Although local post-punk trio Grass Widow is performing this Sunday, June 9, with Australian group Total Control in Oakland, core members Hannah Lew and Lillian Maring are focusing on other music. "We're not full steam ahead as per the last few years," Maring says. "We're spending time on individual projects."
Grass Widow was started by Lew, Maring, and Raven Mahon. Its eponymous debut full-length arrived in 2009 via local imprint Make-A-Mess Records, an Outer Sunset label helmed by Jess Scott of Brilliant Colors and Eric Butterworth. An early EP on New York City label Captured Tracks and a follow-up album on Kill Rock Stars in 2010 boosted the band's profile significantly. In a surprising decision to some observers but one in line with the band's rigid democratic principles frequently discussed in interviews the trio started its own label, HLR, and self-released Internal Logic last year. All Shook Down selected the album as one of the best local indie rock records of 2012.
In April, Maring premiered a music video for the leading single of her new band, Ruby Pins. The group's self-titled debut will be released in June on Portland's M'lady's Records. Maring explains that Grass Widow continues to inform her creative process, but says "I'm revisiting a form of songwriting that has always come naturally to me that doesn't involve collaboration." She wrote material for the album over three years and recorded it in Port Townsend, Washington. "Songwriting for me is instinctual and habitual," she says, "something I do to organize my mind when I'm alone."
Explaining why she returned to her native Northwest to record, Maring says, "This album includes the processing of a lot of unsavory feelings." Rejecting the busy hustle of her life in Oakland, Maring played nearly all of the instruments on Ruby Pins' debut, although Lew appears on the album as well. Retaining the introspection of Grass Widow, Ruby Pins leading single "Chameleon," is even more understated, as cyclical guitar leads and minimal percussion build to an otherworldly vocal harmony. Ruby Pins' current line-up consists of Brian Tester, Jen Weisberg, and Wendy Farina. Maring first played with Tester and Weisberg in a Brian Eno tribute band last year for Halloween.
Meanwhile, in between shooting music videos for artists like Tony Molina, Lew has formed Cold Beat, named for a song by English post-punk band The Sound. At its first performance last month, Cold Beat constructed pastoral atmospherics coupled with choppy guitar riffs and exalted climaxes. Explaining how her goals with Cold Beat differ from Grass Widow, Lew says, "In Grass Widow we synthesized things together, and in Cold Beat I am synthesizing things alone. So there is one less mediation and maybe more straight forwardness."
Lew says Cold Beat will feature a rotating cast of performers live, but there is an unreleased seven-song EP featuring performances by Maring, Shannon & The Clams' Cody Blanchard, and Neon Piss' Kyle King. Her Lew wrote Cold Beat's debut on her own over the last four years, and says plans for the recording are undetermined.
Both Maring and Lew emphasize their new groups' role as projects to realize ideas developed alone, rather than through Grass Widow's egalitarian process. What we've heard so far from each group is unsurprisingly rooted in Grass Widow's traits. But the unique voice and idiosyncrasies of each writer are indulged, revealing what aspects of Grass Widow belong most to which member an intriguing demonstration for long-time fans and new listeners alike.
Cold Beat performs Friday, June 7, with Terry Malts and #1 Smash Hits at Bottom of the Hill.
Grass Widow performs Sunday, June 9, at the Uptown (Oakland) with Total Control, Neon Piss, and Synthetic ID.
Ruby Pins' record release show is June 18 at the the Knockout with Generation Loss and Mane.