa Prank; initially created as a vehicle for songs inspired by Missed Connections ads in the Seattle weekly paper The Stranger, they came out with an album, Seattle Gossip, via Father/Daughter Records in October 2017. By that time, Chastity Belt had already released album number three, I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone, which found the group smoothing out their approach just a bit and allowing Shapiro a more personal lyrical voice. Chastity Belt set out on tour in April 2018; it was a difficult time for Shapiro, as she had just left a romantic relationship and had gone through a health scare after being diagnosed with thyroid cancer (a diagnosis that later proved to be incorrect). After a show in Knoxville, Tennessee on April 19, Shapiro's physical and emotional maladies came to a head, and the group agreed to cancel the rest of the tour in the interest of her self-care. Depressed and unsure what to do with her future, Shapiro began writing introspective songs that focused on her internal thoughts and struggles, accompanied by languid and spacious guitar work. Learning to record and mix music at home, Shapiro recorded a series of demos that evolved into an album; she played all the instruments and sang all the vocals on Perfect Version, which was issued by Hardly Art in June 2019.
© Mark Deming /TiVo
© Mark Deming /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released June 14, 2019 | Hardly Art
Julia Shapiro has firmly established herself as Seattle's leading oracle of witty feminist snark through her work with Chastity Belt and Childbirth, two bands whose songs about women's lives in contemporary America are both perceptive and hilarious. But Shapiro suggested there were other sides to her musical personality on Chastity Belt's 2017 release I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone, where her songwriting became more personal and introspective, and she bravely wades deep into these waters on her first solo album, 2019's Perfect Version. The punky buzz of Shapiro's earlier work is pushed to the margins, and instead she summons clouds of languid guitar tones, suggesting a more intimate variation on shoegaze, alongside minimal bass and drum patterns, though she switches to a massive, roaring guitar tone for "Harder to Do." (Shapiro also handled all the instruments and vocals on Perfect Version, as well as recording and mixing it mostly by herself.) Perfect Version is Shapiro's most personal and revealing work to date; written and recorded after various events threw her physical and emotional health into a tailspin, this music is the sound of someone taking a long, deep look into themself, trying to identify their mistakes and puzzling over where and how to move forward. From wondering just how it is other people know how to be happy to stewing over how much she's revealing about herself on social media, Perfect Version is a set of songs about one woman at a crossroads in her life. It lacks much of Shapiro's trademark humor, yet the grounded intelligence and unflinching honesty of the songs and performances is consistently powerful and absolutely her own. Time will tell if Perfect Version is a fascinating anomaly in Julia Shapiro's catalog or a bold step into a new phase of her career, but either way it's brave, powerful music that speaks from the heart and the mind. Anyone who has liked her work with Chastity Belt or Childbirth should investigate this study of the emotional flip side of Shapiro's songs. © Mark Deming /TiVo