Warpaint interview: ‘We don’t need a lead singer but we do need each other’

Published in The i on September 2, 2016

There’s always been a gap between Warpaint, the bouncing live band, and Warpaint, the downbeat foursome of their records. Meeting two of the American dream-pop/psych-rock group – bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg and guitarist Theresa Wayman – they give the impression that both their fans, and the band themselves, have always preferred their more upbeat incarnation.

That evening, faced with an audience sitting politely in a proper concert hall, Wayman will coax them to their feet: “we’ve never had an audience sit down to our music before.”

And their new record, Heads Up, promises to have you dusting off your dancing shoes; this is Warpaint go pop. Oh alright, it’s not exactly Justin Bieber, but there are tighter wound grooves and more propulsive beats on their third full-length album, alongside their signature spiralling guitar jams, haunting harmonies and darkling, dreamy soundscapes.

Still, it turns out I was optimistic to hope for the sunnier mood in person too. Meeting in Dublin, at the start of a long tour, Lindberg and Wayman are already jetlagged and ill – the latter quips she “has the plague” and spends the interview with a hoodie over half her face. Her mane of dark hair will provide similar protection from the crowd that night. She confesses to suffering stage fright, but I feel like I’m suffering frost bite.

Lindberg is warmer – perhaps simply literally: she pads into both interview and live show in woolly socks and oversized cardie – in answering questions about their new-ish direction. “When we tour a record it sounds different: there’s more energy, we often speed things up, it’s more fun for us to play. When we went into recording this, we had that in mind: let’s start at the top.”

A press release even reveals that lead new single – the addictive, disco-hooked “New Song” – was inspired by “Get Lucky”. But Lindberg brushes off questions about it: “it was a fun assignment given by our manager: pick a modern pop song, be inspired by it. By no means was I trying to sound like it.” That night, they ironically introduce “New Song” as “Get Lucky”, and I cringe.

Warpaint – rounded out by guitarist Emily Kokal and drummer Stella Mozgawa, all sharing writing and vocal duties – are based in LA, but have found an enthusiastic audience the UK over the last 12 years. “Overseas in general, they ‘get’ music more,” offers Lindberg. “They’re more open. Our success started in the UK, we get more love here; America is slower catching on.”

The band are incredibly close: “we speak the same language, sometimes we don’t even have to talk, we just look at each other and laugh,” says Lindberg. And Heads Up is, in part, a touching hymn to that mutual dependence. “Now I know I’m not alone/got my girls, I’m not alone” goes the chorus of ‘By Your Side’, a lyric sure to be oft-quoted.

They all write individually, but while there’s no overarching theme of the album, it’s still somehow infused with a sense of togetherness. “Whatever we’re singing about – whether it’s a personal struggle, or a struggle with a relationship, or love – there’s a sense that we are here for each other,” says Lindberg. “We’ve been together for a long time: we are best friends, we are family.”

Wayman suggests that the foursome, after all working on solo and side projects, really drew back together on this project. “We realised how much we needed each other – needed every voice – to write the album that we really wanted to make.”

This has always been Warpaint’s USP: a band of equals, without a frontwoman. Democratic it may be, but it’s not always easy.

“When we first started playing, that was what we were drawn to, that there wasn’t any one person dictating – and it worked,” says Lindberg. “It’s definitely a slow process but it made our sound more original.”

“Warpaint does have to be all of us,” states Wayman. “That’s what’s special about it. And so sometimes you have to fight to be heard – but it’s worth the fight because we’re going to spend the next year and a half playing these songs. I want to feel like I’m a hundred per cent behind what I’m doing: I didn’t sign up to be in someone else’s band.”

This need for shared ownership of every song has, they confess, led to tensions and arguments. But it sounds like Warpaint have grown up and chilled out a bit too, letting the sisterly love smooth such wrinkles.

“Eventually, you get tired of fighting,” says Lindberg. “You realise not everybody’s going to be 100 per cent in love with everything. Those two people really love it, I love them, let’s validate them. Unless someone really doesn’t like it…”

“That happens a lot.” Wayman, deadpan.

How do they find touring? Do they party hard, or is it about looking after themselves? “It is a little bit of a grind, but it’s worth it,” says Wayman. As for partying… “We’ve been doing this long enough to know that there’s no longevity in that,” says Lindberg. “And once you start, you’ve got to maintain it; you can’t really perform, it’s very tiring. So it’s important for us to choose our moments!”

Show days mean no caffeine or sugar; Wayman self-mockingly notes that she now parties with a mocha. It’s also her first sober tour in a long time. “I usually have a couple of drinks before I go onstage because I do get nervous. The first few [sober shows] were kind of… tricky. But the other day I had the best show I’ve ever had sober. I think it’s my personality to need to loosen up – or it has been in the past – but I feel good about maturing into a more sensible human being.”

The tour will see them skipping around the US before heading to Europe, and the conversation naturally turns to the state of their nation. What have they made of the presidential race so far?

“Trump’s not right in the head,” says Lindberg, with wide-eyed concern. “I feel like everybody knows that, so that’s really strange. How can you not know that’s he’s not really right in the head?”

But it’s Bernie Sanders they’re keen to talk about. “Bernie was the jam,” says Lindberg. “He was a revolution,” chimes in Wayman – before noting how it revealed the power of Super Delegate votes, a depressing reassertion of the status quo in the face of a tide of political galvanisation.

“Now what do we do?” asks Lindberg, a little despairingly. “It’s been rigged and crooked for so long – you feel helpless. What can I do? Be kind to the person sitting next you – that’s really the only power you have.” She’ll be ok: she’s got her girls beside her.

Heads Up is released 23 September; Warpaint tour the UK from 22 October

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