It’s been nearly five years since the Seattle indie band Chastity Belt released a full album, and you can blame that on life circumstances, said drummer Gretchen Grimm on a recent Zoom call.

For example, school and work have scattered the bandmates across the world. Grimm was calling from Seattle, where she works full-time for a home care and hospice company, while bassist Annie Truscott was calling in from LA, where they’re currently studying Chinese medicine and acupuncture. Julia Shapiro, who lived briefly in LA but moved back to Seattle, works at two record labels. Guitarist Lydia Lund is furthest from home base—she currently lives in London and is studying for a master’s degree in plant and fungal taxonomy. She just started her thesis on a group of nettles native to Hawaii.

“I’m spending a lot of time in the herbarium with my little light-up magnifying glass looking at tiny flowers trying to distinguish, like, are there four sepals or five?” she said with a laugh. “It’s kind of ridiculous. I don’t know how to feel about it completely, but I’m on an adventure.”

It’s all very adult, and living far apart doesn’t leave much time for playing music together on a regular basis. As much as they would love to, “We also need to be able to do other things in life,” Shapiro said.

The band formed as a joke in 2010, when the four members entered a battle of the bands at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. From the start, they have been cool critical darlings who never took themselves too seriously, despite whatever praise Pitchfork (RIP), NPR, and even us at The Stranger threw their way. They remain as they always were, four friends who like making music together and do it well.

Their smart, funny punk songs that threw real gravity behind post-grad concerns—like the highs and lows of fucking and drugs, or zooming out on life at a dumb party—caught fire with 2013’s No Regerts

They were the antithesis of the conceited, self-consciousness-masking, indie rock glut of the early 2010s and thumped out a banger record every two years up to their self-titled in 2019. They retained a sense of humor while writing bigger, slower, more gorgeous songs. See any video—no, any image—they’ve ever created, from their (in-)famous steak-padlocked-to-the-crotch photoshoot to spoofing Temple of the Dog’s “Hunger Strike” in the video for “Different Now,” or trouncing around Seattle in clown makeup for their 2021 single “Fake.” 

Their new release, Live Laugh Love (due March 22 via Suicide Squeeze) is no exception. The songs are honest confessions about frustrated aimlessness, loneliness, and finding purpose and beauty with the people you love, but delivered with their trademark sense of humor.

Take the influencer-spoofing video for the first single and opening track, “Hollow.” It’s as funny as it is sad, a parody of our late-capitalist hellscape that features Shapiro stuffing a mustard-smeared raw chicken breast with baby spinach, like one of those rage-inducing-for-some, porn-for-others food videos all over social media (minus the obligatory meathead holding the camera and moaning about how good it looks). Truscott plays a fitness guru, Grimm a skincare girly grifter, and Lund a wellness vlogger with a bundle of sage and a singing bowl. In the end, they’re dancing in a room decorated in white millennial autumn-core and taking selfies on the couch with a glowing pseudo-neon sign behind them that reads “it’s a vibe.”

At the shoot, they were just taking turns trying to make one another laugh. They wanted to try out a bit as a mom influencer but, as it turns out, “It’s hard to find a baby.”

The Laugh title itself isn’t a complete joke. I asked if it was a comment on how people mask those three emotions.

“The title was funny, or tongue-in-cheek,” Shapiro said. “Then, earnestly, it’s like, well, yeah, the songs are about, you know, living, laughing, and loving. [Laughs.] So it’s layered.”

Laugh came together very intentionally during three once-a-year intensive recording sessions starting in January 2020. The band gathered in LA, rehearsed for one or two days, and then went to Seahorse Sound to record for four or five days with engineer Samur Khouja, who also recorded 2019’s Chastity Belt. Khouja, a collaborator of the electric Welsh singer-songwriter Cate Le Bon, performs as Conscious Summary and has worked with indie acts such as Devendra Banhart, Feist, the Garden, Deerhunter, and Regina Spektor. Recording their parts on the spot after almost no preparation left little room for overthinking, said Shapiro. The slow stylistic drift to songs with dreamier textures has been a natural progression.

“We’ve never been the sort of band that’s like ‘We’re gonna sound like this band,’ or whatever,” she said. “I think that part of the reason is because this is all our first band. We started playing music together, and our sound is just, like, what we sound like when we all play music together.”

For instance, “Tethered” began as a joke song with joke lyrics (they didn’t say what about) that existed as a voice memo for years before they decided to record it for real. After listening back to learn their parts, they still weren’t sure, because all they had was a nice vocal melody and no lyrics. One late night, Grimm started layering percussion. She pulled out a whip, snapping it to the beat, knocking things down all around the room. 

“It was incredible to witness,” Truscott said. “It was just like uncontrollable laughing moments of, like, ‘What the fuck?’”

“Gretchen is a genius,” Shapiro said.

“In my mind, I was like ‘That’s not gonna make it on there,’” said Truscott. “And then, hearing them mix it, I was like ‘There it is.’”

Last year, the band celebrated the 10-year anniversary of No Regerts with a party at Linda’s on Capitol Hill. They had no plans to record their breakout until their friend Matt Kolhede asked if they wanted to record something for their new tape label Help Yourself Records. Listening back now is a fun and sweet reminder of a different time, said Lund. Truscott said the songs carried over from their college days don’t fit with the others. Grimm said it’s almost hard to talk about what’s changed about the band in that time period, but what keeps bringing them back together is that they still have fun together. Shapiro said that, at the time, they didn’t have an audience and were writing the songs for themselves. They didn’t know what they were doing, and that’s why it sounds so pure, she said. The industry side of music can weigh on her.

“I’ve personally become way more jaded,” Shapiro said. “Doing the album cycle over and over again. It gets a little old, you know? … It’d be nice if it was all just like writing and playing songs, and that’s all we had to do. But I think that we’ve gotten a lot better at our instruments and playing together, just like how quickly we can write our parts to songs is pretty amazing. I think we’ve just like grown together in a nice way.”

Chastity Belt play Wonder Ballroom, 128 NE Russell, Tues April 16, 7 pm, $20, tickets here, 21+, w/Peel Dream Magazine