warpaint's theresa wayman is swapping rock for trip-hop
The guitarist/vocalist shares her new song, 'The Dream,' and describes flying solo with a new sound.
In the mid morning, there’s a calmness to New York’s Lower East Side that stands defiant to the rest of the city. The yuppies who reside in what was once the bowels of New York City have all gone to work, and the cafes along Ludlow Street are only just starting to fill up with their daily quota of freelancers. It’s here, next to an open fire in a hotel lobby, where we meet Warpaint guitarist/vocalist Theresa Wayman. Wayman is in New York to promote her first solo record, which she is releasing on May 18 under the name TT. It’s both her nickname and an abbreviation of Theresa, and as she explains, it has a rather sweet backstory. “I have a kid and his dad calls me TT,” she says from the comfort of a red leather couch, her face peeking out from a grey hoodie that’s pulled up over her head like a heavyweight boxer. She continues, “When my son was younger he had a friend whose name was also Theresa, and they called her TT. She had these thick glasses and I thought she was adorable. I figured that if there was any way I could be called TT then I’d make it happen.”
Thankfully, the name fits and is perfectly suited to the project, which one of Wayman’s friends rightly pointed out sounds very similar to 90s trip-hop. It’s a style of music Wayman says she listened to as a teenager, but she never quite realized the influence it had had on her music until it was pointed out. “I knew that I was [making music] in a way that I’d imagined it being done back then, which is a studio process,” she explains, “but I didn’t realize it was coming from that until someone said ‘this is very trip-hoppy.’” Having grown up in the 90s, she adds, “I think those were the years when I was starting to feel like I wanted to make music. It was through that music, rather than [by] learning Beatles songs.”
If the term trip-hop sounds nostalgic now, it’s probably because Portishead’s Dummy was released 24 years ago and Massive Attack’s Mezzanine has just had its twentieth anniversary. But not since the genre’s heyday has there been an album so heavily rooted in the sound and impulses that first rattled the global pop charts. LoveLaws, Wayman’s solo debut, has been years in the making – some of the songs are half a decade old, but none sound out of place. Each song is a tapestry of layers and textures that Wayman spent hours weaving together and refining. The magic of LoveLaws, therefore, lies in the tiny details – the wandering guitar riff on “I’ve Been Fine”; the layered vocals on “Love Leaks”; the sensual melody that switches pace, again and again, throughout “The Dream”.
“I didn’t really think it would take that long to get to the end point, but there kept being all these things that would [delay it],” says Wayman. With Warpaint being her number-one work priority and her 12-year-old son dominating her personal schedule, she says, “it was definitely hard to find solid chunks of time to finish the album. I didn’t want it to be something that I pushed to happen.”
The album undoubtedly benefits from the time Wayman took to complete it. Her lyrics offer a window into an extended period of her life – both while in love and out of it – and they evoke thoughts and feelings akin to an impressionist painting. One of the best examples is on “The Dream”, where Wayman sings from two different perspectives and expresses the need to accept someone at their worst, because one day that person might be you. The song starts by asking, “Will you catch me if I fall? / Breathe for me / Break down my wall? / If I feel in trouble and go dark / Give me a reason not to play that part.” In the second verse, she responds, “I can catch you if you fall / Breathe for you / Break down your wall / If you feeling dark or you feel weak / Hold you upright and put you on your feet.” It’s a lesson in how to love, listen and learn from your mistakes.
“The Dream” is the first song on LoveLaws that Wayman says she sketched out. It dates back to 2012, in between the release of Warpaint’s debut album Fools and their self-titled follow-up. “I actually had a version of that song before I learned how to make beats,” she remembers, adding that the discovery of a piece of recording software named Geist changed the way she created music. Wayman also played an early version of “I’ve Been Fine” on an episode of Guitar Power that was filmed in 2014, and it’s remarkable to hear the song’s evolution. What started as a simple guitar and vocal melody developed into a dense electronic song, with seesawing reverb and a steady bass line.
With time on her side and no label pressure to contend with until the very end ( LoveLaws is being released on her own imprint via Caroline International), Wayman says reaching an endpoint was simply a matter of her feeling satisfied. “With Warpaint, we’ve never had that luxury,” she says, “we’ve always been up against money and time.” Does that mean she’s more satisfied with LoveLaws, than with any of Warpaint’s three records ? “I think there’s always going to be things that bug me. Things that don’t sound 100% right,” she says, before admitting, “I do think I got to a place where I’ve got a fuller perspective of what I was trying to create, and I did get closer to perfection, if that exists.”
How the record will be received by fans and critics is now out of her hands, but she confesses to feeling a little nervous. Asked if she pays attention to criticism, she says, “Of course I do, but I’m not obsessive about it.” So far, the majority of reviews have been positive. SPIN called single, “Love Leaks” “a heady and addicting six minutes,” while The 405 described “I’ve Been Fine” as “a fireworks display of guitars and synthesizers.” There will be more opinions shared when the album drops on May 18 and Wayman will be watching, though she thinks it’s impossible for people to review an album without personal bias.
“I don’t know if I’m fully behind album reviews,” she admits, before asking. “How could you ever review an album in an objective way?” She pauses for a second, then continues, “I guess it’s cool to have tastemakers and to have people that help distribute culture, but it’s a slippery slope and it can be distorted so quickly by people’s egos and need to feel important.”
The precision and poise that Wayman has poured into LoveLaws will hopefully translate into positive reviews, but one can never tell. “Why do people need to spread hate? I don’t understand that,” she says defiantly. Before we part, she rolls up a sleeve of her sweater and reveals a thinly drawn tattoo of a knife that she had done in Melbourne, Australia. It’s a fitting metaphor for a record that’s been made with such precision and detail.