/ Music

Text by MOLLY SIMMS . Photography by RAFAEL PULIDO. Styling by SEAN KNIGHT. Hair by TERRI WALKER. Makeup by SANDY GANZER . 10/16/2017


When we catch up with Warpaint in spring, the indie-rock quartet is coming off of a “crazy” but “very fun” Coachella experience. They’ve been touring in support of their third full-length, Heads Up (released in September 2016), and admit that this tour hasn’t been as draining as those in the past—a welcome change. “It’s a little more measured,” says drummer Stella Mozgawa, “which is wise because we definitely can burn out.” That burnout is to be expected, considering that this L.A.-based art-rock outfit has been playing together since 2004. Since then, they’ve crushed enough live shows—and slept on enough tour buses—to fill a dozen rock memoirs. Recalling one especially raucous Rio de Janeiro concert, guitarist/vocalist Emily Kokal cracks, “I was wasted; that whole show, I was barefoot laying on my back.” Learning how to stay sane during long stretches of travel took some practice, says bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg. “You do your meditation, your exercise, you eat well, get sleep,” she says. “And if all those things are happening, then you leave room for fun.”



While on a personal level the ladies of Warpaint are feeling more grounded than ever, the songs on Heads Up represent a sonic evolution, a dip into a more pop and R&B sound that feels fresh while not betraying the group’s dreamy roots. According to Kokal, it was an easy transition. “It happened naturally because we changed our process,” she says. “Instead of jumping right into rehearsing and writing, we took a completely opposite approach: We gave ourselves a few months off. In those months, everybody was making music independently. So when we met to actually start making the record, we had 15 songs to work on, instead of starting from zero.” And that collaborative spirit resulted in the band being ahead of the curve, writing-wise. “We thought, ‘Let’s not go with something that, in our fantasies, is going to be incredible,’” says Mozgawa. “‘Let’s go with the stuff that’s already tangible, that we can hold.’”



While nailing down a plan was one thing, finding a stylistic middle ground took conversation and experimentation. “The one thing that we all agreed on,” says Lindberg, “was that we wanted to make a more upbeat, fancier album. I wanted us to make a dance album, but I still wanted it to feel like us.” With so many cooks in the kitchen, it was paramount that each had a strong say in the album’s direction. “We have four writers, so that’s four different angles,” says guitarist Theresa Wayman. “With this album, I wanted to make the music that I really want to make—otherwise I wasn’t going to feel fulfilled. I think that’s what everybody was feeling: We all had to have our voices and our needs heard, as opposed to over-compromising.”



The ladies of Warpaint have learned a lot about compromise over their 13 years together, which is likely why they’re still happily connected to each other. “We all love what we do,” says Lindberg. “And we’re still passionate about it. No one’s in it to cash in. It’s about the process just as much as it is about the outcome.” Mozgawa says the pleasure she takes in Warpaint is as much about the members’ dynamic as their actual output. “We’re all drawn to this relationship with each other,” she says. “That’s what’s keeping us here—not money or fame, that’s for sure.  To me, the most fascinating thing is how we all individually change while being a part of this four-way relationship. That’s more interesting to me than the music that we make.” Of course, it’s not always a walk in the park. “Being with four people,” adds Mozgawa succinctly, “all trying to be simultaneously creative and harmoniously creative, is fucking insane.”



This fall, Warpaint will open for Depeche Mode on a two-month North American tour, then the album-writing cycle will start again. That is, if the band sticks to the traditional script. “Theoretically, that’s what you do,” says Kokal. “But at the moment we’re taking it step by step. I think we’re all interested in making songs together in a way that feels fluid, where we also have time to engage in other projects.” Still, it’s almost inevitable that they’ll end up in the same spot eventually. “As our producer Jake [Bercovici] put it, Warpaint’s like the pizza joint we all own and take care of,” says Kokal. “We each have individual needs, too—like maybe to open a juice bar and an annex next door—but the pizza joint is like home, you know? It’s family.”