“These are weird, dark times that we live in,” Warm Drag’s Paul Quattrone says in a phone interview along with the group’s lead singer, Vashti Windish. “Most people we know are feeling a similar way.”
That sense of weirdness infuses the mysteriously engrossing songs on the L.A. duo’s self-titled debut album on In the Red Records, which they’ll perform at a record-release show at the Echo on Thursday, Sept. 20. As Quattrone constructs foreboding soundscapes of junkyard echoes that lurch and shift like fever dreams on such apocalyptic tracks as “End Times,” Windish murmurs contrastingly languid and melodic vocals with a coolly serene delivery.
“That was literally written post Trump getting elected,” Windish, 40, says about “End Times.” “It was winter, and there was an ‘Is this the end of the world?’ type feeling. It’s about how the news is always filled with bad news but there’s always another dawn, a glimmer of hope. [The song] is slightly positive.”
If you close your eyes while listening to such sludgy blues-trash opuses as “Cave Crawl” and the shadowy punk psychedelia of “No Body,” Warm Drag sound like a powerful and intense full band with noisy guitars, throbbing bass and driving drums. But Quattrone, who also drums for Oh Sees, manufactures all of the group’s music on samplers as a backdrop for Windish’s dreamy singing.
“Most of the time, when you hear a guitar part, it’s a sample from an old song,” says Quattrone, who engineered and recorded the new album, which was mastered by Spaceman 3’s Sonic Boom. Apart from an occasional guitar or keyboard solo and a couple tracks with real drums, the music was largely generated by samples, which were manipulated and altered so much by Quattrone that it’s impossible to guess what the original sources might have been.
“I’ve chopped up some of the notes. I’ve pitched them down and put them through effects,” Quattrone, 40, explains. “I’m using samples to make a sound sculpture. I want to sound like a rock band but with more pummeling.”
“You want it to be a visceral presence,” Windish says about the physically intense, aggressive way Quattrone attacks his sampler onstage. “You almost play it like an instrument. It’s like a guitar.”
When Quattrone’s maelstrom of sounds is combined with Windish’s ghostly vocals, the effect can be both mesmerizing and unsettling. At times, Warm Drag’s darkly sensual sonic collisions evoke the music of another charismatic duo, The Kills’ Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince, except that what Windish and Quattrone are doing is even stranger and more physically convulsive. The hazy, sullen and bleary-eyed “Sleepover” was inspired by an enigmatic man who sublet a New York City apartment from Quattrone and then overdosed and died, leaving his body to decompose for weeks before it was discovered.
One of the most bizarre tracks on the new album is “Parasite Wreckage Dub,” a psychedelic collage of sound effects that’s pushed along by a hypnotic groove wreathed in Windish’s whispery vocals.
“That’s one of my favorites. That was one of the last ones we wrote,” says Windish, who was raised in Florida, spent time in New York City and lives in Echo Park. “In the beginning, pretty much all the lyrics were a one-take improvisation. In that song, I was feeling alone and numb and also in the context of being abducted by aliens.”
Quattrone laughs. “It’s as illuminating for you as it is for me, because I really had no idea until now” what the song was about, says Quattrone, a native of Pittsburgh who now resides in Hollywood. He mixed the Warm Drag album in the back of a Sprinter van while on tour with Oh Sees. “For the most part, it’s easy to put on headphones and sink into my mixing world. It’s partly why I’m going deaf,” Quattrone says. “I’ve got plenty of time, sitting in the back of a van, to do trial-and-error stuff like this.”
At the moment, he is still trying to find time for Warm Drag despite his obligations with Oh Sees. “We still have some heavy touring for the rest of the year,” Quattrone says about Oh Sees.
“We try to do some more in between Paul’s busy schedules,” Windish says. After the show at the Echo, Warm Drag will go on tour for five concerts on the East Coast before Quattrone rejoins Oh Sees for more touring. “Vashti and I really believe in [the band],” he says. “I don’t want it to be a side project. I want it to be a real legitimate thing.”
While living in New York, Windish was part of two groups, Golden Triangle and the more punk-oriented K-Holes, where she was one of several vocalists. “This is the first band where I’m the lead singer,” she says about Warm Drag. “That took a little bit of getting used to.
"In the beginning, it was more nerve-wracking,” Windish confides. “With this band, I feel like I have to sing better, hit notes at times and not be completely guttural.”
“She was a little more hesitant at first,” Quattrone says about Windish taking over as Warm Drag’s frontwoman.
“Singing [with Warm Drag] is way more isolating because Paul is obviously busy playing music and not looking at me ever,” Windish says, half-jokingly. “Getting used to being the only singer and having to look at the audience, that was a little bit scary.”
“I’ve tried looking up and nodding my head to the music, but I have so many things going on,” Quattrone admits about his stage presence.
The Warm Drag album was released in late August by In the Red Records, a local label run by Larry Hardy. It's better known for its association with such garage and punk bands as Oh Sees, The Dirtbombs, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, The Cheater Slicks, Panther Burns and The Side Eyes. But Warm Drag are hardly a typical electronic band.
“Larry has pretty eclectic taste in music,” Quattrone says. “He got me into [the Australian industrial group] SPK, and he likes Throbbing Gristle. … He was at a show. I didn’t even realize he was there. The next day, he emailed me and said, ‘I would love to put out your record.’ We’re like, ‘Cool. Do it!’”
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Windish and Quattrone used to be part of a band called Shockwave Riderz with singer-drummer Phil Boyd, who had previously played with Quattrone in the Pittsburgh trio Modey Lemon. After Boyd left Shockwave Riderz, Quattrone and Windish resolved to continue as a two-piece named Warm Drag, and a few of the songs on the new album are carried over from their collaborations with Boyd. They played their first show as Warm Drag at Little Joy in 2016 as part of the Echo Park Rising festival.
For the record-release concert at the Echo, Quattrone and Windish got to pick the other performers on the bill, adventurous musical experimentalist David Scott Stone and a new band called Secret Stare. “The whole night is our choice,” Quattrone says. “I’ve known [Stone] from when I was in !!! [also known as Chk-Chk-Chk].”
“Secret Stare is my old friend Erin [Emslie],” Windish says. “She used to drum with Hunx & His Punx. They sound like The Runaways meets Black Sabbath. They’re kind of glam-my and kind of metal-ly but weird.” Windish was backed by some of the members of Secret Stare as part of a recent tribute to the late Dead Moon singer Fred Cole at the Echo, an homage that featured Cole’s bassist wife, Toody Cole. “It was really special,” Windish says. “She was super-stoked. It was fun to be onstage with Toody. She was a real firecracker.”
Warm Drag appear with David Scott Stone and Secret Stare at the Echo, 1822 W. Sunset Blvd., Echo Park; Thu., Sept. 20, 8:30 p.m.; $10. (213) 413-8200, spacelandpresents.com.