Warpaint: “Being an all-girl band doesn’t mean anything if you can’t play your instruments well”Posted January 28th, 2011 At 9:54 pm By MTV ASIA
Text and interview: Lennat Mak
If you’ve been religiously following various music publications for the next big thing to break out in 2011, Warpaint would be a familiar name to you. Formed on Valentine’s Day in 2004, the LA-based band – Emily Kokal (vocals, guitars), Theresa Wayman (vocals, guitars), Jenny Lee Lindberg (vocals, bassist) and Stella Mozgawa (vocals, drums) – is currently hotly tipped to be “The sound of 2011” (BBC), “Artist To watch in 2011” (MTV), and “The Best Live Band You’ll See All Year” (NME). And the girls definitely live up to all the accolades, as attested with their self-released EP Exquisite Corpse, their critically acclaimed Rough Trade debut, The Fool, and their electrifying live shows that leave so many in awe by their sheer musical brilliance.
Before the band takes the stage and opens the inaugural St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival in Singapore tomorrow (January 29, 2011) at Fort Canning Park, we met up with Jenny and Theresa at INK Bar at Fairmont Hotel to talk more about the music, their friendship and more. Nothing beats gearing up for an awesome festival by talking to two spirited musicians who are wholly passionate about their music!
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The band was formed in 2004. But you’ve only released your debut EP Exquisite Corpse in 2008 and a full length album titled The Fool last year. Why the long wait?
Jenny: We are not quite sure! Between 2004 and now, we split up for about a year and we went through four different drummers. Whenever we get a new drummer, we had to start over and figure out what we are going to do.
Theresa: Things just took a little longer with us reworking ourselves. We weren’t really trying to get anywhere until it felt like it was the right time. There was no rush to be successful.
Jenny: We were definitely working on a lot of material and writing songs for another record. Exquisite Corpse was released in 2008 but we have been working on those songs on and off since we started this band. When the EP happened, we naturally moved on to writing other stuff. I guess the album didn’t happen until we found Stella and got signed to Rough Trade.
Your music has been described as “art-rock.” Do you view your songs as art pieces or an outlet to express your emotions?
Theresa: All art pieces are an expression of emotions. I don’t mind looking at each song as a piece of art, constructed in the same way as one constructs a painting or a film. It’s all about getting into details of what you want to express and still retaining emotions in your work.
Would you say your songs are about life’s moments of subtlety and intensity? All of them have this mellow undertow that eventually cascades into this giant wall of sound and then, they sort of rein themselves back in again?
Theresa: I think so. That’s basically the best way to sum up what our songs, or what everyone else’s songs are about. Songs are always about life experiences. The meaning is in the words and it’s also in the music. I guess it’s up to interpretations to whoever is feeling it at that time. We do leave it kind of ambiguous so that anyone can relate to them.
After Shannyn Sossamon left and before Stella joined, there were all these guy drummers. But something always seemed to be off until Stella came into the picture. Do you feel that Stella has finally completed the puzzle?
Theresa: For sure! Stella brought lots energy to the table. We play with a lot of energy but we also write some subdued and moody music at times. With Stella, she just brings out that natural aggression that we have. She’s really good at high impact stuff and she’s technically intricate, all the time.
Speaking of which, you girls are a live powerhouse. What feeds the band – each other, the crowd or simply the live atmosphere?
Jenny: All of that! Prior to Stella joining the band, we have maybe a month tops with her to go over, write and figure out what we were really going to do in the studio. We never really had a chance to tour all those songs before we went in to record them and we didn’t really have that much time to play it live with each other before we recorded them. This past year, we’ve been touring so much that all these energy of the songs just came together.
Is it a conscious effort to make the songs sound a little bit different from recordings when you play them live?
Theresa: We like to keep our shows interesting for us and for the audience, and bring something that you are not going to get by just listening to our album. Some people view a live show as a way to imitate what they did on the album. We see our live shows more as a chance to show something that you can’t see and feel on the album. But yet in a way, we are conscious of retaining our songs, to some extent, the way they are recorded. We didn’t want it to be totally different. Like Led Zeppelin, they would go off with big solos and extend songs all over the place because that’s what people want to do when they see them play – to really rock out and jam it out for a while.
Jenny: It’s nice to also feel something new and make the audience feel special, especially when you are playing all these shows every night. It’s like, this is the one time you get to see the band and you are there for that. That’s how we feel all the time too. It’s all very “in the moment.” We don’t plot out our jams. It just makes the whole process of playing more fun!
Do you guys have a set list or do you just go anywhere you like during a show?
