Warpaint's Theresa Wayman: I was worried this album would sound like a patchwork quilt
Photo By Mia Kirby
Warpaint captivated the indie-rock world upon the release of their intoxicating debut album, The Fool. The Los Angeles quartet capitalized on that attention by touring tirelessly in support of their sinister melodies for the next three years.
Following some down time to recoup after their arduous touring schedule, the band decamped to Joshua Tree National Park to begin the early stages of writing and recording their follow-up album. The band tapped Flood (Depeche Mode, New Order) to produce their self-titled sophomore effort. The results are equally as enthralling, ranging from the rhythmic paranoia of "Disco // very" to the moody meditation on devotion "Love Is to Die."
Before Warpaint's show Saturday at First Avenue, Gimme Noise spoke with guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist Theresa Wayman about how touring for so long affected their new songs, what role Flood had in shaping their current sound, and how excited everyone in the band is to open for Nick Cave this summer.
Gimme Noise: Throughout your career, there has been an unhurried, measured pace to both your songs and your releases themselves -- is that an intentional aim of the band to set your own creative timetable?
Theresa Wayman: Yeah, the idea of not putting something out until it's ready is definitely behind all of our decisions. We have always gone by a slower time clock. And I don't really know what's behind that, to be honest. It's not a conscious decision, it's just the way things roll for us. Some people are putting out music immediately as they turn 19 and discover that they want to do that, and they kind of have to grow up in front of everyone. And I feel like we were growing up in the public eye, too. Our first album was definitely not our biggest and best piece of work, either. I feel like we have learned a lot since then, and we're still learning.
Would you classify yourselves as being sonic perfectionists in a way, or is it just how the timing has worked out in between your releases?
For this last release, we didn't intend for it to be three years after The Fool. We were touring, and we just kept getting offered more and more shows, so we kept touring. And then we wanted to work with Flood, and his schedule kept getting pushed too. So, we ended up recording with him eight months later than we thought we were going to initially. So, it's a timing thing, not really a conscious decision -- like, "Hey, let's just wait, and make everybody want this record so bad," or anything like that.
Looking back, do you feel that the arduous touring schedule in support of The Fool had a positive effect on the writing and recording process for your self-titled record?
Yeah, I think it did. By the time we were done, we were absolutely beyond ready to get back into the studio and start writing, and to be able to express all of the things we had learrned over the last two years of touring. We really changed a lot after we recorded The Fool. Before that, we had only played a handful of shows, and had only been out of L.A. like once. Things changed really, really quickly as soon as we finished The Fool. And it felt like we needed to go in and write some new songs, because we were a different band in a way.
You decamped to Joshua Tree National Park to write some of the new record. What was that experience like, and how much of the surroundings seeped their way into the sound and style of the album?
I feel like I can write music anywhere, to be honest. And I don't need to go away to do it. I can find inspiration in my bedroom, or the studio, at any moment. And when you're doing that, you can make music that comes from whatever visions you have in your head. You can be imagining a desert soundscape and make one, even though you're not anywhere near a desert. But that being said, I feel like being at Joshua Tree was really great for us as a band to be together for a month. To live together, and coexist and write with no pressure and just have this free-form environment to experiment with each other. So, from that, there was a lot of music that came from that month, a lot of songs that are on the album, actually.
So, how has the songwriting process -- as well as the creative dynamic between you and Emily [Kokal, vocalist/guitarist, and Theresa's friend since childhood] -- evolved over the years?
Well, it's changed in that it's not just her and I collaborating anymore. It's a four-way collaboration now. And that can take numerous different forms. I don't feel like the collaboration is solely between her and I, because we kind of share the same role in the band. I feel like we branch off with other people more than we branch off together, because we are sort of filling the same roles in the band.
You mentioned that you all were really anxious to work with Flood. What was that like for you, and what role did he play in shaping or refining the band's sound?
Flood is a professional, so he made us sound a lot more professional. But he's also a really down-to-earth, sort of avant-garde artist, and he allowed us to keep our vision and retain our vision, no matter what rules that broke in the professional world, For instance, we recorded a lot of our own vocals sitting in front of speakers singing over playback of the track. And when you do that, you're going to have a lot of bleed, potentially, if that gets on that vocal take. And he told us that some big producers just wouldn't stand for that, because it creates a layer of grime, something unclean in the track. He is very capable of making the most polished music, but also capable of going the other direction. So he let us do that, and take things into our own hands a lot, and let us keep our own style.
While there are clearly singles to be found on the new record, the songs themselves reveal more to me when they are listened to as part of the whole intoxicating album. How did you expertly balance crafting individual songs that fit so fluidly into the album as a whole?
Good question. I don't know. Honestly, I have no idea [laughs]. I really was worried that this album was going to sound like a patchwork quilt or something, but not in a good way. I felt like it might be really disjointed, because some of the songs were really coming from such different angles, and they weren't all written at the same point in time. They weren't all written at Joshua Tree, for instance. We had broken off into pairs, or even just individually, and written songs, recorded them, and put them on the album. But I feel that mixing them all at the same time in London with Flood really helped to give them some cohesive sound. And even if they weren't at the same time together, they were written in the same general space and time. We four spend so much of our lives together that we have the same impulses and instincts, and we go through phases where we're drawn to similar things. It does make sense that subconsciously there's a common thread to what we're going for.
You are touring with the incredible Cate Le Bon -- and in the past, you have played with the likes of the xx, School of Seven Bells, Phantogram -- how important is it for you to play with like-minded artists and bands? And how much inspiration do you draw from getting to see and hear these bands playing live every night?
Oh man, the inspiration is endless. That's one of the best parts about being a musician, to be honest, is the other musicians you get to meet. I didn't even think about that before we started, so that was a big surprise. The first time we went to play a festival, I was shocked, because you get there and you realize you are in the backstage area with all these other musicians, and you get to meet them and watch them play, and start to get closer to what they are doing and see behind the scenes. It's really exciting.
That was a huge thing that really shook me after traveling and touring after the release of The Fool -- I really started to quickly see the whole world open up for me, as far as the music and culture that I realized we were now a part of. It just inspired me to want to get back into the studio, so waiting two years to do that was actually really hard.
You've also managed to secure what I can only imagine is a gig of a lifetime -- opening up for Nick Cave for some shows this summer. How psyched are you all for those shows, and what was your reaction like when you first heard you were going to be opening up for Nick?
Just sort of disbelief, as you can imagine. It's still kind of surreal. It's one of those emails that you get that you just don't forget. You don't forget the moment that it first happens, and looking at your bandmates and seeing their eyes bulging and their mouths open. Exactly what we want to have happen, just happened. So that's pretty cool.
When can we expect to see the entirety of Chris Cunningham's film that he shot of the band while you were recording the new album?
I'm not sure. He's slowly piecing it together. He's a really busy man, and he's got his own music projects going on. He's got all kinds of stuff going on. But he's been slowly putting that together. But I'm not really sure when he'll wrap that up, so I don't have a definitive answer for you on that one.
So you guys are playing First Avenue when you return to Minneapolis. Are you excited to play the club? I know Minneapolis is really excited to have you back again.
Yeah! We're so happy to be back in America and touring and playing shows, because it's been a while. We've had two shows so far on this tour, and I've been in love with both of them.
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