Text and Interview by Florenz Cruz
Two guitars, one bass, and drums—Warpaint is set up like a pretty conventional rock band, yet everything about them is anything but run-of-the-mill, not necessarily unconventional but definitely utterly new. Currently they’re on a US tour (with supporting acts PVT and Family Band) and the general consensus is that every performance is an ethereal trip; Europe will get the opportunity to experience them as well in the coming months.
On the lower level of Bowery Ballroom, guitarist Emily Kokal, bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg, and drummer Stella Mozgawa—guitarist Theresa Wayman absent for the interview—had a chat with me about how they’re inspired and how they inspire. Even after being featured on the cover of numerous mainstream magazines and selling out shows over a month before the show date, the band members showed incredible modesty and enlightening levity.
Emily: It was one of those names that seemed like it had a lot of different interpretations and meanings that all fit with our idea of what we’d want to call the record. One, it is a tarot card. It’s the first card and it’s our first record. It’s also a bunch of different things—we’re all fools. I feel like a fool around them [the band] sometimes because I’m experimenting and trying new things. The archetype of the fool is innocence, the egoist, no boundaries, no watching. It’s just pure spontaneous expression.
The tarot is kind of occult and sort of related to mysticism. Does that relate to any of your lives? Do you practice or ascribe to any of those things?
Stella: There’s a fascination but I don’t know that the practice is as deep. I wouldn’t say that I’m personally practicing the occult or casting spells, but if I knew how…I would love to.
Jenny: Words are spells.
E: I did do a tarot reading every day for a year. I was interested in the symbolism, especially the Thoth Deck. All of the cards are supposed to cover everything in existence. I liked studying it and trying to see the symbolism and recognize how it works in life because I like the idea that things are all connected.
Your video for “Undertow” was really poignant and heart-breaking at times, not unlike your music. What was the inspiration for it and where was it filmed?
J: We filmed it in Ojai, California. My sister actually came up for the concept of the video. She directed it. I don’t really know where that sprouted from originally. She has an interesting brain and mind.
How does it tie into the song?
J: There’s points in the video where there’s light being unleashed, points of growth and realization. The song’s about love and feeling lost and wanting to bust out. I guess the video’s about love as well, the love exchange between the two kids.
E: There’s also this idea in the song and the video about the battles and struggles within yourself and your relationships. It was interesting she started from a child’s experience because that’s kind of where it all starts, when you start to develop your habits, boundaries, and defenses.
I don’t know if you know this or not, but you’re all kind of fashion icons. Girls look up to you and just want to dress like you because you have such effortless and nonchalant style—and your boots are always flawless. Do you try to convey any kind of aesthetic?
E: We try to have fun with it, but for the most part our whole aesthetic is just whatever we feel like wearing.
S: There’s no subscription to any one style, like, ‘We have to wear black tonight.’ We’ll only do that if it’s fun for everyone. We’ll find stupid stuff in a petrol station or something, wear jerseys, dress like men…
J: It’s whatever we’re feeling in the moment. Sometimes it’s a uniform, sometimes it’s socks on your ears. It’s random. Random and comfortable.
I’m sure making music must be a synesthetic process at least sometimes in which you incorporate imagery and translate that into sound. What kind of artists do you guys like? Sculptors, photographers, architects…any names you wanna drop?
J: I really like dance. It’s physical movement that inspires me.
S: It’s film for me. David Lynch, Tarkovsky, Antonioni, Fellini, Pedro Almodóvar. People who just have a style that’s effortless, and every time you see a movie made by them, you can tell it’s that person’s expression, that person’s mind, not only conveyed through another human being or another setting; that’s a skill. It’s like hearing something and saying, “Oh, that’s Radiohead” or “That’s The Cure.” It’s something that sits on the top of everything; they’re all using the same instruments but there’s always this thing that’s otherworldly that is so recognizable, and it’s the same with film.
E: It’s interesting when you find something that really appeals to you, it does more than just entertain you. I remember when I got introduced to Ingmar Bergman films. It wasn’t necessarily something I could cognitively understand and it seemed complicated, but watching it felt like it nourished me and did something really good for my brain. I feel that way about Woody Allen. There are certain people…I will always watch there movies. Woody Allen and Cassavetes. I really love Cassavetes a lot. And Marcel Duchamp. Dadaists and surrealists.
J: Hal Ashby.
E: A lot of visual art is sometimes more inspiring than going to a concert. I feel like going to a museum gives me more inspiration for music than even music does.
J: I would say music for me. Above anything and everything, it’s first.
Your music is dark and heavy at times, but the darkness of it kind of gives it a universal feeling because everyone goes through those dark times. That’s probably why a lot of people from all walks of life like Warpaint, everyone from lawyers to high school girls. Was it your intention to reach this wide of a spectrum of fans?
J: I definitely think that we hoped for that for sure. We weren’t just looking at…
S: …one demographic.
J: Yeah. We’re hoping it’s being perceived by all kinds of people all around the world.
E: We have that within the band, where our brains are all interested and attracted to different things. So when we agree on an idea or put an idea together, usually it’s something that we all—with our many different backgrounds and different opinions—can really related to. We do have a lot of different styles.
Your music’s really easy to dance to. For me personally, I’ve gone to two of your gigs and I can’t help but just move. Do you have any recommendations, dance songs you really dig?
S: There’s this Classixx remix of a Yacht song called “Psychic City.” It’s really amazing. Every time that beat comes in, it’s really special. It’s a good one. Kind of almost brainless but definitely worthwhile. A lot of hip hop as well.
J: Electronic music. Mode Selector, Daft Punk. I love dancing to Depeche Mode. I got really into this song by Beach House, “Lover of Mine.”
I saw your video for that.
J: That was probably the 675th time that we had heard that song. It’s a good song you can listen to over and over again. Most of the time a four-on-the-floor disco beat will move me.