The road can take some getting used to for a young garage band. For the ladies of Warpaint, the last seven weeks riding tour buses and airplanes across Australia, Japan, Europe and the U.K. took a serious toll. The indie rock quartet were finishing up promoting their acclaimed debut album from last year, the elegantly frayed and understated The Fool. They had never been away quite so long.
Singer-guitarist Emily Kokal was proud to consume fewer “toxins” on this trip, but Theresa Wayman was feeling crowded. “By the end, I had bald patches that I had to get re-patched because I was pulling my hair out,” recalls Wayman, who also sings and plays guitar, with a laugh. “There was never a moment to be alone and after a while I started to get really claustrophobic.”
Now things have mostly returned to normal. Wayman's five-year-old son, named after the distant star Sirius B, just started first grade. This afternoon the band is at one of their favorite outdoor tables at Café Stella in Silver Lake, looking healthy and relaxed in the heat amid a parade of poached eggs and escargot whizzing past. They are warm and chatty, like friends catching up over lunch. It was here that Aussie drummer Stella Mozgawa first agreed to join the locally-based outfit (the others were lifelong friends), stepping away from life as an in-demand session and touring musician. She was ready to struggle and starve for art and rock 'n' roll, if that's what it took to be a full partner in Warpaint.
“I feel like this last year and a half traveling so much, and meeting all kinds of new people, has been a total rebirth,” says Wayman, dressed in black. “I found new parts of myself in a really dramatic way.”
Only a few scattered live dates remain ahead of them before the band begins writing a new album, with recording sessions likely to start in February. On Sunday, Warpaint make their Hollywood Bowl debut as part of a mini festival of forward-looking rock, headlined by TV On the Radio and Arctic Monkeys.
“It's happening a lot sooner than we expected, but we're also probably playing at 5:30,” bassist-singer Jenny Lee Lindberg jokes of Warpaint's gig at the huge, iconic venue, having swept into her chair wearing a green dress of summery cotton gauze, her black hair cropped short on the sides, thick and wavy on top. “We've been everywhere we need to go, probably more than once, and it's just time to stop.”
Kokal leans across the table. “I didn't really realize what we were getting into…Now I feel like I'm going to be much more conscious of what I put into an album, because it's going to be dictating the next two years of my life.”
Their evolution from the obscurity of extended jam sessions in garages and living rooms — which began on Valentine's Day, 2004 — to international touring began after signing a record deal with Rough Trade two years ago. Critics and indie tastemakers have since raved about Warpaint's intimate waves of sound, equal parts delicate folk and postpunk clang. It's both emotionally stirring and subtly noisy, like Sonic Youth played at half-speed. On The Fool, songs recall dreamy Sixties pop (“Undertow”) or bristle with indie-rock flair (“Bees”), as Kokal's high lead vocal drifts through darkness and light.
Warpaint's original quartet included Lindberg's big sister, Shannyn Sossamon, on drums. Her acting career (A Knight's Tale, Wristcutters: A Love Story) led to her quitting the band twice, however. The first time it happened, Warpaint fell into limbo for a year. She returned and the band recorded a debut EP, 2009's Exquisite Corpse, but Sossamon left again, this time for good (though she later directed the band's video for “Undertow”). “It was sad, because we all brought something special to the band,” recalls Wayman. “That's why everything seemed temporary after that without her, because it wasn't that same special spark.”
Warpaint continued on briefly as a trio (with Wayman on drums), and then recruited a series of temporary drummers, including Dave Orlando for a year, and for a brief moment multi-instrumentalist Josh Klinghoffer, now guitarist in the Red Hot Chili Peppers. But they finally found the missing ingredient in Mozgawa, who brought new muscle to the old songs, suggesting a further shift in sound and direction for the future.
She first met Kokal at a Metallica benefit concert at the Wiltern, and joined the band a month before the debut album was recorded in January 2010. “It's amazing to think just how natural and easy it was,” Mozgawa says now of their first rehearsals. She has a Polish eagle tattooed to her left shoulder, a memento from El Paso. “They were open to experimentation. Everyone was writing, everyone was collaborating.”
Though they aren't starving, Kokal notes warily that despite all the press attention and excited crowds, her sister's straight job still pays better than her life as a rocker.
The release of any new album is still a year away, but Warpaint are already performing a ballad called “Jubilee Real,” originally written for the debut but only recently reworked for the road and possible release as a single. This month, the quartet released Rough Trade Sessions, a four-song collection recorded in East London. For now, Warpaint's plan is to stay busy and grow.
“While working really hard, we have to be able to find our voice and find our music in a relaxed way that comes really naturally and organically, while at the same time being really disciplined,” says Lindberg. “But not feeling stressed, just trying to let it flow.”