Saturday, 8 February 2014

Music: Interview with Warpaint

Formed in 2004, it took Los Angeles-based four piece Warpaint over four years of playing and writing together before the recording their first EP Exquisite Corpse under the watchful eye of former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante.

“When we were younger and just starting out, we just wanted to lock ourselves up in our garage and learn how to play music together,” says Emily Kokal.

“Nobody was rushing to show anything because we wanted to build a nice repertoire of music.

“We lived in a house together and travelled, so when we made the EP, we had songs that we’d been working on since the beginning of the band,” she says.


The EP was mixed by Frusciante, who at the time was in a relationship with Kokal.

“He was a big fan,” she says. “You can hear his touch in the mix of the EP.”

When Frisciante and Kokal broke up shortly afterwards, Stella Mozgawa joined the band as their permanent drummer just in time to record Warpaint’s 2010 debut album, The Fool.

“When Stella joined that’s when the band changed and really got going,” she says.

“We went on tour for two years. We toured for so long that we’d never actually made music with Stella before, from the ground up, and that’s what this album is.

“From touring we learned a lot about playing together and we matured a lot as musicians so when we started writing this record, things happened a lot faster – there’s more maturity in the way that we write now,” she says.

From the time of the release of The Fool in 2010, the group have received plaudits from the British music press and even featured as part of the BBC’s Sound of 2011.

“It felt good to be appreciated and because we’d took so long, we were ready for it,” she says.

“That’s how the band operated. We worked until we were ready for all of these different stages. It wasn’t like overnight success. We all felt like it came at the right time.

“Because we live in California, and that kind of attention was happening in the UK, we’re not quite as aware of it because we’re not over there so that kind of protects us from the buzz and hype swirling around us.”

The group have made waves in the UK and Europe, but have found it difficult to capture the imagination of notoriously difficult American market.

“America has such a different design, especially as far as radio goes,” she says. “It’s like Radio 1 or nothing.”

“There are indie stations and we were played on those, but we weren’t getting that same kind of radio play because the radio stations are pop-centric, or alternative rock.

“It touched the UK really fast. We were really embraced. The UK embraces the non-conventionality, but the big businesses of the US don’t know what to do with us because we’re not producing a lot of hits. It’s unique that we’ve got to the point that we’ve got to because of how unorthodox our music is,” she says.

For their self-titled second album released on January 20, Warpaint utilised the talents of veteran music producer Flood who over the years has worked with artists including Nine Inch Nails, New Order and the Smashing Pumpkins.

The group honed their sound, simplifying their music and allowing the songs, in their own words, to feel sexier.

“On the new album there’s a lot more space and we’ve worked with a really great producer,” says Kokal.

“We’re becoming more of a cohesive unit which makes song-writing a little less muddy and a little bit more clear, open, direct and simplified without losing our sound and the relationship we have to each other.

“I think our sound will always continue to evolve, because the process of writing and playing together there’s a more cohesive experience going on and I think we’re becoming increasingly better at hitting the spot at what we want .

“We’re getting better at speaking each other’s language.”


A lot has been made in the media about the fact that Warpaint are an all-girl rock band – something which is still quite rare in mainstream music, but is thankfully becoming more of an accepted norm.

“In a certain sense, especially with the music we were making, that worked to our benefit,” says Kokal.

“For a while it was like ‘wow, these girls are really playing their guitars’ – we weren’t just a girl in front of a band of guys.

“There was a novelty to it initially, and if anything it’s a sign of our times that people are ready to embrace that.

“I think we were a welcome change to your usual four dude rock band that has dominated the scene.

“Women in rock was a big thing in the 90s. But a lot of those girl bands were riot girl, feminist bands that were making a stand or making a statement.

“Because there hadn’t been that kind of space made for them, they were making it themselves and I think we’ve arrived at a time when you don’t have to fight for that any more because that’s already been done for us – it’s a really great thing.”

This article was published in the Yorkshire Evening Post on February 6, 2014.


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