Warpaint interview: “We found ourselves.”

16.01.14

Mad as it might seem, it’s been nearly 10 years since Los Angeles rock quartet Warpaint first formed. At the time, the band’s lineup consisted of guitarists Theresa Wayman and Emily Kokal, bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg and drummer Shannyn Sossamon, but the intervening years saw a tide of different drummers come and go. A week before the band commenced recording of their debut album, 2010’s ‘The Fool’, they recruited new drummer Stella Mozgawa, who has since become a permanent fixture in the band.

With the revolving door of their lineup now closed, Warpaint are releasing their second, self-titled album, out next week on Rough Trade. Recorded in a house rented for a month-long period at Joshua Tree National Park and produced by Flood (best known for his work with New Order and PJ Harvey), ‘Warpaint’ is a tighter, more fluid, and more stripped back record than its predecessor, its self-title demonstrating a confidence of songwriting and studio experimentation that comes with their finally-established identity.

Warpaint are about to hit the road for a long, long tour, but we managed to sneak in a bit of phone time with the band's Theresa Wayman before they leave to talk life on the road, how the band found themselves, and l-o-v-e. 

Hello Theresa. How are you? Where are you? Can you set the scene?

Theresa Wayman: “You want me to set the scene? Okay. I’m sitting in my bedroom, and I was just eating some breakfast… [laughs] No, this is actually the first day we’ve had off in the last seven days. We’ve been rehearsing pretty heavily. We leave tomorrow for tour, and we’re gonna be gone for seven weeks.”

Sorry for interrupting your only day off with my inane questions then!

Theresa Wayman: “No, it’s okay! It’s really not awful to do an interview for 20 minutes. I can’t really complain about it. The only thing I can complain about with press is how interviews are interpreted once they’re written. That’s always a surprising drag.”

It’s just a straight Q&A for this, you don’t have to worry too much.

Theresa Wayman: “Well, sometimes that’s even worse! I speak in a very 'spoken' way, so when it’s written down, it just sounds like I’m an idiot. All the ‘ums’, and ‘ahs’, and ‘likes’…”

Where are you starting your tour tomorrow?

Theresa Wayman: “We’re actually starting a week of press in New York, and then we’re doing a secret show on Friday, which is exciting because we’ve been waiting and waiting to play these new songs for years. We toured the last album for so long, I can’t believe that the day has finally arrived that we get to change up our set.”

Yeah, because you were touring ‘The Fool’ for, what, 18 months, two years?

Theresa Wayman: “Two and a half, actually. We just ended up prolonging it. Offers would arrive, and the recording sessions with Flood kept getting pushed further back, so we kept adding dates because they were offered to us, and, well, because we needed to keep making money.”

With Stella [Mozgawa, drummer] joining so late in the day, did being locked into a solid band unit for two and a half years help you get back into the swing of things for recording this album?

Theresa Wayman: “Definitely. And not even back into the swing of things, it helped us get into the swing of things. Playing that many shows, and being together for that many days in a row, living together on the road and playing music nearly every day… you can imagine it brought up new depths in our band.

“That’s why we ended up calling this album ‘Warpaint’. I really feel that we found ourselves over the last few years. Stella is, for me, an integral part of Warpaint, even though it existed before she came on the scene. Calling this album ‘Warpaint’ is an offering to her, and a show of our gratitude, because we’ve found ourselves with her.”

"Stella is, for me, an integral part of Warpaint, even though it existed before she came on the scene. Calling this album ‘Warpaint’ is an offering to her, and a show of our gratitude, because we’ve found ourselves with her.” – Theresa Wayman, Warpaint

How long a break did you actually have before you started recording again then?

Theresa Wayman: “Like I said, we intended to start a lot earlier than we actually did, so we had a good year of writing and demoing. We’ve had time to work on this album.”

Was there anything you discovered during that time that really fed into what you were doing on the new album?

Theresa Wayman: “For me, it was just the touring that we did before we started writing. It was really eye opening and inspiring meeting other musicians and having our eyes and ears opened to what was going on in the world. 

