Warpaint Interview: Laneway & spirit animals
Philip Erbacher talks to Warpaint’s Stella Mozgawa about the current Laneway Festival tour, kangaroos and not being a dick:
How would I describe the Warpaint experience? Well, in angling terms, envision yourself as a fish swimming in a sea amongst a million hooks. One hook in particular garners your attention to such a degree, you pierce it through your own lip and completely surrender to the journey ashore. Warpaint have recently dropped their second album (I refuse to use the word sophomore) and are returning to Australia for their second Laneway tour. As the headliner, no less. Physically wired to all manner of devices including an iPhone, I am patched through to Stella Mozgawa [drums, guitar, keyboards, vocals] in Paris. Stella is in surprisingly good spirits, considering the merciless and sleepless journey from New York the previous evening. Sacré Bleu!
Warpaint were in Paris mere months ago for Pitchfork. The French edition has one of the most beautiful formats for a festival. It is housed in a long, thin building, with a stage at each end. After a band finishes their set on one stage, the audience switches to the other end of the building for the next band in a strange and beautiful game of sonic ping pong. Zero set clashes! Stella describes the Parisian Pitchfork experience as follows: “It was a really interesting set up because it was kind of like in an aeroplane hangar or something. It’s incredible but it was also very confusing. You imagine that its going to be kind of like every other outdoor festival, but its in this cold dark room in a very anonymous part of Paris”.
So, what are Warpaint’s spirit animals? “There is actually a very scientific test that I’ve taken and I think I was like an eagle or something, it was a bird. I don’t know what that means. I’m trying to think of what the others would be. I would just be taking a stab in the dark. Jenny [Lee Lindberg: bass and vocals] would be something that likes to sleep a lot. Maybe she could be a Koala. We’ll keep it marsupial centric. Um, Emily [Kokal: vocals, guitar, synthesiser] would be maybe a platypus and Theresa [Wayman: guitar, vocals, keyboards, occasional drums] could be a kangaroo, she has very strong hind legs. Heh heh!”.
It has been said (in jest) that Warpaint have had more drummers than Spinal Tap. There is an interesting story about a party in Los Angeles, where a more permanent percussion solution was to be found. Full term Warpaint members Emily, Theresa and Jenny were in attendance. Also present was Stella, having quite recently moved to LA. The four of them took mushrooms together and shortly after, Stella was recruited to fill the void they had been experiencing. “That’s like two individual stories combined into one probably more interesting story”.
“Basically we had known each other for a while on a very casual acquaintance level. It’s just funny when you think ‘Oh, I’m just going to a party and I’m going to hang out with a few people’ and it ends up being the moment when you kind of open that door to something. I guess the moral of the story is just go to every single party that you’re invited to. Don’t be a dick. You know, cause cool shit might happen”.
There was an obvious sense of mutual respect both socially and professionally between them all. “I got a call from Jen when they were meeting with their record label and they were about to start discussing making The Fool. So it was towards the end of 2009 and she said ‘Look, you don’t have to be part of the band, but will you make this record with us?’ We’d never played a note with each other before. I just said yes and we both had faith that it was going to be cool. So, luckily, I’m pretty sure it was cool”.
Australia currently has the opportunity to see just how cool, at St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival. The organisers have once again orchestrated a stunning line up. So which performers is Stella looking forward to? “Well, my friends Jagwar Ma are playing at the festival. I’m really excited about that. Also Kirin J Callinan. Amazing. And Kurt Vile, another friend of ours and um, shit. Haim are going to be cool ‘cause you know, LA ladies! I’m really excited about Earl Sweatshirt and Four Tet as well. But in terms of hang time its all about Jagwar and Kurt”.
Is being part of the Laneway tour like a rather strange, rather large family boarding a train length tour bus and hitting the road? “Its actually really close to that. At least it was in 2011, except exchange the train for a plane. Basically we all fraternise, because we are often travelling together and people will go to each others’ after parties, DJ sets and and stuff. So it does become quite familial. I’m sure we are all going to pack in enough time to enjoy each others’ company. It’s a really really fun festival”.
2013 was a challenging year for the Australian festival market. There were some wins and several fatalities. Laneway seems to thrive on introducing punters to bands they might not know, but bloody well should. This year retains that sensibility, whilst bringing back performers they could have been considered to have ‘unearthed’ who are current dominators in terms of popularity. “I feel like Laneway is completely challenging the monopoly of the Big Day Out. They got Lorde and Haim before the were massive and those performers are honouring their commitment to the festival, as opposed to just going and playing the main stage at BDO. That speaks volumes about the quality of the festival”.
It is a wonderful thing to see little secret surprise appearances during performer’s sets. Sometimes collaborators will flesh out their contributions in a live format, much to the delight of fans. Can we expect anything of this nature from Warpaint during Laneway? “It’s very possible that we might do something with Kurt, because I played drums on his last record and Emily sang on one of the songs. So, there’s a chance. If not, we’ll just streak the stage. All of us”. Forewarned is forearmed, people…
With such a beautiful back catalogue already in place, what does the newborn self titled album bring to us? “We hadn’t really played out live with each other too much, so it’s a lot more naturally focussed. I feel like the whole process of extensively touring for The Fool taught us about what we wanted to do and what we wanted to do differently. And for me, it was the first time I was there from the first demos till the mastering. Last time there were already a lot of songs kind of written by the time I went in and started putting drums on them and stuff. So, it was exciting to be part of that. We were all just excited to do that with each other and it felt like, “oh, this is the band” and it’s kind of our first record together”.
So, they band’s journey is an interesting one, with their latest release adding serious momentum to their trajectory of ascension. “Playing Brixton Academy in October of last year was a huge highlight for us. We hadn’t released our album yet and were convinced we wouldn’t be able to sell out anything even close to that. It was feeling that people still care about what we’re doing and they’re so supportive. It felt like our first triumph in a really really long time. That’s Brixton! That’s where Bob Marley played and The Clash and all that stuff. It’s where you want to play, when you’re a music fan and you’re dreaming of touring the world”.
There are plenty of other things in store for Warpaint. Jenny Lee Lindberg just so happens to be married to Chris Cunningham, the man responsible for revolutionary Aphex Twin and Björk video clips. He has been working on a documentary revolving around the birth of Warpaint’s new album. “I think it’s going to be a very different documentary. More like a short film, but with none of the usual pretentious nature of short films. It’s basically just this visual accompaniment to the record. Chris is also a really talented musician and he basically has remixed parts of the songs to fit with the visuals. It’s going to be a really beautiful perspective on that whole album. We’re really lucky”.
There is a sense of completeness that has settled in to the band, with Stella now a fully fledged member of the tribe. And whilst the new album takes some brave and fresh steps in new directions, it remains true to the essence of the band and has been critically lauded across many channels. One can only wonder what else lies ahead for this quartet of humble, seemingly relaxed, yet vital musicians.
Warpaint are currently play at Laneway Festival across Australia. For more details, head to the official Laneway website.
Photo and interview by Phil Erbacher. His spirit animal is an otter, for the record.