On June 14, Julia Shapiro—the lead singer and guitarist of Chastity Belt—released her first solo album, Perfect Version. It feels like both a continuation and enunciation of her band's move from scrappy punk toward melancholy introspection, her voice cutting through an intricate guitar haze. Tonight, at Barboza, she holds the official album release show. I talked with her about what led her to a solo album, how strange it is to see your life reframed in the media, and how she played a Chastity Belt song—"Joke"—with Third Eye Blind last week during its WaMu Theater show.
I was thinking to start you could tell the story of the album.
I started recording a few songs. At the time, Chastity Belt wasn't doing as much because our bassist Annie moved to LA. So I was writing all these songs and felt like I didn't have as much of an outlet. But I ended up liking the demos. I sent a couple to Jason at Hardly Art. And he was like, “These are great. We would put out a solo album.”
So I went into the studio and re-recorded those four demos. After that, Chastity Belt went on tour. I was kind of having a rough time. So we cancelled the tour with a week and a half left of it, I think. Then I had the other half of the record to do still. It was a cathartic project. I was feeling a little disillusioned by music and touring. But I found that I still did really enjoy writing music and recording it. I got really attached to my demos, and out of both laziness and just feeling like the demos had a special quality to them, I decided to record the rest of the album myself and mix it myself.
Was there any conscious shift or influences on the album? Because "Parking Lot" especially sounds so much like Elliott Smith.
Thank you. Huge compliment. [But] not necessarily. I think a lot of these songs are quieter. So in that sense, maybe I was thinking a little bit more about Elliott Smith. But he's always influenced me, because I really liked his music and I have since I was like 12.
How has it been playing solo shows and releasing the album?
It was nice to take a break from playing shows and reevaluate things. It has been feeling a lot better lately. It's definitely the part of being in a band that's least exciting to me. I'm way more excited about songwriting.
In April, I went to Australia for a month, which was supposed to be a vacation, but it turned into a solo tour. I ended up playing like 10 or 11 shows. And most of those were in the Outback. So in a way, it was like a solo show boot camp. Some of those shows were really strange. Like, why am I in this desert town in the middle of nowhere? In a way it gave me a stronger sense of how the songs sounded. And who I was, because I felt so drastically different than the people I was playing my music for.
What’s it been like seeing the response?
I think people are really connecting to the album. It was a little scary, because it's pretty vulnerable. But I've done it before with Chastity Belt. I'm more concerned with how my friends feel about it. And I'd already played it for a lot of them and gotten good responses.
I would say the hardest thing for me is I was so in control of every aspect of this record. The thing that I'm not in control of is what press is saying about it. I feel like the story of the record has gotten a little bit dramatic in a way that I had no control over. I was going through a really rough time. But reading all the reviews—it gets picked up and then exaggerated and twisted. It can be weird to read about yourself and be like, I don't know if that's true.
You're talking about the cancer scare and that you'd gone through a breakup. And then that gets bounced off the album, and they amplify each other.
All that did happen. But I wouldn't say that my breakup had anything to do with this album. It did a little. I was living alone and was able to record. If anything, it had a positive effect on the whole thing. The main part of it wasn't the cancer scare or the breakup, it was just that I was feeling lost and questioning what I was doing with my life.
It didn't end up being cancer. But they didn't know that until they took out half of my thyroid. So I don't know, in a weird way it felt symbolic, feeling lost and then having to go through this physical change and recover. It gave me a physical reason to take a break and reevaluate things.
Then, we have to talk about Third Eye Blind. How did that come about?
We were in San Francisco last weekend, playing a festival down there. And after the festival, we're driving past whatever venue Third Eye Blind was playing, so we hit them up. And we brought our manager and her husband and a bunch of our friends. We were like, “We need 16 guest list spots.”
We went to that show, had a really good time. And then afterwards, we saw Stephan [Jenkins, the lead singer] really briefly. And he was like, "We're going to be in Seattle in a few days, let’s play ['Joke'] in Seattle." And I was like, Oh, yeah, sure, thinking he's not serious. Then on Wednesday, he texted me, "So are we going to play your jam tonight?" I was like, "Ah fuck forgot about that. I have to work." He [said], "Get here in 30 minutes, we're about to do soundcheck." So I rushed over there, did a soundcheck with them, which was really funny. It felt exactly like A Star Is Born. I'm Lady Gaga, obviously. He's the burnout rock star.
The weirdest part about it was that it wasn’t that weird. Oh yeah, I’m just playing that song with Third Eye Blind. What has my life become that that’s not that crazy?
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
June 27, Barboza, $15