Warpaint Interview: No longer playing ‘The Fool’

The Warpaint of 2010’s The Fool is not the same Warpaint on the cover of their new self-titled album, one of 2014’s earliest major releases. “It feels like a new Warpaint,” says singer and guitarist Theresa Wayman. “It just felt like a new start for us, not that we’d forgotten what happened before or forgotten about our last album.” And they have good reason not to. Warpaint’s ethereal shoegaze won them an audience of die-hard fans and high-profile spots on the festival circuit, as well as serious critical acclaim.

The LA quartet took time out from years of heavy touring to record, working at The Joshua Tree and with legendary English producer Flood. The time to focus seems to have given the band a new sense of purpose. “The last album was a bunch of songs we’d had under our belt for years and years through many different stages of our band’s evolution and this felt like a totally new project really. We had an entirely new set of songs for this album and we were working with Stella [Mozgawa, drums]. Since we’ve been touring the last album, it seemed like we changed so much. Not necessarily ourselves, but our outlooks have changed quite a bit.”

Evolution from their past work it may be, but the focus this time is on reducing what was going on. “It was just the idea that we might be a little less complicated and a little bit more creative with our ideas. I felt that sometimes it was getting a little convoluted so I thought we should pull it back a little bit.” That kind of simplicity of form dominates the album, even the most The Fool-esque track ‘Keep It Healthy’: “It’s more reminiscent of our last album I think. Each part has a different sort of phrasing that it’s working in, interacting in a pretty complicated way, but at the same time, what everyone’s doing is sort of staying steady and not changing, so the complication is coming from the way they interact as opposed to having a lot of different changes.”

Having had the pleasure of seeing Warpaint live twice, it seems to me that the interaction between each of the four members is the defining characteristic of their style. It’s one that clearly emerges from the live approach and this album is no different. “What we’ve always done when we used to write from jams is just get together in a rehearsal space and start playing and writing music, and after initially writing a couple different parts that could go together in a song, then we spend a lot of time structuring it and just trying to perfect it.”

The new album also sees the band bring their electronic side to the fore, and Wayman stresses that this is not a big change for the band. “For us it’s nothing new, it’s always been something we’ve incorporated into our music but you wouldn’t really know that based on The Fool. When we started our band we used to play to drum machines all the time and used a lot of synthesisers but we toured the last record for so long, and it took us so long to make that record it’s just seems like that was ages ago that we were doing that. And now I feel like it’s a very relevant thing because there’s a lot of electronic sound in music nowadays.” But Warpaint are not just following trends: “We always just do what we want to do, we’re not really trying to fit in.”

While electronics are brought to the fore, Wayman, who takes more of the lead vocal lines on this album (“I just really like writing songs,” she says when asked about this), describes how the lyrical approach is “more obscure”. “On this album I guess we just tend to steer away from being too obvious about anything.” But that doesn’t necessarily rule the opposite approach out: “It can be a good thing or a bad thing, that’s just our taste. I do like the idea of experimenting with being a little more clear, I don’t mind people knowing what I’m talking about, I just always feel too obvious if I’m just saying it outright it just seems too simple.”

A desire for simplicity is reflected in the music that the band were listening to during recording. While emphasising the length of the recording and writing process and thus how hard it is to state each member’s taste, Wayman offers, “For my part over the last couple of years I’ve been listening to a lot more pop music than I ever have. I used to kind of shun it, now I find a lot of inspiration from it. Just musically and even lyrically it touches what we were talking about, being obscure about lyrics; pop music generally isn’t and I actually admire that, I feel like it’s brave. I think there are some songs in the higher echelons of pop music that are actually really adventurous, more adventurous and more avant-garde even than a lot of underground indie music.”

It’s the indie music scene that lays claim to Warpaint, and British music has influenced them a lot. “I think for some reason or another there always has been a little bit of that just because that’s what influenced us when we were growing up. There’s been a British feel somewhere in our music all along. I think Jenny [Lee Lindberg, bass] was really influenced by The Cure and The Smiths. I and Emily [Kokal, guitar/vocals] listened to a lot of trip hop in our formative years, and Aphex Twin.” For the new album English producers Flood (New Order, Depeche Mode, PJ Harvey) and Nigel Godrich (Radiohead) were brought in. “It makes sense for us to be working with an English producer, in my opinion. I felt like his taste would take us where we wanted to go. I find the English to be really forward-moving.”

Electronic music seems to be a major part of Warpaint. “There’s a lot of electronic stuff, some of them came out of America but they were definitely picked up really quickly by the English and then progressed. I’m sure there’s lots of bands that I’m not even naming. There’s always something forward-moving about the way the English interpret things that may even have come from America.”

Ultimately, talk turns to touring and how the band will go about bringing their new sound into their live shows. “It’s just a few more things to plug in when we’re setting up. I’m excited, it sounds cooler to me. It sounds like there’s more depth to what we’re doing. There’s more textures and it’s just a lot more exciting.”