warpaint: my girls, my gang, our way
Now 12 years deep, effortlessly cool LA band Warpaint know a thing or two about female friendships.
Skype interviews always begin with a weird uncertainty. To livestream yourself or not to livestream yourself? If you call an artist with the camera on and they pick up with audio only, you're already a creep and the only option is to hastily cancel it to avoid a full hour of awkwardness. If you call without, they'll take it to be a voice-only call and you miss out on a whole sensory element of the interaction, and worse still, you don't get to stare at your favourite artist all night. Luckily, when Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman from Warpaint call me from their New York hotel room, they opt for video. It's the middle of the afternoon and they're lounging comfortably on Theresa's bed, Emily sticking a band-aid on her foot. "This doesn't usually happen in LA," she assures me, "there's been a lot of walking around here." In town on press duties, they're gearing up to release their third album, Heads Up, and last night went back to basics and played their first show together in a long while at Baby's All Right in Brooklyn.
Past interviews have painted the band as defensive but today they're anything but. In fact, I feel like I've just joined their sleepover. "This is my BFF since we were eleven," beams Emily, as she hugs Theresa. The two of them grew up together in Eugene, Oregon, and spent their days skipping school to drive around listening to hip-hop. Along with bassist Jenny Lee, they have been making music as Warpaint for an impressive 12 years, with drummer Stella joining them not long after. Previous releases Undertow and Love Is To Die were instant hits, as was the impossibly cool video for Disco//Very, in which they slow-mo dance their way down the middle of the road through a forest as a handful of LA's finest skate around them.
The original girl gang, Warpaint know the importance of friendship. "There's security in the bond and kinship of having done the time with each other," Theresa muses. "It's like family." They might be the dream team, but they're realistic too. "Sometimes the friendships you've had the longest aren't necessarily the easiest all of the time…" Emily admits, laughing, "but they're the most fulfilling." It's refreshing to hear an artist speak so honestly about band dynamics; a too-often taboo topic. "It's almost like the band is secondary to the process of learning to exist together as human beings," she continues. "We're learning how to be better people with each other; that's the primary goal, and the music is just the by-product of that." Holding within it the power to inspire, to transport, to move listeners to a trance-like state, their music is pretty damn great for a by-product.
Following a year of solo projects and extra curricular collaborations, Warpaint regrouped in January to write their addictive third studio album, Heads Up. "It's a bit more uplifting, more positive, more 'keep your head up,'" explains Theresa. "Yeah, rather than, 'I'm gonna throw a football at your face so heads up!'" Emily laughs. "Or is it?!" chips in Theresa. They crack each other up. Done "working their shit out individually", as Emily puts it, the four of them took an experimental and laid-back approach to making the record. "We've been trying to fuse our styles and understand each other more," she says. "We didn't put any pressure on ourselves." They wrote it - sometimes together, sometimes in pairs - in their Downtown LA practice space, where according to the girls you really shouldn't make an album. There might be sound bleed from the metal band next door and the reggae guy down the hall, but with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the LA River, the girls love it and even shot the album cover there.
"We wanted to have the most fun we could possibly have," Emily says. "I think we deserve it at this point." Teaming up with producer Jacob Bercovici, who they worked with on their debut Exquisite Corpse EP, the result is an album that is immediately less of a jam session and more danceable than previous releases. The aptly-titled first single, New Song is catchy as hell and funky fresh, following the industrial By Your Side, a friendship-focussed harmony-laden song that proclaims, "now I know I'm not alone, got my girls I'm not alone." Another stand-out, Don't Let Go, is part haunted 90s teen movie, part Led Zeppelin, and features all four vocals built on top of one another beautifully. Interestingly, following 2014's Biggie, Heads Up features a track called Dre. A throwback to their teen dream days perhaps? "Oh my god, you're right!" Theresa exclaims. "Dude, it's West Coast/East Coast! Do you realise that?" With Dre used as a working title due to the opening beat, the accidental nod to both greats is a nice touch. The record as a whole is eclectic, and as Jenny Lee has pointed out, it is without a doubt an evolution of the band, "a mature version of Warpaint."
With albums come tours and Theresa and Emily are getting nervous. "At our show last night it felt really stiff, you know? Especially with the new stuff, we had to really concentrate," Theresa explains. Once they're into it though, they're certainly not afraid to dance. Discussing their favourite moves, a few macarena and YMCA moves are thrown around before Theresa gets up and does a full-on Charleston. It's impressive. "I love it because it's impossible to do the Charleston and be sad," she grins. There's a knock at the door and like a parent telling them it's past their bedtime, their publicist shuts things down. "Oh, but we're best friends now and we're just hanging out anyways!" Emily tells him, before throwing a pillow at the laptop camera and saying goodbye, sleepover style.
Text Francesca Dunn
Photography Kayt Jones