Julia Shapiro has spent the better part of the last year figuring things out.
The Chastity Belt frontwoman already had four songs in the bag for what would become her debut solo album when the Seattle jangle-punk faves pulled the plug midway through a 2018 tour, citing health concerns. The rigors of the road, album cycle demands and performance aspects of being a working musician were wearing on Shapiro, a self-described introvert for whom being on stage hasn’t come naturally.
“We’re not like hamming it up for the audience,” Shapiro says of her band’s onstage demeanor. “It’s always been a struggle. Especially when I’m not in a good emotional state, it’s really hard for me to be vulnerable with the audience and actually give a good performance.”
Add a cancer scare that resulted in surgery to remove part of her thyroid and a fairly recent breakup, and Shapiro was bearing a lot of emotional weight. Always one to question whether her current path is the right one, the established songwriter wondered whether a future as a touring musician was for her. “My relationship with music was a little weird after that [tour],” she says. “I was like ‘Oh [expletive], I still have the rest of this record to finish.’ That was kinda scary, but also cathartic.”
The resulting “Perfect Version,” released this month through Hardly Art, is a stripped-down soul-searcher that found Shapiro writing some of her most vulnerable material to date. Shapiro celebrates with a June 27 release show at Barboza before hitting Tacoma’s Alma Mater on July 18.
After that abandoned 2018 tour, writing the rest of the album was a double-edged sword. While there were times Shapiro didn’t feel like playing, it was also the only way she knew how to cope with everything she was dealing with. Going solo was never on the agenda for Shapiro, who says that Chastity Belt started as a joke while they were attending Whitman College in Walla Walla before ascending Seattle’s rock scene. But after showing those first four songs — written and recorded during some downtime for the band — to Hardly Art’s Jason Baxter, he encouraged her to give it a shot.
“It was a little scary,” she says of stepping out on her own. “A lot of my life isn’t done with that much intention [laughs] — ‘I don’t know how I feel, I guess I’ll just try this.’ ”
Making a solo record may not have been on her bucket list, but learning how to record and mix an album on her own was. Six of the songs comprising her impressive solo debut were written and recorded in Shapiro’s apartment, giving added intimacy to an almost stream-of-consciousness lyricism that pulls listeners into her internal conversation while navigating a mid-20s identity crisis. On the glistening “Natural,” the 28-year-old daydreams about buying a house in the woods and living alone, later half-jokingly considering deleting her Instagram over the morose bop of “I Lied.”
Initially Shapiro planned to rerecord those homespun tracks in the studio, as she did with the first batch, but ultimately it didn’t feel right — a decision rooted in “both laziness and attachment to how vulnerable they sounded.”
“It made the record more personal,” Shapiro says, “and it definitely gave it a specific sound. It also allowed for me to experiment a little bit more on some songs.”
Though it’s not a wild departure from Chastity Belt’s more pensive “I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone” — which added some distance from the band’s pop-punk irreverence — “Perfect Version” feels like the turning of a new artistic leaf for Shapiro. It was also a confidence booster before hitting the studio with Chastity Belt this January armed with fresh ideas and the know-how to achieve desired sounds, having gone through the self-recording learning curve.
In some ways it was a difficult record for Shapiro to make, but not as difficult as reading some of the press since its release. While the reception has been positive, she says some of the reviews have overdramatized aspects of her life.
“I think people just get carried away and they want the record to be put in this box or fit this very straightforward story — ‘Oh, she canceled this Chastity Belt tour, she had a mental breakdown, she broke up with her boyfriend, then she started writing these songs and recording this album, and this is what she has to show for it,’ ” she says. “Yeah, life doesn’t really happen like that. That’s like a movie. … I mean, yeah, I was having a really hard time, but I guess it’s just weird to hear from someone else’s perspective what that was like.”
Regardless, Shapiro seems to be in a good place as she preps for upcoming solo dates and Chastity Belt ramps back up for a fall tour.
“It really has been nonstop since we moved to Seattle and our whole adult lives have pretty much been defined by this band,” she says. “So, it was nice to have even just a six-month window of being like, ‘Who am I outside of the band? What else can I offer?’ ”
Clearly quite a bit.
Julia Shapiro with John Atkins. 8 p.m. Thursday, June 27; Barboza, 925 E. Pike St., Seattle; $15, 21-plus; thebarboza.com
Julia Shapiro with Lisa Prank. 8 p.m. Thursday, July 18; Fawcett Hall at Alma Mater, 1322 S. Fawcett Ave., Tacoma; $10-$12, all ages; almamatertacoma.com
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