I’ve been a huge fan of local band Chastity Belt since I moved to Seattle in 2013 and fell in love with the song “Black Sail.” The music was unlike anything I’d heard before, due in large part to lead singer Julia Shapiro’s unique vocals. It should come as no surprise how excited I was about Shapiro’s debut solo album, Perfect Version, released last month on Seattle’s own indie record label, Hardly Art. Perfect Version’s 10 tracks feature melodies and lyrics that are raw, relatable and emotive. Listening to Shapiro perform live at Barboza during her album release show on June 27th was nothing short of captivating.
Opening with the song “Harder to Do”, we dive deeper into Perfect Version’s world: philosophical musings, self-doubt, dissatisfaction with the status quo. I’d wager that most of us in the audience had experienced these feelings—lost, unsure, in the doldrums. In her real life, Shapiro had gotten to a point where she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do. That, along with a cancer scare, thyroid surgery and the breakup of a serious relationship, Perfect Version emerged from that period in her life.
“I wrote and recorded these songs over the course of about a year, so I guess I experienced a wide variety of emotions during that time,” Shapiro says of her experience, “But a big one was feeling lost and unsure about what I was doing with my life. This is a running theme in my brain, so I think it comes out a lot in Chastity Belt songs as well, but that year was particularly hard for me… I just wasn’t that happy with the way things were going, and I felt like I was losing myself a bit in both my relationship and all the touring I was doing with my band. This record sort of captures a bit of my thought process as I was reevaluating things and trying to figure out how to be more proactive and address problems that needed to be addressed that I had been ignoring for a while.”
I felt a degree of kinship with her, having recently experienced a serious bout of depression and my own existential questioning. Even if you weren’t able to relate to the sentimentality, it wouldn’t matter: the music stands on its own. The production is commendable, and it reveals more of Shapiro’s depth and range as a vocalist than we’ve been privy to in the past. Listening to Perfect Version, one can hear her growth as an artist. It just so happens to offer a bonus of making fans feel seen.
It wasn’t just the album content itself that showed vulnerability, however. Shapiro’s presence onstage reflected an openness—an insecurity, even—that was endearing. She expressed to the crowd that she wished she could be more relaxed and later asked if we were bored. This came as a surprise to anyone who had seen her perform with one of her bands (Along with Chastity Belt, she’s also the lead singer of femme punk trio Childbirth), where she typically exudes laid back confidence throughout the whole set.
The name of the album, Perfect Version, comes with its own special meaning,
“It’s one of the song titles on the album, and I felt like it was a good representation of a common theme in a lot of the songs: feeling lost and unsatisfied, and striving to do better. Before writing the song I’d just seen the movie Lady Bird. There’s a scene in it where Lady Bird and her mom go dress shopping, and they end up getting in a fight and her mom says, “I just want you to be the best version of yourself,” and Lady Bird says something like, “What if this is the best version of me?”
“I related to that scene a lot because I feel like I’ve always had trouble being content with who I am and what I’ve accomplished.”
Authenticity has always been part of Shapiro’s m.o., but at the album release she seemed “more human” rather than larger-than-life. This softness was enhanced by the venue’s ambience; the lighting not too harsh, but bathing Shapiro in a smooth glow as she played.
Though she did encounter some challenges last year, Shapiro says that some reports of her life have been sensationalized:
“2018 wasn’t as dramatic for me as a lot of the press is making it seem. It was a hard year, and I was definitely going through some shit, but everyone has hard years, I just happen to have an album and a bunch of interviews to show for mine. I know it’s tempting for people to overdramatize musician’s experiences in order to make them fit into a more interesting and cohesive story, but in reality, life is messy, and writing an album is messy as well, and it doesn’t usually just fit into some sort of movie plot type timeline. I guess it’s been hard reading some of the press this album has gotten because reporters often get a lot of facts wrong, and I’m not always portrayed the way I want to be. I was so in control of every other aspect of this record that letting it out into the world and not being in control of how other people interpreted it has been sort of difficult.”
Having recently had surgery myself—another thing I had in common with Shapiro—not long before this show, I was grateful for Barboza’s leather booths so I could sit down and rest. But even physical discomfort couldn’t keep me seated the entire time; I stubbornly stood up a couple times to be closer to the music, drawn in by that signature voice. In addition to songs from her album, she also played a cover of the Lemonheads’ “My Drug Buddy.” She then performed a song she hasn’t recorded yet, whose message likewise haunted me (in a good way): Sometimes I feel so detached/I don’t know if I’ll ever come back…I think I’m cursed…If this is a test, I think I’m failing.”
Ever the gracious artist, the down-to-earth Shapiro kindly autographed vinyls and chatted with adoring fans after the show, a friendly smile under her trademark platinum mane.
Watch Julia Shapiro at Alma Mater in Tacoma on July 18th at 8 p.m. and September 3rd at Fremont Abbey Arts Center.
Danielle Hayden is a freelance writer and proofreader. When not surrounded by words, she enjoys watching films (note: the book is almost always better), learning new things, and attending cool events around the city.