Jenny: Yeah, we do have a set list. If we don’t, we will be like “What are we playing next? Let’s not do that!” It would be half an hour of talking! [Laughs]
Theresa: And we will just be there discussing what to play!
What are some of the songs that you like to play live?
Theresa: “Beetles”. “Bees” is great. I love playing “Bees.”
Any plans to open your set with “Bees” tomorrow?
Theresa: That’s an interesting idea!
Jenny: Have we done that?
Theresa: I think we have done that before in Amsterdam. I love playing “Elephants” too. We will always love playing “Elephants.” It never gets old.
Jenny: “Set Your Arms Down” is fun too. I guess it just kind of depends if you want to go there. Every song is fun!
“Billie Holiday” is pretty awesome live too, with all the killer harmonies going on.
Jenny: Theresa is really good at doing harmonies. We are still exploring that.
Theresa: We love having all our voices sing together. It reminds us of being in camp where people come together and sing. That’s the most fun!
Do you feel that being in Warpaint is like being in summer camp forever with all your best friends?
Theresa: I never went to summer camp so that’s really cool!
Jenny: It is like camp. Band camp! It’s the best thing in the world to be in a band with your best friends. I think it really plays an important role to how our music sounds. I think if we weren’t friends, we won’t have the connection that we have with each other and our music would sound totally different. We sound the way we sound because we are really close.
Theresa: I knew Emily since we were 11 and I’ve known Jenny for like 10 years now. Oh my god, it’s been so long! It’s really unique and I feel lucky.
Would you say your chemistry is unbreakable in a way?
Theresa: I would say so. We have done the time and we have known each other for so long. That’s a hard thing to erase or match. I have to know another person for the next 10 years of my life to match that.
Jenny: Because we are friends and are in a band together for so long, our communication skills have definitely evolved. If we do get into an argument or if there’s any weird energy going on, we can’t really stay in that negative place for very long because that doesn’t feel very good. We’ve found good ways to break out of it.
Being an all-girl band, do you find it easier to stand out from the rest?
Jenny: I know we are an all-girl band but I’ve never really thought of us as an all-girl band and that we have an advantage in the music industry. The advantage that we would have is maybe that we are really close, we are friends and our sound is unique. We try to be the best we can, practice and play with each other a lot. If you practice hard, you will get somewhere. Being in an all-girl doesn’t mean anything if you can’t play your instruments well.
When’s the turning point in your life that you know you want to be a full time musician?
Jenny: I started playing when I was 19. That’s when I first got my bass and it was all very exciting! It took me a couple of years to really know what I was doing though. I think the pivotal point for me as a musician was when I started learning how to play freely and jam with other musicians. They would play something and I would know what key they were in and the very first moment that I was able to do that was just, “Wow, this is so cool!”
Theresa: The very first time that Warpaint started playing together was the very first time that I started taking it all seriously in my mind. Up until then, I’ve always met people that I didn’t really want to play with. I would play music with people just for fun and I just never took it seriously. I guess it never resonated. And a lot of musicians that I’ve met actually made me disillusioned about music!
Were they all guys?
Theresa: Yeah! They were all guys, except for Emily. She was the one girl that I knew. When Jen started playing bass, I remember I wasn’t attached to any thought about the future at all. I was just very, very happy. Everyone else that I’ve met and was playing music with, were men who would talk about everything they knew about music history, what kind of gear all these musicians were using and they were just showing off their knowledge. So when we played together, I thought they were great musicians. But then they would play all these really normal chords that were really boring! When Warpaint play together, our approach came from the same place. For me, it was like, “Yes! I want to do this! I never wanted to do anything more in my life!”
There’s this funny thread of discussion among fans that whether Jenny and Stella are really going out and if Stella is really married. Care to address it to end the speculations?
Jenny: [Laughs] It’s so funny! I’ve got to show you! There was this one post that goes something like, “For those who believe Stella and Jennifer are in a romantic relationship, well, it says on Stella’s Facebook that she is married to a man! So that’s highly unlikely!” I’m like, “Oh, wow!” It’s just a joke! We went to Amsterdam and we were doing a press junket. The four of us split up and it was me and Stella, and Emily and Theresa. And we were like, “Let’s just f**k with these people.” We were just teasing the press. There were interviews after interviews and we would get bored and in one of the interviews we were like, “Okay, let’s pretend we are together.” That’s probably how it got started. I have a boyfriend and Stella is boy-crazy! She’s not even married!
Theresa: I had no idea that this was going on!
Jenny: It’s like this total joke!
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Warpaint will be playing St. Jerome Laneway Festival at 2pm, January 29, 2011 at Fort Canning Park. Tickets will be available at the door.