Warpaint: ‘This isn’t a Quentin Tarantino movie – it’s an album a band made’ | war paint

Warpaint would like to clarify something: they aren’t — and never were — about to break up. “I don’t remember this,” laughs bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg when the subject comes up. “I don’t remember those conversations being public.”

“It’s, like, in our bio!” guitarist and singer Theresa Wayman enters.

“Oh, you’re about to break up,” Lindberg says in a slightly mocking voice.

“Yes…no”, says drummer Stella Mozgawa, shaking her head.

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Yes, the art-rock collective from Los Angeles, which also includes singer and guitarist Emily Kokal, is still a real unit. You’d never know they’d been apart for a lot of time, given the way they finish each other’s sentences and go head-to-head like sisters. At one point, they were arguing for a whole minute when Kokal found out she was pregnant.

“You found out in 2019,” Mozgawa points out, as they all try to put together a timeline. ‘You were at my house. In 2018 you were not pregnant. Then you would have been pregnant for a year and a half.” Then, just as quickly, Mozgawa is distracted: “Look at that amazing bird that just landed in the park!”

A clean break… (from left) Stella Mozgawa, Jenny Lee Lindberg, Theresa Wayman and Emily Kokal of Warpaint. Photo: Magda Wosinska/The Guardian

It’s early on a Sunday morning, and the entire band has gathered at a picnic table in Elysian Park, a sprawling grassy knoll in LA’s Echo Park neighborhood. Behind us is an Elmo-themed birthday party, with red and white balloons suspended to form a merry rainbow-shaped arch. “My daughter absolutely loves Elmo,” Kokal, who lives nearby, laughs, and later points out her partner, producer j.franxis, on a nearby footpath with their daughter Frances in a pram. Also with us is Wayman’s teenage son Sirius, whom she jokingly introduces as Warpaint bassist. Obviously Warpaint is and always has been a family affair.

Formed in 2004, Warpaint released their critically acclaimed debut LP The Fool in 2010, sharing the stages with everyone from the xx and TV on the Radio to Panda Bear and Arctic Monkeys. On two more albums – 2014’s Warpaint and 2016’s Heads Up – the band cemented their reputation for moody dream pop that might as well evolve into improvised psychedelia or atmospheric post-rock. It’s, well, quite the atmosphere. “Manifest vibe,” Wayman agrees, and suddenly everyone chants, “Manifest vibe! Manifest atmosphere!”

“Write it down,” Wayman instructs.

Perhaps the disintegrating story started because Warpaint, approaching their 20th anniversary as a band, has spent the past few years scattered across different hemispheres, partly as a result of the pandemic and partly as a result of natural life events. After releasing Heads Up, which toured with Harry Styles, MGMT and Depeche Mode, the quartet embarked on a series of individual projects. Lindberg worked on solo material (her second album is due out later this year); Mozgawa collaborated on albums with Courtney Barnett, Cate Le Bon, Sharon Van Etten and Phantogram; Kokal had a baby and collaborated with Grammy-nominated composer Suzanne Ciani; and Wayman scored films and released her first solo album, LoveLaws, in 2018.

Now Warpaint is preparing their fourth album, Radiate Like This. The media buzz revolves around this being their first album in six years, but the band is quick to point out that the album has been in the works since 2018. It started to take shape when they recorded Melting, a slow-burning ballad that, in pure Warpaint way, builds a soundscape that is both soothing and dissonant. From there, the group wrote music for the Motherhacker podcast, and some of those ideas made their way into the new album. At this point they were tired. But they continued to encourage each other.

“I think everyone took turns,” Lindberg says. “If someone were to say, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ we would protest and say, ‘Yes, you can. You can do it.’ That has been the case for a few years now, we alternate with everything.”

Warpaint on stage in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2017.
The frontline… Warpaint on stage in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2017. Photo: Paul R Giunta/WireImage

When Covid arrived in early 2020, like most artists, the timeline was pushed back. Mozgawa, who was recording with Le Bon in Reykjavík at the time, immediately left for Australia. “I Couldn’t Go Back to My Home in Joshua Tree” [California] because I don’t have a green card,” she says. “Friends and family called me from Australia and said they were about to close the borders. I was like, ‘This is insane.’” Meanwhile, Kokal had only given birth a few days earlier. Lindberg had moved to Salt Lake City for what was supposed to be a short vacation. “I didn’t realize how hard I had to slow down,” she says. “I was walking every day. It felt like a long, long vacation.”

“We have been doing this together for ten years. And we’re on tour or making albums. It was really nice to slow down and hear my own thoughts again. If and when this all starts again, what can we learn to make it an even better, more successful experience?”

With their producer in London, Warpaint took the time to put the finishing touches on Radiate Like This at a distance – or, as Wayman puts it, “on various lunar cycles”. The result is a finely tuned collection of songs emanating from a well of optimism. “Positivity sounds like a banal word,” says Kokal. “But I personally wanted to sing about [feeling] a little more liberated. Through the dark. It’s almost like an incantation or a spell. I want to bring something that feels good, energetic, to share and to sing and to make people sing with you.”

While Warpaint is generally uninterested in assigning meaning to their music (“It’s not a Quentin Tarantino movie — it’s an album a band made,” Mozgawa says), Radiate Like This does mark a noticeable shift in tone, especially when compared to previous singles. like Undertow and Love Is to Die, sonically thrilling affairs about unscrupulous lovers. The new album sounds lighter, with looser, lighter melodies. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the kaleidoscopic cooing single Stevie, which the band previously described as purely about love.

“I listened a lot to soul music and Stevie Wonder at the time,” says Kokal. “Stevie is a girl in love.” Likewise, the raunchy, winking Send Nudes is musically more delicate than previous efforts, reflecting the comfort and ease of Kokal’s nine-year relationship.

While they have no plans to break up, there’s no question that Warpaint is in a new place both personally and professionally, and Radiate Like This is an elegant snapshot of their collective evolution.

“I think this is where we are as individuals,” admits Kokal. “There is growth. We may have toiled much of the dark ground for a long time. And just evolve, grow, be pregnant while I was writing. I had a little more warmth that I wanted to sing and express.”

Radiate Like This is out now.

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