Spending Summer in Seattle with Julia Shapiro

By Devon Chodzin

Photography courtesy of the aritst

In many ways, Julia Shapiro lives in an extremely different world than she did when she first ventured on her own to write and release Perfect Vision. When she moved to Los Angeles in March of 2020, the lively, sunshine-coated existence one would reasonably expect was suddenly rendered impossible as the rapidly-growing pandemic drew the States to a halt. Shapiro found herself in a unique predicament — she was totally new to an environment she did not know and that did not know her.

These moments of forced isolation bolstered Shapiro’s curiosity for sounds that overwhelm the senses with heft. On Zorked, she continues to draw from her own life experiences with the same sharp whimsy that has made her work with Chastity Belt, Childbirth, and Who Is She? so memorable, but bathing her perspective in droning shoegaze offers a kind of immersion best suited for the Now, as we threaten to emerge from a pandemic that deprived us of the common experiences that were once so simple.

We had the pleasure of Zooming with Julia from her Seattle home, just before she hit the beach for some late summer sun. As she confessed her new admiration for cycling and charted the genealogy of the word “zorked,” she shared photos of her Seattle summer, which you can find interspersed among our conversation below.

Slumber: If Zorked were a beverage, what would it be and why?

Julia Shapiro: The first thing that popped into my head was Diet Coke! That’s just because I’m weirdly addicted to Diet Coke right now. I’ll change that and go with something else caffeinated like black coffee. Just the kind that you get at a diner that’s never-ending. I feel like Zorked can mean really high/thunderbaked or caffeinated out of your mind.

Slumber: What struck me in reading about Zorked is how you found power in heavier sounds – it resonates with how I feel my taste has leaned over the past 18 months or so. How did you discover that power and unleash it?

Julia: I’ve been listening to a lot of heavy and slow music, like DIIV. I was listening to Deceiver a lot on the Chastity Belt Europe tour. That was the only type of music that I wanted to listen to deep in the pandemic. It was just fitting.

I feel like I tend to make music like what I’m listening to because it’s in there. I was also working with Melina Duterte and she was kinda pushing me to make this record sound less like Chastity Belt and more like its own thing. That was another thing that encouraged me to lean into this new sound.

Slumber: You mentioned that you lived within earshot of someone who sang karaoke for over 10 hours a day – what were some of your favorite (or least favorite) numbers he did?

Julia: I haven’t been living in LA this current summer. He’ll always end on “Goodbye Horses.” I love that song. He livestreams all of his karaoke and that’s the song that he gets naked to and does a little tuck-in. It’s both my favorite and least-favorite song. I like that song AND it means he’s about done. He lived in the back house on this property.

Slumber: What colors do you most closely associate with Zorked? What colors came to mind as you were writing or hearing these?

Julia: I think pastels! It’s that kind of shoegazey spectrum of colors. Everything’s a little faded.

Slumber: Sick! I see it. You mention sudden isolation being key to your experience as you wrote this record – in pandemic isolation, I had to force myself to get really into X or Y hobby to keep my brain moving. Did you develop any kind of hobbies, practices, or interests that you didn’t expect in isolation?

Julia: I did! I’m a cyclist now, like a full-on biker. That’s the only thing that kept me sane for a lot of those winter months there. I was biking almost every day of the week. My bandmate Annie Truscott and I would bike together when we were living together. She kind of got me into it, just like, thank god we have this. It was doing a lot for our mental health.

Slumber: That’s excellent! Getting out on your bike is so needed. If you could have the release show of your dreams for Zorked, who’s opening and where are you performing?

Julia: I just would want one of my friends to open, to be honest. Like, Lisa Prank. This is a show that has definitely happened. It would be somewhere in Seattle, like Chop Suey or Barboza. That’s where I feel comfortable. I’m not trying to play a solo show at, like, The Paramount or something, that sounds horrifying!

“I learned some of the pros and cons of doing a record yourself. The pros are that you can move at your own pace and you don’t have to wait on other people... a con is that you don’t have other people to bounce ideas off of or to get excited about the song. I’d have days where I hit a wall with a song and I would need to stop.”

Slumber: The essence of being Zorked seems to be about just being out of it – is zorked always the word you’ve used to describe that state? What’s the history of that word for you?

Julia: I was wondering when I started using that word the other day! So, I searched through old text messages. The first usage I have was in 2018, just me telling my friend that I was really high. I just started using it like it was a real word, almost gaslightling people into thinking that it was a real word. It caught on with some friends and I’m waiting for it to catch on more. I gave myself a Zorked tattoo. I went to a bar the other day and the bartender said “I like your Zorked tattoo!” That made me feel like it was catching on.

I made an UrbanDictionary entry for this. Zorked – high out of your made, thunderbaked. It’s got 9 thumbs up and 1 thumbs down. Whoever did the thumbs down, I’ll have to speak with them. I entered it on October 20th, 2018. Coming up on 3 years of Zorked. 

Slumber: What do you feel like you learned in yourself or your creative process as you made Zorked?

Constantly learning! I learned some of the pros and cons of doing a record yourself. The pros are that you can move at your own pace and you don’t have to wait on other people. If you need more time, you can have it, it’s all up to you. A con is that you don’t have other people to bounce ideas off of or to get excited about the song. I’d have days where I hit a wall with a song and I would need to stop. 

I was struggling with bass lines, actually! That’s the most foreign to me, weirdly. I do have fun with them and some bass lines do write themselves sometimes, but on a few songs I didn’t know what to do. Eventually it worked out. 

Slumber: Where did you bring your camera for this feature?

Julia: There’s going to be a lot of photos from the Ren Fair I went to in Washington. The rest are from, like, around my summer in Seattle. I had an elf party. There’s a LOTR party we had in the house where I’m staying. Chastity Belt found a Renaissance Fair music video, so I wore my elf costume three times this summer. I’m always looking for a reason to put that thing on.

Slumber: Do you have any advice for anyone else who’s trying to create while feeling isolated?

Julia: Don’t put too much pressure on it. Just like, mess around with stuff, and if you’re stuck, do something stupid as a joke and run with it. I’ll get more motivated for a joke song. It gets me out of what creative rut I’m in. That allows me to keep moving forward.

Slumber: Definitely, just do a bit for a little while.

Julia: Try singing in a weird old man’s voice!

Check out Julia Shapiro’s latest record Zorked below (it’s Urban Dictionary infamous, and out this Friday via Suicide Squeeze):