Interview: Warpaint

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When The Fool, Warpaint’s debut album, first arrived the press was not primarily focused on their music. Instead, the spotlight was directed on the fact that they were an all-girl band, shrouding their musical identity in convoluted Californian comparisons and trivial stories about celebrity boyfriends. Their newly-released second album is self-titled, which suggests the band have a newfound certainty and self-confidence in their sound; something that will rightfully propel the stories to concentrate on the music. Certainly for drummer Stella Mozgawa, the final addition to the band’s line-up, this second album was the first chance to work on songs from the ground up, and the title accordingly implies a sense of finality in their identity. All swirling, low-key, woozy guitars and airy yet sultry beats, Warpaint’s sophomore LP is ultimately a more refined, grown-up affair than their slightly less ambient debut. In addition to Mozgawa’s more assertive presence on this album, the development in their sound more generally is perhaps unsurprising given that the band have existed for ten years, with their first album coming out all the way back in 2010.

Speaking via a somewhat shaky phone line from her hotel room in New York, during a week of press before the band’s lengthy world tour, Mozgawa contemplated the notion of living up to the hype of their first album. “I think that we were lucky,” she starts, before pausing to consider, “If we were The Strokes or something it would be different. I can imagine the amount of pressure that would be put on a band like that because they had a very particular style and it was released at a very particular moment. In a way they had a kind of contextual importance whereas we had more freedom and less expectation.” With that said, it was after the release of The Fool, and the critical plaudits that came with it, that Warpaint were selected as part of the BBC Sound of 2011 long list — the same year as nominees including the likes of James Blake and The Vaccines — which might suggest that the drummer’s response is more than a little modest.

As regards the writing process itself, it is implicit from Mozgawa’s influence on this album that the band write collaboratively. The song-writing process works in various ways, Mozgawa explains, “Every song is different — there’s no one formula. There’s basically two ways that songs tended to be written for this album.” While the first way was more traditional, with the band working on songs together, “the other way was that one person would write a song and then eventually bring it to the band and see how we like it. Then we’d obviously hone it.”  The drummer went on to say that writing songs was not, strictly speaking, something they keep entirely separate from touring. “We try and write while we jam and stuff like that. But generally it does seem to be something that we do separately from touring.”

Given the length of time between this and their last release, she noted how the past two years in particular had been spent working consistently on the new record, “This album has been a pretty all-encompassing experience. We always learn from our previous mistakes, so we look at things we feel that passed us by or things that we want to do differently the next time around — every time we write it’s a more refined experience.” With that in mind, Mozgawa describes what the band tried to do differently this time. “I think just…making space…having a focus. The first album had something kind of teenage about it, but this one just felt a little more mature.”

Discussing personal influences for her drumming on the new album, Mozgawa mentions a particular interest in hip-hop, “Like, J Dilla — his album Donuts was a really big influence on my sound for this.” It is an influence you can definitely hear when listening to the new tracks, with that light, fluid style of beat permeating nicely throughout the album — particularly on tracks like ‘Hi’, which has an undeniably hip-hop sound.

The album was produced by Flood, perhaps known best for his work with artists such as U2 and PJ Harvey. Bringing Flood in for the second album was an exciting opportunity which the band leapt at and Mozgawa describes working with the seminal producer, in a word: “Amazing”. She explains, “He approaches every single project in a different way — he doesn’t have a particular sound. We just liked where he was coming from.” Flood’s presence is certainly in evidence, with the sounds of studio effects being far more discernible on this album than their first, overall allowing for a greater sense of an experimental vibe. Even lead single, ‘Love is to Die’, which is by far the most obviously commercial track on the album, is rife with a  sleepy, spacey atmosphere which seems to go further than any of the vaguely shoegaze sounds on their first LP.  ‘Disco Very’ has an almost psychedelic sound with its drawn-out bass line and somewhat disorientingly strange tempo.

For many bands, the influence of their location is incredibly important, and from the amount of press labelling Warpaint as part of an LA or Californian music scene, it is surprising that the band do not feel a particular loyalty to Los Angeles.  “I wouldn’t say it’s had a particular effect on our sound,” Mozgawa says after some consideration. While it would be easy to pin this notion down to the fact that the drummer is in fact from Australia originally, that guitarists and vocalists Theresa Wayman and Emily Kokal both grew-up in Oregon might suggest that LA has never had quite the immersive effect on Warpaint’s music that is often assumed.

The band’s geographical location is not the only thing which the press seem determined to focus on, by virtue of the fact that Warpaint are an all-female band, there is, of course, a tendency to pigeon-hole them and concentrate more on their gender than their music. This is a sentiment that Mozgawa agrees with, as she notes, “I mean, some people just naturally, if they haven’t heard the music or if they haven’t come to see us play, they’ll just look at us on paper and say, ‘Oh, this is a band like Haim’, or someone like that — like, Sky Ferreira or whatever. I’ve seen so many different comparisons that are just not relevant, at all.” If there was a slight frustration to her tone when she described this, Mozgawa still seems fairly resigned to just accepting the situation, “It’s really just the way that other people react to your music, you can’t really control that.”

From talking to Mozgawa, the sentiment that Warpaint are assured as to their identity at album number two seems very much apparent. Whereas The Fool had the media murmuring irrelevantly about all-girl bands, boyfriends and California, their eponymous LP is a record that sets things straight and makes it clear as to why it is their music should be at the forefront of the discussion. With its airy beats, whimsical lyrics and beautiful, reverb-heavy melodies, the decision over the album name makes sense: album number two is definitively Warpaint.

Interview originally published in tn2 Magazine.

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