Grass Widow's Hannah Lew offers Cold Beat tales of 'death, paranoia, and science fiction'
TOFU AND WHISKEY That voice. Those eerie, singular vocals that are somehow both alien and intimately familiar. They sound like electric Tesla coils wrapped in whipped silk. San Francisco's Hannah Lew is most often heard harmonizing by three with her striking post-punk trio Grass Widow. With newer project Cold Beat, it's her vocals alone above the needling guitars and anxious synths of a different band.
Lew has been writing songs as Cold Beat for some time, in between Grass Widow releases and tours, but this week she releases her first EP under the moniker: Worms/Year 5772, with songs inspired by the trauma of Lew's father passing away a few years back. While Cold Beat is mainly a Lew production, she enlisted many local rock 'n' roll luminaries to both play on the album and back her up at shows.
The record's sound is rounded out by guitarist Kyle King, drummer Lillian Maring, and Shannon and the Clams' Cody Blanchard on guitar and synths. The live band features King, the Mallard's Greer Mcgettrick on guitar, and Erase Errata's Bianca Sparta on drums. That live version will celebrate the release of the EP with a show at the Night Light in Oakland Tue/5.(Cold Beat also plays Great American Music Hall on Nov. 14.) But before that, Lew spoke with the Bay Guardian about the origins of Worms/Year 5772, her DIY record label and music video projects, and the songs she played at her wedding last week:
SF Bay Guardian What inspired you to write new music as Cold Beat, outside of Grass Widow?
Hannah Lew I always write songs and sometimes they just didn't totally feel like Grass Widow songs. I just kept collecting them and not really knowing if I should release them. As the tunes started accumulating I decided I should get a band together and figure out a way to share the songs. When Kyle King and I started playing — his energy really enabled the songs to come to fruition.
SFBG Can you tell me a bit about the songwriting process with Worms/Year 5772 and how the themes of "death, Internet surveillance, paranoia and science fiction" translated into the music?
HL "Worms" was written as a response to my grief about my father's death in 2009. I couldn't help but imagine worms eating his corpse — which was a very visceral image I couldn't get out of my head...I think the horror of this was something I couldn't really share with anyone, and in taking time to write more songs on my own I started realizing that it was good for me to have an outlet for some other concepts that were a bit more personal.
I always turn to science fiction when I am trying to understand or relate my feelings. It gives me a change to explore depths of doom and hope that I can more easily imagine not on this earth. In writing all the lyrics alone for Cold Beat there is a little more of me just in my own head which can be great and sometimes paranoid or depressed. I get really bad insomnia and many Cold Beat songs were demoed at 5 or 6am.
Grass Widow lyrics are always more of a conversation where as Cold Beat lyrics are more like an interior dialogue. It's kind of like describing a dream to someone.
SFBG Does "Year 5772" refer to the Jewish calendar? Why did you make this connection?