Warpaint rally their battle hymns
Warpaint learned a lot about themselves and their music from touring their debut album. Their second album was about doing more with less, says guitarist Theresa Wayman
If you look in The Ticket’s archives, you’ll find an interview with Warpaint published a few years ago. The band were then touring their debut album, The Fool, and the interview with drummer Stella Mozgawa is a classic of the tour bus phone interview genre.
Rereading the piece, you can hear again the crappy phone connection and the slick of fuzz on a line that kept breaking down. You can also clearly catch the vibe of a band on tour and not quite having the crack.
Fast forward to December 2013, and Theresa Wayman admits she’s a little frazzled today. She’s at home in LA’s Echo Park and another queue of journalists are calling. This time out, though, it’s a much more pleasant kind of frazzle. Wayman and Warpaint are talking about a new album, one they’re happy to be introducing to the world.
Warpaint has an infectious, insatiable groove and is an album full of alluring twists and turns that take you down fascinating roads. The mood remains broody and noiresque, but there are liquid, lustrous hooks to hang your hat on, such as in the hypnotic Love Is to Die, Disco // very and Biggy. It’s an album to immerse yourself in and savour the confidence of a bunch of musicians hitting their stride.
For Wayman and her bandmates, the new album brought forth a massive sigh of relief after a tour that turned their songs upside down and inside out – and not in a good way.
“After touring for ages, all the songs we were playing from the first album seemed totally crammed,” she remembers. “There was too much instrumentation, and they were too full for my liking.”
Minimalism rather than maximalism proved to be the key when they started to work up new songs in a hired house in the Joshua Tree National Park.
“We wanted space, which would enhance a really good beat or a really good melody or bassline. It was about having one thing shine rather than having so much going on at the same time. That was an important thing for us to do, to step back and let the music be more simple and spacious and to create soundscapes.”
Sometimes this is easier said than done. “When you are in the moment, you don’t realise when to stop,” says Wayman. “You end up with so many ideas that you want to keep adding on and I think it’s easy to start thinking that there’s room for more when there’s actually not.
“When you get bored, you want to do something new or add something new to a song just for the sake of it when it was actually great in its simple form to begin with. You have to train yourself to stay simple.”
Wayman knows that Warpaint aren’t the only ones checking out the less-is-more template – “minimalism in music is becoming a bit of a fad” – but she feels they have an advantage when it comes to the tunes.
“You need to have decent ideas to begin with, and it’s important to get down to the best of the best rather than covering things up. You have to be diligent with what you’re doing and stick with the good stuff rather than make do with the not-so-good stuff.
“Sometimes, OK, you just settle. It happens in all art, I’m sure. It’s easy to settle on something which you know is not 100 per cent right. If you feel that way about a track, it’s easy to start layering things over it to make it feel right and then you’re getting further and further away from what were the best pieces which you should allow sing out.”
Wayman says the new album is also a far better document of Warpaint as a band. “There had been a lot of change since we recorded The Fool. For example, we’d barely played with Stella when we recorded that album because we’d had so many drummers.
“We’d never travelled the world, we’d never met the amazing musicians we’ve met and we’d never been exposed to much brilliant new music and new culture as we have in the past three years. I’ve been flooded with all kinds of new information and inspiration and ideas. I just wanted to get back into the studio and do something different.”
For Wayman, the best thing about touring was discovering so many new bands.
“When we started travelling, I’d come across bands at festivals and I’d be really excited by who was playing. I loved The xx and I met James Blake – I met him before I heard his music and when I heard his music, I was astonished – and Little Dragon and Kurt Vile. The first time I saw Little Dragon, my mind was blown and I danced for the whole show.”
Of course, she acknowledges, she didn’t have to leave home to hear these acts. “You can be flooded with the world at large no matter where you live. You could be in Eugene, Oregon, my hometown and a small town in comparison with Los Angeles, and you can know exactly via the internet what music is being released everywhere, even on an underground level.
“But I was never really searching that stuff out, which I think is a beneficial thing in some ways because I wasn’t influenced by other stuff. So my perspective when it comes to making music is really pure. I never listened to something and went ‘oh I want to do that’ and copied it. I just let it be purely from my own point of view.
“Even in LA – and we live in Echo Park, which is a small community full of musicians – you can be entirely not in the know about what’s going on in New York or London.”
As Wayman enthuses about the music and acts she discovered on tour, you can understand her eagerness about Warpaint.
“We were all so ready to make something new because we’d changed so much so quickly after we did the last album. It wasn’t fully our voice – that’s how I feel about it now. I’m proud of that album, but I’m not as proud as I am of this one or even the Exquisite Corpse EP.”
Leaving aside the inevitability of an artist bigging up their new product, Wayman makes some interesting points about bands getting trapped by their debut album.
“Sometimes when people make their first album, it’s their best album and they can never repeat or surpass or keep up with that. They were coming out with such a pure and unique voice that they can’t go back to it. People are blown away by it and then, all of a sudden, that artist can’t get to that pure source of inspiration again because they’re looking in rather than making something they love.
“It’s the reverse for us. We had a lot of success with our first album, but we didn’t go viral and we didn’t become huge. That’s a good thing now in hindsight. I didn’t feel any pressure to repeat or do as well as we did on the first album because I knew we could do better and we did. This one surpasses everything we’ve done already. As it should. We should be growing.”
What happens next will also be interesting, as Warpaint face into a year of touring. Wayman knows, as happened the last time around, that the songs will change as the shows go on and she’s looking forward to seeing what the shakeout will be.
“Some bands try to play the songs exactly how they are on the album, but we’re very hard like that. We’ll take out parts that aren’t working or whatever. It doesn’t have to sound the same. In fact, it’s a different experience, two different art forms. Each of them have their own characteristics. Sometimes you can’t have the answer to a specific song until you’ve played it live and you go ‘that’s it’.
“No matter how long you take or how much you try, you just can’t work it out until you play it live.”