Grass Widow, the surf-punk trio from San Francisco, has rapidly been making their mark on the music scene with their distinctive sound that can be heard on their latest release, Past Time on Kill Rock Stars records. Made up of three talented women, Hannah Lew, Lillian Maring and Raven Mahon, the band shares the spotlight equally distributing lead vocals, harmonies, songwriting duties and even interview face time. The band is an amalgamation of garage, post-punk and upbeat surf rock complimented by flowing vocals and a positive, fun attitude.
Make a note to catch this up and coming band. Grass Widow will be playing two shows in Chicago on September 23rd at The University of Chicago (daytime show, 4:45pm) and at Crown Liquors at 9pm.
Buzz - How has the Past Time tour been going so far?
Raven - We're beginning the tour with a record release show in San Francisco, which we're really proud of. We took a lot of time designing an event that could incorporate music and film and include a lot of people in our community. We put together a choir of 30 ladies of all ages to sing on a few of the songs and have a string section that will play the parts recorded on the album. We’ve had the opportunity to make some music videos and employ the talents of our friends, so we'll be showing those at the beginning of the night. Oddball films, a 16mm film archive in SF is putting together some shorts to project between the sets.
Buzz - Being a three-piece all girl band, what is the band chemistry like on and off the stage?
Raven - Regardless of gender, bands contain special kinds of relationships; it's beyond just being friends or even a family. In this case, we have a very egalitarian philosophy of collaboration, especially in the process of songwriting, which includes a lot of time spent on discussing the content and subject matter of the lyrics. We've come to learn a lot about each other through this process. We also sort of feel like business-partners, which isn't exactly fun, but educating ourselves about the fine print of the music industry and doing as much as we can ourselves, is really important. It’s nice to work with people like the folks at Kill Rock Stars, who have politics we agree with and a work ethic we share. Aside from that, we're really good friends, we respect and trust each other.
Hannah - It can be challenging getting along with any three people when you are all together 24/7, but I think I have the best two people possible to share this experience with. Musically, we get the most out of each other and I feel like I express myself to the most of my ability without hesitation. Sometimes writing with complete equality can be difficult or take a long time because we are really taking all angles into account, but in the end we have songs that we all feel equally invested in and it is worth all the critical thinking.
Buzz - What is it that you like most about being on the road?
Hannah - We have a really great community here in SF and my family lives here too, so sometimes it feels silly to ever leave, but it's always good to challenge ourselves and interact with people in different places.
Lillian - It's exciting to share what we make with people outside of our local sphere of friends and musicians. Especially visiting places where it isn't the norm for bands to be socially or politically innovative, or to be women. It reconnects us to the intention of our project in a unique way.
Buzz - Is there anything you hate about touring?
Raven - It's hard to be away from family and friends. I really love my work, too, and I often wish I could clone myself.
Hannah - I don't like being away from San Francisco for more than a week, but I'm glad to have this project to keep me traveling out there in the world, or I might just stay in SF and be a homebody. I get a lot of care and support from my boyfriend, Andrew, and I miss him a lot when we're gone. Every time we get home from tour, I'm always glad to be coming home to San Francisco.
Buzz - Tell me about your new record, Past Time.
Hannah - This album is really a chronicle of a year that had many challenges for us. Each song is sort of another attempt at trying to formulate some kind of narration amidst the grief. In the end I feel like we were able to synthesize these difficult feelings and create something outside of our grief. In dealing with grief, you can never really land on anything and I think this album has that feeling. There is no easy pop song to rest on because we never got to rest that year.
Buzz - How did you enjoy the process of making the new record?
Raven - It was really fun to make the record. We recorded it in two sessions at our friend Alex Yusimov's studio in Portland, and both times were essentially holed up in a basement for 2 weeks straight, but we took long breaks to make food and mess around and see bad movies to wipe the slate clean before we'd head back down. Alex's studio, The Pool, it's called, is strictly analogue, so it was pretty involved. At times all 4 of us had our hands on the board, adjusting levels simultaneously.
Hannah - We love recording at The Pool. We basically just moved into Alex's house both times and just lost our minds working so hard. It's easy to get into the zone there. Alex knows everyone in Portland, so if we need a sitar guitar or a string trio or anything weird he can figure that stuff out.
Lillian - Like Hannah said before, it was an unrestful year when we were writing those songs, but when we went up to Portland to record them we'd have a little departure from the regular. It was a welcome break to be able to focus on the music without distraction of our personal lives.
Buzz - What is the main message Grass Widow would like to send to their fans?
Raven - That music can be cathartic and therapeutic if it's honest and can be invaluable, in that sense, for both the musicians and the listeners. Everyone who has the slightest inclination should start a band and support local music scenes (especially low-cost, all ages venues).
Hannah - Don't be afraid to do your own thing. Be yourself and play music with people you love. Recently we played a show in China and I thought a lot about how we have the luxury of being able to do things ourselves here in the states, which is very empowering. I would say- go past what you think is possible and make your own rules because you can!
Buzz - If you could choose, what other artist(s) would Grass Widow like to collaborate with, if ever?
Raven - It would be fun to do a film score.
Hannah - It's been really fun rehearsing with the choir and string trio for our record release show and I'd like to collaborate with them more.
Buzz - What was it like coming up in the San Francisco music scene?
Raven - I love San Francisco. I feel like it has influenced - in overt and more discreet ways - a lot of aspects of the music we make and the way we exist as a band. Although all-ages venues have had a tough time here, there has always been a supportive and active underground music scene that doesn't rely on myspace or the Internet to exist.
Hannah - Yeah, we are so lucky to live here. There's no formula or dominant style that any bands are trying to emulate here-just a lot of really good bands that support each other a lot. We have a pretty good thing going on right now. I grew up here and have watched the city go through many phases and have felt my place change a lot through all of those eras, but this one is the best. We have a lot of love here.
Lillian - I started playing music in Olympia, Washington and there's a homegrown vibe to the scene there. This may have changed in the last few years but the shows I went to then were always in houses, rarely a legit venue or bar. It was all very intimate. After moving to San Francisco I learned how that kind of community survives in a city. A sense of kinship is important to us; it makes every show worth playing. I feel fortunate to have found that here.
Buzz - What songs on your new release mean the most to you and what about them grab you?
Hannah - Each song on this album is important to us and was a product of a very strong feeling.
Lillian - The album defines a search for meaning in a seemingly endless tunnel of chaos. Each song is a step toward wholeness. 'Give Me Shapes' stands out to me because it describes a process of creating structure where none exists, and that was a prominent theme for us during that time.