Hanna Lew, bassisit and vocalist for post-punk trio, Grass Widow, is at the San Francisco offices of music distribution company Revolver, and might as well be singing “Whistle While You Work” as she sticks bar codes on 2,100 copies of the group’s new album, Internal Logic, released on May 29. Grass Widow consists of Lew and guitarist Raven Mahon and drummer Lillian Maring, both of whom also share vocal duties with Lew. “I’m just seeing the record for the first time and I’m totally high off that,” she tells me over the phone. “It feels so good and I feel so excited. It is exactly our vision of what we wanted it to be.”
Internal Logic is far from a repeat of Grass Widow’s self-titled debut and also it’s sophomore record, Past Time “This is our most hopeful, self-realized album,” says Lew. Internal Logic is also the first output on Grass Widow’s newly created label, HLR Records, but like their past records, is produced solely by the group. “We would never hire a producer. We’re just not that kind of band.” The standoffish philosophy to outsiders stems from more than the mere desire to keep the musical integrity of each song intact. “We are lucky to take on the responsibility of doing everything,” says Lew. “We felt so strongly about it, we wanted full control and not share royalties. Every band has a choice who they work with and a lot of bands skirt responsibilities.”
For Grass Widow, the sacrifice the members endured for the new album is what makes it so special. Scattered across California, holding down part-time jobs at a café in Oakland, a video store in San Francisco, and a wood shop in Mendocino, only practicing together once a month, one would expect a volatile album comprised of angst-ridden, abrasive melodies. However, that’s not the case with Internal Logic.
“Each record encapsulates an era for the band,” says Lew. “When we were writing our last album, we were dealing with so much grief, it was hard to write about anything other than that. For this record, we just wanted to write something hopeful and positive. Every song has an affirmation for us and those mantras are embedded in the lyrics and melodies.”
The optimism of the new album is palpable. Nine of the eleven songs comprising Internal Logic are filled with lush harmonies, thumping bass lines, hallucinogenic, Cali surfer guitar riffs, and playful lyrical explorations. However, the distinct upbeat nature of the album—notably on tracks “Spock on Muri” and “Cover You’”—still accomodates for songs with a frantic sense of urgency like “Milo Minute” and “Disappearing Industries.” The trio even commits a bit of punk sacrilege with the inclusion of love song, “Under the Atmosphere,” a song “about being in love with someone and seeing them for who they are and not deifying them,” according to Lew.
Grass Widow does not care about preconceived notions of what their album is supposed to sound like, and the proof can be found in “A Light in the Static” and “Response to Photographs,” two gently composed instrumentals which typically have no place in the vocally manic, guitar splashing punk scene. “We kinda just wanted to record whatever we felt like,” says Lew. And they did. Lew plays piano on “Response to Photographs,” a melancholy track representing her coming to terms with the loss of her father. “I had this day when I was looking for photos and saw a picture of myself with my dad and ran to the piano…I really wanted to do justice about how much I missed him.” Mahon takes her turn as well with “A Light in the Static,” an acoustic Spanish guitar melody conspicuous for a group better known for spacey, chord-bending songs.
When asked if it was the band’s intention to have Internal Logic be a representation of their musical flexibility, Lew responds quickly: “There is no intention. It’s just a reflection of our fractured individuality.” That individuality is also the backbone of a band frustrated with an industry obsessed with comparisons to other female-dominated punk groups and the terminology that journalists use to refer to them. “It’s not like your genitalia has anything to do with your sound. It’s as if we are all worshipping this one ideal of femininity. It’s annoying. We are musicians.”
If you think that there is no rhyme or reason to the album, then Grass Widow has achieved what they set out to do. “Each song is different and comes from a different place. We just make music we like and that works for us. We’re not trying to make something in a certain style,” says Lew. Most of all, they just wanted to make an album that was fun to play.
“There was no real intentional idea about what the songs would be other than they would be fun to perform live.” And with Internal Logic, they have done just that.