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GEN F: Grass Widow

Photographer Ariel Zambelich
October 29, 2010

Grass Widow won’t admit to having predecessors. The San Francisco trio is newly signed to legendary label Kill Rock Stars, an originator and subsequent hotbed of riot grrrl and all of its subsets of dewy, Pacific Northwest punk. Grass Widow is a logical continuation of KRS’ legacy, though saying that to them feels like a threat to their individuality. “I think it’s hard for people to imagine that we could write songs from a genuine place within ourselves without direct referencing,” says drummer Lillian Maring. While this seems a bit naïve, it’s mostly sweet, representative of how innate an influence KRS has had on them that they can sprout from its soil and feel so good swaying in the fresh air that they don’t even notice the dirt.

The three of them—including bassist Hannah Lew and guitarist Raven Mahon—met in San Francisco after years of playing in and seeing bands in the small scene that’s descended from KRS’ prime, all living under the same shared, D.I.Y. politics of their precursors, and making sounds similarly intuitive and spontaneous. “The music comes straight from the gut,” says Lew. “It’s all impulsive. It’s actually kind of hack.” To them, every note feels brand new. Intertwined with that jangle has been a stricter ethos that’s fallen to the wayside as many punks have grown up. But Grass Widow still adheres. “There’s a lot of bands that sound like punk bands that have no politics,” says Lew, “but we do.” They refuse to elect a lead singer as a spokeswoman, insist on playing inexpensive shows and are sensitive to how they are portrayed as women in the media. These principles are as important to Grass Widow as how their guitar sounds, and Kill Rock Stars has welcomed that expansive definition of a band. “They allow us to do things the way that we want so there’s no divide be-tween us and our community,” Lew says.

There are sweet ghosts in their debut album’s attic, an antique familiarity noticeable to any kid raised on a heritage of personable, empowered punk. “Shadow,” the first single from Past Time, progresses with cordial guitars and pastoral harmonies, welcoming echoes from the prairie fields of a Willa Cather novel. The connection’s less about sonic referencing and more about spirit, the friendly, happy-to-be-here chug of each song that’s become KRS’ ultimate legacy. The tenderness of the album is not incidental nor merely aesthetic, either, it’s necessary. Grass Widow wrote and recorded the album after a few personal traumas separated the band across the country for six months. “We came back together and used our time together to deal with sadness,” says Maring. “But it’s not miserable. We came away hopeful,” adds Mahon, “because being in this band with each other makes us feel good.”

Stream: Grass Widow, Past Time

GEN F: Grass Widow