Among friends and exes of the band Childbirth, the hilariously funny, unbelievably mean 2014 single, “I Only Fucked You as a Joke,” was the source of a deep and sudden existential panic. “People took it really personally,” says singer Julia Shapiro. “They were like, ‘Wait, girls do that???’” But for far-away listeners—those not plausibly fucked by the Seattle band’s members as a literal joke—the song fell at the very top-tier of modern punk, and is still savage, disarming, and amusingly quotable over a year after its release. (It’s giddy non-apology, “I can’t make good decisions every day!” belongs in Bartlett’s Famous Quotations.) It was an instant calling-card classic, by a band way too smart to ever apologize for it. Says Shapiro, “I think that song’s so funny, it doesn’t matter how mean it is.”
The viral popularity that followed “I Only Fucked You as a Joke” transformed a silly side-project of Seattle DIY scene veterans, into a real, in-demand entity of its own. Allowing time to further build on Childbirth’s growing fan base, while also plugging away in three separate, locally popular and nationally touring bands, makes scheduling more than a little difficult. (Our conversation came via conference call, spread out over four distinct locations.) Guitarist Shapiro plays in Chastity Belt, bassist Bree McKenna in Tacocat, and drummer Stacy Peck is a member of Pony Time. Women’s Rights, released at the end of this week, is the second “full-length” Childbirth album they’ve recorded together. It clocks in at an extremely punk rock twenty-nine and a half minutes, and is a sharper, more consistently killer effort than the band’s even shorter debut, It’s a Girl! It’s the sort of minor masterpiece that’ll likely continue to cause the women even more hiccups going forward.
As with their first record, Women’s Rights proves them effortlessly, riotously funny. Topics tackled include the sudden ubiquitousness of tech bros in Seattle’s once hip hoods, the undateable Tinder hordes that have resulted, dumb questions regularly posed to gay women, cool moms who’ll buy you beer and condoms, and all sort of historically shamed forms of female transgression. Impoliteness is a prerequisite, and meanness remains on the table. (“Breast Coast (Hanging Out)” is a fairly unambiguous dig at the basic-ness of Best Coast singer Bethany Cosentino’s lyrics.) If an idea is funny to all three of them, it makes the cut. “I think that people take themselves really, really seriously,” says Shapiro. “Sometimes it’s harder to get any sort of point across, or for me to get into it because of that.”
A bit like zeitgeist-y comedies, Broad City and The Amy Schumer Show, Childbirth draws casual power from lightly exaggerating the ridiculousness of their everyday thoughts and experiences instead of pre-filtering themselves into an inoffensively neutral state. “We wrote ‘Baby Bump’ about doing coke at a baby shower,” says McKenna. “None of us have ever done that, but it’s kind of an exaggeration of feeling like a fuck-up. I go to baby showers and all my friends have it together, and I just get super drunk on mimosas and it’s like, ‘This is a party, right???’” Out-of-place, unsettled feelings permeate the record, and there’s just a relatable touch of sadness under the unhinged surface. “I’m a lot older than the other band members, but I’ve been having an identity crisis for like the last eight years,” says Peck. “I feel a lot of these songs pretty hard.”
That don’t-wanna-grow-up tension is accentuated by satirically immature songs like “Cool Mom,” “You’re Not My Real Dad,” and “@JuliaShapiro,” in which the titular singer has a blast hurling a torrent of middle-school rage right at herself, from the perspective some unseen hallway nemesis. Peck jokes that, for her, this pure, blinding teen rage is a sweet indulgence deferred. “I never did anything bad, ever, but I was constantly getting grounded,” she says. “Every time I’d leave the house, my stepdad would say ‘Are you high?’ I was always like, ‘No!,’ and he was like, ‘ohkaaaay.’ I never was, but every day it would happen! Now, looking back at it, I’m like God, I should have just gotten high!,” she says. “About five years ago, my Mom and my stepdad were both like, ‘Hey, we just want you to know you were a really good kid.’ I’m 32! Too little, too late.”
But it’s tough to feel grown-up playing basement rock shows and working crummy jobs in a city where better compensated professionals are constantly pushing into the spaces you call home, a tension young Brooklynites know a little too well. “I think a lot of people in Seattle have kind of a prolonged adolescence, there’s a lot of adult teenagers around. If you want to be in a band, it leads to you working in a bar, or a restaurant, or a coffee shop or something because you have flexible hours,” says Peck. “You have this weird in-between lifestyle where you can’t really be stable in any way, but you have to do it if you want to do your art stuff. You feel like a failure all the time, but maybe not because you’re [written about] in a magazine? You just don’t understand what your life is. It’s really hard to explain that to people who have babies and stuff.”
Childbirth’s collective humor is both the shield that keeps them from getting too down about it, and the key attribute letting them get away with murder. “We’ve all worked in the service industry and hear, ‘Let’s be bad and split a cheesecake.’ We just think it’s really funny, just that weird basic anxiety of women,” says Shapiro.
“Oh, is this bad that we’re doing this? Let’s just be bad!”