Grass Widow

It’s beginning to feel as if San Francisco is abandoning its post as the weird little brother to Los Angeles or New York City, and recreating a name for itself as one of the most musically prolific places in the country. Perhaps it’s because the city is lacking a major media presence or a music industry, and therefore lacking a hype machine to filter out the independent artists. But whatever the case may be, it seems that the City by the Bay is proving that relying on talent rather than publicity doesn’t need to be a novel concept. This summer’s garage rock explosion was impossible to miss, and continues to be impossible to ignore. And sitting square in the middle is one of the best things to hit eardrums in ages—Grass Widow.

Sure, the all-female rock outfit seems like it could easily fall into San Francisco’s surf-rock tendencies, yet they are still able to do so in a way that extricates themselves from any label or genre. Preferring email interviews, the ladies of Grass Widow who happen to all sing vocals [Lillian Maring (drums), Hannah Lew (bass) and Raven Mahon (guitar)] wrote to SOMA with some calculated insight to match their calculated sound.

Grass Widow formed back in 2007, although over the past year they were apart for long periods (Maring lived in Maine, Mahon spent the spring in China and Lew was busy with grad school). This did not seem to hold them back though. “I feel like we’ve been tested, being so far apart and surviving as a band. We definitely haven’t had a whole lot of stability, but our commitment has been a constant,” says Lew of their recent residential reunion. The Widows have since released a cassette tape split on Wizard Mountain, a Captured Tracks/Cape Shok EP, and a full length, self-titled LP out on Make a Mess Records. The album, which was forced into repress within two months, is unbruised and seamless, delivering song after song of solid and beautiful material. According to both local and national reviewers, it marked one of the most successful first full-lengths of the year, and the girls are planning for a third repress at the moment. Suffice it to say, that doesn’t happen often. Regarding the sudden acclaim, Lew says, “It’s still us. I think we’re getting better at writing songs together and finding our strengths, and I think these new songs reflect that.”

While half the fun of discovering a new band is often a live performance, the girls leave nothing to be desired from their debut and it’s evident in their live performances. It’s not only clear that they are communicating, but that they actually really like playing music together. Their standout harmonies give the sound a united and genuinely joyful feeling, especially paired over upbeat surf guitar riffs and buoyant drumming, which is ironic considering the oftentimes dark subject matter.
Although a strong and dynamic all-female rock band does not materialize as often as it should, Grass Widow aims to change that. “I think in a lot of places female musicians are still a novelty, but the transition from a focus on gender to a focus on ability or heart, or whatever other element you want to highlight, is starting to happen.” Mahon says. “It’s really important to us to tour in those towns that lack female representation in the music scene, especially because it’s so easy to find it here in the Bay Area.”

It does not hurt that the band has a level-headed attitude about spectacle and fame. Mahon adds, “It seems like people assume that a group will have the goals of transcending from their community and creating a divide through their success; but we are very conscious of our role in our community. We want people to have access to our music, but we don’t want to ever create a situation where we are compromising our ideals. There is definitely an element of spectacle that is associated with watching someone play, but, as women, we are aware of our role in a spectacle/spectator dynamic and we try to play shows where that line doesn’t exist.” Here’s hoping they spread the gospel as they continue to spin their wicked web.

Grass Widow’s Self-titled innovative and inspired  12 inch LP is out on Make  a Mess records.

– Jen Snyder