After three years of touring, the women of Warpaint were ready for a break. The group thus did what any self respecting SoCal psych rock band does: journeyed to the mystical desert oasis of Joshua Tree.
“It's the closest place to get away from it all,” says vocalist Emily Kokal. “It was kind of like a vacation.”
But only kind of, because it was here that they began work on their eponymous sophomore LP, which will be released via Rough Trade on January 21.
Without having any preconceived ideas of how Warpaint would sound, the group began writing. This was the first time they had done so together since the addition of drummer Stella Mozgawa in 2009. “Everybody has an equal voice in the band,” says Kokal. “She brings her own unique voice, and in that respect, it changes everything.”
Mozgawa has replaced Shannyn Sossamon, Lindberg's sister. The actress, model, dancer, musician and new mother had just a little too much going in 2008 to continue drumming with Warpaint, and left to focus on her acting career and raising her son, Audio Science Clayton.
Kokal originally met the Australian Mozgawa at a Metallica benefit concert (she tells this story with two signs of the horns raised), but Mozgawa didn't meet the rest of Warpaint until they opened a benefit show she was playing at the Troubadour. At the time, she was playing as a session drummer with John Frusciante, Josh Klinghoffer, and Flea, who told Mozgawa she wasn't allowed to play with Warpaint.
“He didn't want to lose his drummer”, says bassist Lindberg. Ultimately though, he did. Mozgawa wanted to find a band to call home, and that's what she found with Warpaint.
Writing together with this new line-up was prolific. “Shit was just spilling out,” says Lindberg of the three weeks Warpaint spent in Joshua Tree.
In the desert, the group jammed in a dome-shaped room packed of instruments. “It was like we had all of our toys there and we just played with them,” says Kokal of the group's free-for-all approach. Members traded instruments, broke the molds of their standard stations (Mozgawa wrote “Go In,” a song sung by Kokal), and created the album with a conversational style. “All of us are coming from a little bit of a different place,” says Lindberg. “The music is very contingent upon whatever mood we're in…and we're moody girls.”
Such moods include the “harder, proper electronic sexy groove” of the track “Hi,” to the “warm melancholic lovey sexy feeling” of “Drive,” a song that Kokal sang outside of the dome-room while crying in the general direction of the sunset. “I have this West Coast California girl need to make it a mystical experience,” she laughs.
The goal is just that: to create a real experience for listeners, whether through the largeness of Warpaint's live show or the dark, yet seraphic visual aesthetic that surrounds the music.
Space is the key ingredient to Warpaint's notably atmospheric sound. It transports listeners into imaginary worlds, whether it is the dark forest Kokal envisioned when writing “Set Your Arms Down,” (off of The Fool), or the world of color that accompanies the tracks from Warpaint. “The song 'Biggy' is a deep, kind of reddish-pink coming out of black,” says Kokal. “I make lyrics to enjoy the visual of that song. I think of it kind of like a psychedelic.”
As it turns out, the desert was the perfect place for writing this spacious music, as the meditative ambience of Joshua Tree influenced the mindset of the group. “There was a certain code of what not to do,” says Kokal of the sensitivies the group developed while writing and playing all day with the door open to elements surrounding them: the endless rocks, the constant quiet, and miles between them and any sort of city life.
While the sonic sojourn was mostly zen, there was the night that the cops got called on them right before their three weeks were up, while they were working out “Disco // very,” an aggressively sensual dance tune that asserts, “Don't you battle, we'll kill you. We'll rip you up and tear you in two.” Lindberg jokes that she can't imagine why the neighbors were bothered, but says that even the group felt this incident was breaking their Joshua Tree code of living: “We were being rebellious. We wanted to get in trouble.”
All together, Warpaint is a combination of a little bit of everything the girls have experienced since the release of The Fool in 2010. There's been heartbreak, but love seems to be an overpowering force in the creation of this record. Guitarist Theresa Wayman began dating James Blake, a relationship that has deeply inspired both of them. “James is part of the family,” says Lindberg of the post-dubstep star with whom Warpaint played for a few L.A. shows this past October. Blake revealed that falling in love with Wayman largely shaped Overgrown, the album that won him the 2013 Mercury Prize. Additionally, Lindberg married video artist Chris Cunnigham, who is currently working on documentary surrounding the creation of Warpaint and directing the music video for “Love is to Die,” the album's first single.
Above all though, the relationship Warpaint shares with each other has been the biggest influence on them as musicians and people in general. “We're not really a five year plan band,” says Kokal of Warpaint's guiding principal. She says each album captures a moment in time for the band, and that this group of “sisters” is excited to grow up together.
“Sometimes it feels like we're just getting warmed up.”
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