Warpaint: Battle On

Formed in 2004, California band Warpaint has a lot to celebrate: success, good music, and lifetime friendship. Before the band came together, high school friends, Emily Kokal (guitar, vocals) and Theresa Wayman (guitar, vocals) pushed each other to better themselves through their love for music and performance. Over the years, the women created cool tracks and built a family through their love for music. Now, the current lineup includes Kokal, Wayman, Stella Mozgawa (drums) and Jenny Lee Lindburg (bass). Together, the four continue to thrive in the music world.

Early in the band’s formation, the musicians found themselves working on their EP, Exquisite Corpse, mixed by former Red Hot Chili Peppers’ John Frusciante. Ten years later, the members of Warpaint currently have three full-length albums under their belts and continue to create even when on the road. It seems all they need are their instruments and a good jam space. Although the band released their newest album, Heads Up, less than a year ago, the four have been working on more material already. So perhaps they’ll be back in the studio again after their touring schedule slows?

Now, back from a lengthy European tour, the band is preparing to pummel America with a healthy dose of electric, groovy tunes. I was lucky to have had the chance to catch up with Kokal before the heavy round of touring picked back up. During the interview, we discussed tour life, the writing process, and albums.

How’ve the shows been going? You’ve been pretty busy lately.

Well, we just got off tour in Europe for a month and we’re home, and then we have, like, every weekend in August we have shows, but we’re kind of in and out of being home until we go on tour with Depeche Mode.

Wow. How was Europe?

It was great! It was a whirlwind. We played I think 20-something shows in a month, playing mostly festivals. It was great­—there were some festivals that were really fun to go back to and playing some places we’ve never played and new audiences. It was really fun because sometimes you don’t really know what kind of people are gonna turn up to a show in, say, Croatia. That was one of the funnest shows of the tour. It’s cool! It’s like summer camp.

It’s gotta be so interesting seeing all of these different sorts of people and cultures reacting to your own music.

Totally. And because it’s such a whirlwind, you don’t really get to see much except for maybe around the venue and the audience, so it’s these really quick little slices of life that flash before your eyes every day.

It’s got to be so cool. What goes through your mind before you get on stage?

I try to—we all try to warm up together and try to connect with each other. Sometimes when you’re on tour, you’re all spread out before you play, so we make sure to try to save some time to connect and tune with each other. Then usually a lot of different things go through my mind before we play. Just try to get your head in the game. Just get ready to connect.

Is there a particular song that you really love to perform live?

At the moment? I really love playing a song called “The Stall.” Songs have different moments that they go through where they sound better and then they get tired. I don’t know why, but they’re just like things, like, you’ll wear one pair of shoes for a week and then they just don’t—you don’t feel like wearing them. You just don’t really know why certain songs affect you in different times, but they all kind of have their moment in time where you’re really feeling connected to it and that happens to be the one. It wasn’t connecting when we first started playing it off the record because, you know, it takes a while to work certain songs out. So, that’s great because it’s nice when a song feels like it really locks in.

Yeah, right. Especially since that’s from the new record, Heads Up, sometimes you don’t really know how audiences will react to something relatively new.


And that album’s now been out for almost a year. How do you think it’s been perceived?

It’s been great. The album, when we made the album, we felt it was a little bit dance-y and groovy and so to be able to take that kind of energy out and it became a more dance-y and high energy show for us, I think that the response to that was very rewarding.

What made you guys want to switch things up a bit? Was it just something you wanted to try or something that just came out while writing?

I think that one of the things that happened—it happened really organically. It wasn’t so much like, “Okay let’s go out there and make it dance-y.” I mean, there was a little bit of that because I think the habit of us, when we all get together, is, when we jam, which is how we write songs a lot, is that we just naturally fall into a really groovy pocket and sometimes it’s not very fast, it’s just kind of like a slow thing. It’s the nature of what happens when the four of us get together.

But on this record, we did a lot of working separately from each other and naturally, people on their own were just kind of making faster music. Especially if you’re gonna make a drum beat just before Stella puts her drums on—like a drum machine. We were just kind of making things a little bit faster. That was something that we learned. When we change the way we do things, we’re naturally gonna find a different rhythm and that happened to be faster BPM.

Are you working on anything new now? You said something usually comes from jamming, so maybe soundcheck?

Yeah. We do sometimes jam in soundchecks, which is really fun because it’s not just playing the songs. It keeps us kind of in touch with each other and where we’re at now as musicians. Not just playing songs that we’ve written together in the past. That helps. And just making things on our own, we’re close to being in the phase of starting new stuff. But right now, and until the end of the year, we’re just on the road, which is not the easiest place to work. Unless, yeah, like soundcheck sometimes. We’ve written during soundchecks, but not really during festivals. You don’t get soundchecks. You just kind of go on stage.

You guys are touring a lot through the rest of the year. How do you keep things fresh and maintain that energy for so long?

I think one part of it is the audience and the fact that you have a fresh group of people every night and to react off of that keeps things spontaneous and keeps the energy moving and there’s flow to it because it’s not just a static situation. But also, you know, sometimes you don’t and it’s hard and you don’t have the high energy and that’s when the professionalism, I suppose, comes in. You just have to do what you have to do to put yourself in the zone. And I also think that we’re not the kind of group that plays our show from start to finish the same way every night. We change things up, we change the sets a lot, so we keep ourselves on our toes and make sure that we don’t really fall into playing the same show and getting out of doing something in a routine way just kind of keeps it alive.

We entertain each other and listen to each other and say we’re gonna jam on stage. Jamming can really actually fall very flat (laughs) if you’re not paying attention, so that keeps things really interesting. I think that’s one of the things that all four of us have in common is we like those kinds of risks—challenges, I guess.

Keeps things interesting, I guess! How did the band actually come together? I know you and Theresa are long-time friends. How’d this all work out?

Yeah, we were in choir together and them we both just started—one of the things that made us such good friends is that we both loved music and dancing and theater, so we really kind of bonded over that and I think we pushed each other towards those things. When you have someone that you can share your big dream with and they have that same dream, you can kind of work toward that together.

I think we played music a little bit together in high school. We both started playing guitar, but I think the thing that was probably the most beneficial element was that just knowing that we have each other’s back and dream, we felt like if we did it together that we could make it all the way toward that dream and not have to think about being realistic about our future. There was a way that we both really saw the other person’s potential and we were really each other’s champion and I think that really got us both to a place where we were making music and making art and supporting each other, helping each other know that it wasn’t just a pipedream and that it was something that we should both go for.


Don’t miss as Warpaint pulls into Underground Arts in Philadelphia on Sept. 8, and Madison Square Garden in NYC on Sept. 9 and 11. For more on these musicians, visit their site: warpaintwarpaint.com.