arpaint emits a hypnotic, groove-based blend of textures and emotions that could only have sprouted from the fertile imaginations of its four members. And while multiple touchstones come to mind when exposed to the quartet’s music (think Cat Power doing Cure covers), there’s a mysterious, unpredictable element to the band’s lush vocals and mood-altering soundscapes that is all its own.
Founded in Los Angeles on Valentine’s Day 2004 by singer/guitarist Theresa Wayman, singer/guitarist Emily Kokal, bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg and drummer Shannyn Sossamon (who was ultimately replaced by current drummer Stella Mozgawa), Warpaint has taken a slightly different path than many of its fast-track-seeking contemporaries, preferring to hone its dynamic live show rather than rushing out studio efforts to appease the expectations of others. — the band has released but one EP (2008’s Exquisite Corpse) and one full-length album (2010’s The Fool) over its near-decade-long existence.
CityBeat recently connected with Wayman to discuss Warpaint’s pending album (due in January), the members’ shared love of reverb and their tendency to laugh on stage.
Glancing at the set lists from your recent shows, it looks like you are playing a lot of stuff from the new album. How have the new songs been received so far?
It’s been really exciting. We’ve gotten some really good feedback on the new songs, for sure. The other day we played with The National in Detroit at the Laneway Festival. We’ve seen those guys out and about when we’ve been on tour the last three years. They’ve seen us play and we’ve gotten to know them and they were like, “We really like your new stuff.” People who know us tell us they like it a lot. I feel optimistic and I really love playing the new stuff. We are going in a slightly different direction, so it feels good to be emitting something different than just the sort of complicated stuff we have been known to play in the past, if that makes any sense.
The band is coming up on its 10th anniversary. How has your creative process changed over that time?
The way we write music is pretty similar to how we always have: We just jam together and we all come up with songs together, for the most part. On this album, though, there are a lot more songs that were maybe started by one person and then everyone added their own voice on top. There are a few that didn’t start from jams, which is new for us, but even if I come in with a song that I’ve written from start to finish on guitar, it will change so much by the time everyone’s had their say, so I feel like absolutely everything is a collaboration. That’s always been the name of our game.
I don’t think a lot has changed, but I think we’re a lot more focused. I feel really, really inspired personally from actually leaving L.A. and touring for those three years for The Fool. I think my eyes were really opened to what is possible and the fact that I’m a real musician and artist: Our music is going out into the world, we made an album and we released it and now we’re playing it and people are hearing this, so I’m going to take it really seriously. I took it seriously before, but now this sort of confirms that this is what I’m doing with my life, and I love that. So I guess now there’s a lot more passion and focus behind what we’re writing and what we’re doing.
Your songs have this almost dreamlike quality to them. Was that something you guys talked about — “We want to sound like this” — or did it come to you more organically?
It happened organically. That’s what we started playing because that’s what we felt like we wanted to express. That’s why Shannyn and Jen and myself and Emily all gelled so well from the very first time we started playing and we all gravitated toward that. We understood where each other was coming from and there wasn’t much of a conflict in that way. There wasn’t one person over in left field asking for us to clean it up a little bit and use less reverb or something. We all wanted reverb and we all wanted it to be like kind of dark. It’s just what we did. We never had a discussion about that or anything.
Your music is also very mood-based. The songs move in unpredictable directions and seem to be created in a very open-ended way. Given that approach, how do you know when a song is finished?
Actually, I think if we have one problem with anything, it’s knowing when a song is finished. (Laughs.) We keep things open forever — for years. Like you said, we’ve been a band for 10 years. Granted, we quit for a year and reformed a few different times, mostly because Shannyn was in and out of the band multiple times, but we can hang on to a song and not finish it for a long time. It’s a good question, “How do we know?” But I think it’s something that’s changed a lot. It’s changed for me personally a lot. For right now, I’m into having a little more traditional structure going on in our music. I think we have room for that, because the parts that we’re playing and the things that we do within that structure are not going to be typical or normal anyway, so I think we can handle it.
Live there’s this interesting dichotomy in that, despite the music being dark and moody, you guys are often laughing and smiling while you’re playing.
Yeah, that’s another thing that hasn’t really been talked about from our end, but I’m glad that happens, because I think it lightens the load. I mean, I’d hate to play a show and have everyone be depressed afterwards. To be honest, the live versions of all of our songs sound pretty impactful and more energetic than I think they do on the album. So maybe once you see us play live and you hear that it will make more sense about why we’re more energetic and laughing as opposed to slitting our wrists. We like to create a moment of vulnerability and fun onstage so that things are different and unique every night for us and for the audience.
WARPAINT plays the MidPoint Music Festival 9:30 p.m. Friday at the Grammer’s/Dewey’s stage.