Formed in 2007, local trio Grass Widow quickly built a devout following for their unique songwriting and DIY ethos, a combination amplified by the simultaneity of their intense focus and pastoral, almost airy harmonies. After releasing a self-titled LP and additional EP in 2009 -- both to much acclaim -- the band's Past Time was released by prominent indie label Kill Rock Stars last year. Only ten months later, Grass Widow has created its own label, H-L-R, and is wrapping up a self-booked three-week-long tour of Europe with a party for their first self-release, the 7" Milo Minute, on Wednesday, June 22 at The Verdi Club.
Dubbed "phenoms" and hyped by The New Yorker on more than one occasion, the self-proclaimed "melodic, post-punk influenced" Grass Widow is attracting a lot of attention. Crawdaddy! Magazine's Howard Wyman points out that "Rarely does an evolving, still-coagulating talent emerge so suddenly and with such clear intent." This attention is somewhat unorthodox considering the band's internal focus.
All largely self-taught musicians, the trio focuses on their own personal needs for expression rather than the creation of a product or audience. "We don't give much weight to what people expect from us," says drummer Lillian Maring. "When we write songs, the subject matter is personal to each of us and we combine our ideas on a certain topic and flesh out a theme that we agree on... We write these songs for us, and then we share them."
With no one fronting the band and Maring, bassist Hannah Lew and guitarist Raven Mahon all contributing equally to the band's output, the result is a conversational unity, with interweaving vocals and instrumentation that is intricate and densely layered. Identities morph, dissipate, coagulate. There is something about this band that invites us to join them, reminds us that our opinions are products of conversation.
Milo Minute captures Grass Widow at a pivotal moment, as the first single in their Common Chord Series of collaborative pieces, which will eventually compile a full record. The decision to put out their own releases is a major step forward for the band and affirms their commitment to cultivating their own form of expression.
"We've had really amazing opportunities," says Mahon, "but are still putting a lot of energy into the band itself and working with each other and growing in an internal sense, rather than putting too much emphasis on what's happening in the music world around us, especially when it comes to hype."
In addition to the Kill Rock Stars release and subsequent increase in exposure, the band has toured China and Europe and opened for the likes of Sonic Youth. But they're not just impressing our species.
Recently, Grass Widow played a show for some gorillas in a Boston zoo. "We've played so many shows for humans," says Lew, "but seeing a positive response from the gorillas was a truly amazing experience. We played at 8:30am It was... surreal."
Grass Widow plays Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011, 8pm at The Verdi Club, 2424 Mariposa Street in San Francisco. For more information visit wizardmountain.org/grasswidow. The event is $6, with Firebrand (New Orleans), Vegetable (Phoenix), and DJs.