“I was chomping at the bit to start writing new music though, because I felt that the last album was so old… because it was. A lot of those songs were written long before ‘The Fool’ was even recorded, and I mean years and years before. So there’s a lot of fuel and energy behind this album. Those months spent out in Joshua Tree, living out in the wilderness together, were also very inspiring.”

This album seems to use the studio as an instrument a lot more.

Theresa Wayman: “Yeah, at first I was really apprehensive about overdubbing anything, because it seems like you can lead yourself away from your initial idea if you get too crazy with effects in the studio. That being said, I also think that things come about when you’re overdubbing and writing after the fact that you wouldn’t be able to do live, and those things are very valuable. The combination of studio effects and live performance is the best way that any band can go, in my opinion – it’s always nice to have a live performance at the root of the song because it captures the emotion, the true emotion, of what the band is saying.”

It’s a lot more experimental that way. I love how Disco Very has a really deep, elongated bassline and a druggy tempo, and then the drum machine at the end…

Theresa Wayman: “A lot of the studio stuff was Flood. He just took initiative and would do things to enhance our tracks that we wouldn’t have thought of. Things that are maybe quite subtle, but at the same time making a huge difference.”

I watched an interview with Stella where she said that you found at the end that the theme of the album was love, in all its forms. As a band of four people writing together with no obvious leader, why do you think it collectively ended up with that theme?

Theresa Wayman: “I’d say that there are underlying themes to what we’re trying to say. They may not be stated to all of us, but they’re there and are very similar because we spend a lot of time together. That’s what links us – we’re often coming from the same place, whether we know it or not. The word ‘love’ is actually in a lot of the songs this time around, but I think we tend to write about self-discovery, and the nature of being human, and human interaction, which are all aspects of love. ‘Love’ is a really safe thing to say we’re writing about because it’s a really broad term.

“The act of being in a band takes a lot of love and patience. Every time I enter our rehearsal space, or have to go into a meeting about our band, I’m confronted by how to be the best friend to these people. And I think, in that way, we’re always conscious of what it means to be in a relationship. I know it’s obviously not a love interest relationship, like a sexual relationship, but it’s a relationship that we have with each other nonetheless, and it’s all the same things you have to worry about.”

"The act of being in a band takes a lot of love and patience." – Theresa Wayman, Warpaint

How is that relationship affected having spent so long on the road together before, and having to spend so much time on the road together again now?

Theresa Wayman: “It can be frustrating at times, but I just feel so lucky to have such good people in my life. Sometimes I just wanna run away and not have to have people see me so closely, or not have to see them so closely, but the more that a person can handle being in relationships, or relating to people, the happier they’re gonna be. You can’t avoid human interaction. It’s a test, but one I think we’re all up for. I can’t imagine being in a band and not being really close to the people I’m playing music with.”

Earlier you said that Warpaint have really discovered their identity with this album, but it’s been nearly a decade since you first formed.

Theresa Wayman: “I don’t really think about it that much. Sometimes I look at the years and wonder why it took so long, but we just take our time. I never remember feeling any rush, like, ‘We’ve gotta do this, and get it out, and see if we can get a record deal…’ We just did it in our own time. Now I do want to move a lot faster, and I’m ready for that. I’d like to go back into the studio and write soon.”

"We just have so much stuff under our belts that we haven’t put down, and that just needs to happen before we’re all 60 years old.” – Theresa Wayman, Warpaint

Do you think it’ll all be faster in the future?

Theresa Wayman: “I think it will, if I have anything to do with it… which I do. [laughs] Sometimes it’s hard to make things happen with all of us, but it should happen. I’d like to record some new stuff this year, and not fall into the trap of touring for another year. We just have so much stuff under our belts that we haven’t put down, and that just needs to happen before we’re all 60 years old.”

I know it’s poor form to talk about the future when you’re only just promoting a new album…

Theresa Wayman: “No, it’s fine. I like that question because it’s exciting.”

Rough Trade will release 'Warpaint' on January 20th 2014.