Warpaint Stripped

Warpaint Stripped
Warpaint are embarking on an intensive tour of their new, self-titled album, which comes not-so-hot on the heels of their 2010 debut, The Fool. That first release put them on the radar of critics and fans alike who praised the L.A. band's dense and noisy dream pop sound and multi-voice harmonies. The long wait to record with veteran producer Flood resulted in a more detail-oriented document that's replete in keyboard hooklets, liquid guitar fills, and inventive percussion leads. I spoke with Theresa Wayman, the band's guitarist/keyboardist, in the NYC Rough Trade offices a few hours before an intimate Brooklyn gig that kicks off their multinational tour.

So is [the show] for the public, or just for label folks and friends?
It's for a public crowd, so we can practice before heading out, and let folks hear the new songs. [But] it's really small, for about a hundred people.

You've been a band now for about ten years. Does it really feel that way?
It feels like we've been at it for a long time, but it didn't really get serious until we recorded for Rough Trade and started touring. So in a way it does feel like we're new. This album feels new as well, because it's really the first time we've all written songs together from nothing. Last album we were writing with [then-new drummer] Stella [Mogzawa], but she was adding flavour to songs that had existed for many years before her. So this is a really new experience.

That must be a good feeling: that you're just starting, versus a band that's ten years in and starting to feel like they're repeating themselves or losing energy for the project.
Yeah, it does feel great. And it does feel, even though we're considered…even though it seems like we've been around…not just that we've been a band for ten years, but that this is our second album. In my mind it's like we should just be treated like this is our second album. We did establish something with the first one and we are continuing that with this one. And in that way we're creating a story that's kind of a combination of old and new.

What was the period of time between the release and tour of the first album and recording this album like?
We took a small break to live normal lives… and then our recording date with Flood got pushed, so we ended up getting to take more time with these songs. And we just leisurely wrote, but, when I say "leisurely…" I didn't feel leisurely actually. I felt really anxious. I tend to feel, lately, that time is sort of slipping away, even though it's not. But I felt that way during the writing process. I felt like we had so much to say and I just wanted to get it out, and I was having a hard time dealing with the natural time that it takes to create something. So right now I couldn't be more excited about it finally coming to this where we're releasing the album and get to start playing [the songs] live and people get to really enjoy these songs. I've been waiting for this day for a year and a half, even before the songs were finally written.

When you mention "time slipping away" do you mean mostly in relation to this album, or more to newer ideas that have to be put on hold until later?
Yeah, just having tons of ideas. Having all these ideas for this new album and having to wait through the process of them coming to fruition. You have to be patient. You can't force things like this — you can't force creativity, you can't force a song or an idea to complete itself. You have to allow it to gestate and then find its voice. And especially with our band, that sometimes takes longer than I'm comfortable with. We all have to come together on everything. And so I feel like we've already taken so long to get to this point…and there's a lot of good things about that, but now I feel just really fed up with waiting.

By the time of recording with Flood the songs had been around for quite some time. How much did they change at that point? Or how much of his own "stamp" did he put on them?
There were a number of songs that were mostly done by the time he came on the scene. He definitely influenced the way they sounded, the way the instruments sounded as they were going into the desk. But, there were some arrangements and so on that he really didn't have anything to do with…a lot of them actually. But there were a few songs that weren't really sorted out that he was really instrumental in helping us figure out the best way to the end of the song. I think his biggest stamp is just the atmosphere that he added in mixing. Mixing isn't just the placement of everything. It's also sometimes deciding to take things out. We were already on a tip where we wanted to have more space and more ability to hear the elements, and he's very much that kind of producer.

With this more minimal approach to the album, where it's more detail oriented and distinct in its layers and textures, did you sometimes worry you were sacrificing the immediacy of hooks to let listeners in?
I think it makes the hooks that are there more audible, and I think there's a lot of attention to hooks there as well. Even more so than on the last album, because the ones we did find and decide to latch onto we actually repeat.

So does the minimalist and atmospheric approach have more to do with your current listening habits, or something more simply organic that happens when you play together?
What happened, what made us want to do this had nothing to do with the current climate of minimalism that seems to be happening around us and more to do with the fact that once we started to play our last album live we ended up having to strip a lot of the songs back because there was so much going on per song, and it wasn't translating live. Everything was sounding really clustered, so we immediately started stripping our songs back and making them more minimal and realized we could do that more in our songwriting and recording because we like it better. Before, the excitement of having each of our voices heard made us all want to talk at once, but after touring for a while we realized we couldn't do that. It sacrifices the quality of the whole.

On the other side of that, because, again, the songs have been around for a while, will you feel a desire to tinker with them when playing them live?
You know what, we're more happy with these songs because we did spend a lot of time refining them beforehand, so now we're finding we don't need to do that as much live. We've been playing them really true to the record. But there's a different energy to playing live than recording, so the songs get really big.

Other than the excitement of just finally playing these songs live is there anything on the tour that you're looking forward to?
Well, we're doing the Laneway Festival, which we've done before and was really a highlight of our last touring cycle. I don't know if you're familiar with it, but it's in Australia and it's a traveling festival. So whoever you're on the bill with you end up moving from city to city and it's just really fun being with a bunch of other musicians that you like and admire and are your contemporaries. It's really exhilarating.

There's been a little buzz about the fact that Chris Cunningham has been doing some video chronicles of the band. How is that being released and what can we expect from that?
It'll be online — everything is online first these days. It's going to come out in instalments. We have another instalment that's a little vignette that's coming out, along with the album release. He's just doing reinterpretations to visuals of the songs and putting them all together, and maybe sometime spinning off into some random little visual tangent or musical tangent. It's all really an amoeba at the moment.

Is there anything that you've seen him do so far, or that he's gotten out of your music, that's surprised you?
Well I like his remixes, and those sometimes can surprise me. I think what's maybe most surprising is that he's a lot more understated than I thought he would be. I think that that's where he wants to go right now, a lot more organic, because the music video art form is so overplayed that nearly everything you do as a director could be construed as a cliché. And so it seems like he just wants to do the most normal thing anyone could possibly do, which is just fly-on-the-wall footage so that there's no gimmick and no trying too hard. That first simple idea has been forgotten for so long that it feels like it's something new. The new "Windowlicker" is just Theresa playing her guitar.