Warpaint are a difficult band to pigeonhole. Post-punk /psychedelia/prog-rock only cover half of the band’s sound, but the trouble classifying their music would probably run smoothly with the experimental LA all-girl quartet. Vocally, Warpaint draw influences from the likes of Cat Power and Bjork, but listening more closely to their debut album, ‘The Fool’, theguitars are so heavily saturated in lilting phaser effects that their music harks back to early The Cure and even The Verve. I am digressing; just like their music swallows you up a world of ghostly landscapes and angelic harmonies, and it is this profound musical escapism that I wanted to see performed live by one of the most hotly-tipped acts of 2011.
The quartet opened their set with the monotonous, yet dulcet bass tones of ‘Set Your Arms Down’, allowing the crowd to slowly fall in love with guitarist/singer Emily Kokal’s ethereal vocals and meander to guitarist Theresa Wayman’s delicate arpeggios. While ‘Set Your Arms Down’ is a personal favourite, there was a sense among the crowd that this was not perhaps the best song to open with and, unfortunately, either the P.A or the band’s volume levels were too low to fully appreciate the beauty of this song live. The volume increased a little more for the remainder of the gig and fans did not let the earlier levels impede their engagement with the band’s ability to thread hypnotic guitar lines between eerie vocals, walking bass progressions and syncopated beats.
It was fantastic to hear the band play tracks off their 2009 EP, ‘ExquisiteCorpse’, such as the progressively haunting, ‘Stars,’ which implanted a deeper appreciation of the band’s early style and their capability to stay true to their experimentalism – also displayed by ‘TheFool’. Their unpredictable rhythm changes and irregular song structures clearly show how the band are passively avoiding being fashioned for mass-consumption, albeit their celeb-culture origins (Kokal used to date RHCP guitarist John Frusciante/Bassist Jenny’s sister is actress Shannyn Sossamon). Refreshingly, it is their talent and extremely original song writing that has pushed the band into the spotlight, reflected by the all-ages audience who sway in trance-like states, hypnotised by Warpaint’s on stage cosmology.
The performances of ‘Bees’, ‘Warpaint’ and ‘Shadows’ is where the band really comes into their own. Drummer Stella Mozgawa is rapturous behind her drum-kit, half-standing up with excitement as she snaps at the snare drum in ‘Shadows’. The fragmentary structure of ‘Bees’ ambushed the crowd half-way through the set, with Wayman and Kokal’s riffs splashing in restless dissonance and Lindberg’s roaring bass lines also cleverly interlacing Mozgawa’s off-beat pelts. Their hit, ‘Undertow’ was a little weaker than expected live, while the romantic, ‘Billie Holiday’, projected a faultless three-part harmony that looped beneath the gentle folk ballad tones.
Warpaint returned to the stage with a little more confidence for their encore; the capillary wave of Wayman’s guitar hook in ‘Elephants’ creeping about the stage and Kokal’s manipulative lyrics, ‘I’ll break your heart’, cunningly worming their way into the crowd’s heads. They most certainly left a residue.
After Sam and I finished our show on URN (http://urn1350.net/) this Thursday, we had a quick chat about our favourite tracks of the evening. Sam voted for Gil Scott Heron and Jamie xx, 'NY Is Killing Me' and I have chosen this track...
Whilston the Nottingham leg of their busy European tour, Impact’s Charlotte Krol caught up with Jimmy from Foalsto discuss life on the road, their new album and what we can expect to hear from the band next.
Impact: Firstly, how does it feel to be on tour again in the U.K after your U.S.A tour?
Jimmy: Really good, it’s a bit of a blur with jetlag and stuff and the first week’s been a bit weird, but good. Impact: Is it as exciting as playing in America?
Jimmy: Yeah, just very different. The shows over there for us are a lot smaller; it’s a lot harder work touring there. It’s cushier here with a big rider and stuff, but yeah we come back home and we’ve got sold out shows, it’s great. Impact: How does playing in Nottingham compare with some of the other U.K cities?
Jimmy: We’ve played here loads of times, in fact we’ve played most places in England now which is cool and Nottingham’s great. We always have a good night out. Impact: The title of your latest album 'Total Life Forever' comes fromRay Kurzweil’s 'Theory of Singularity', which looks at the concept of a human-created artificial intelligence producing a more advanced version of itself and the next A.I. producing an even more advanced version until this multiplies enough that mankind is eventually overtaken. Is this something that affects you as a band? There are many lyrics in the album that focus on your anxieties about the future.
Jimmy:Yeah, I guess so. It’s mainly something that interests Yannis (lead singer/guitarist) and it is a concept that we do think about as a band. Impact: Your latest album is in some ways the opposite of the angular and fast-paced feel of 'Antidotes'; there are longer pauses and drawn-out crescendos that allow us more time to mull over the music and lyrics. Was this a natural progression, stemming from a developed maturity in the band or just experimentation with a different musical style, or both?
Jimmy: Yeah, it was just a natural progression. We’re not so A.D.D as we were then. There was an excitement about filling every second with music, with angular riffs. Impact: It’s almost like a type of punk-funk.
Jimmy:Yeah it was also a representation of where we were playing live at the time too, like at house parties which are all in-your-face fun, and that can get boring after a while. As the shows get bigger, you can change as a band and you want to fill those spaces with bigger sounds. Our latest sounds are more about space and leaving it, allowing time to ponder about what’s happened and what’s coming. Impact: What was it like to record the album in Gothenburg?
Jimmy: The recoding was a lot different, it was really exciting when we got there it was this group of like 15 hardcore Swedish guys and girls all working together in a studio, building it, adding on rooms, always hanging around. Impact: Do the Swedes have a different way of looking at music and music production?
Jimmy: They were just a lot more relaxed than we were used to. Very laid back, very calm, very cool, they basically formed this collective when they can just churn music out. Its brilliant, no third parties involved, no big investor, Not like how it is in London where you’re suddenly under this big umbrella and there’s this big company telling you what to do and the studio could close any minute. Impact: And is that quite a shock when you first start getting known in the music business? You’ve been in bands before then, but did it grab you out of no-where? Or was it something that you knew was approaching?
Jimmy: No, it’s not really a slap in the face. It’s really a learning curve. You can never be a young band starting out and knowing what the music business is. We’re just learning to steer our ship past all the f**king icebergs. Impact: What’s your approach to making an album? Do you tend to write the music before the lyrics or the other way round?
Jimmy: Yeah we used to but not any more really. That’s the big different on this album, everything was done at the same time. Impact: And do you write the lyrics at all or is it just Yannis?
Jimmy: (Laughs) I’ve tried, but find it too hard. Yannis is actually under a lot of pressure, especially when we’re recording and he has to write lyrics to say, 12 songs before the end of the fortnight! Sometimes we only have until the end of the week to write a whole song. I do try to write though to give Yannis a break, but I just don’t have the talent. Impact: Wasn’t Yannis formerly an English student at the University of Oxford? Do you think that makes him feel more confident with words?
Jimmy: Yeah, he’s just got that string to his bow. Impact: And you are the only member of the band that has completed your degree right?
Jimmy: Yes. Impact: What would you advise to any current university students who are considering pursuing a music career?
Jimmy: Obviously it depends on a lot of things, like I was fortunate to have already completed mine just as we were taking off, but I would say definitely pursue it if things are looking really positive for the band. I mean I didn’t have the best university experience, you know I didn’t get anything out of it. I was enjoying it, maybe a bit too much, but not academically. You have to balance it out and decide whether it’s really worth it. There’s about an 80% chance that things won’t work out for people in the music world. When we started out about 5 years ago, the chances were a little stronger. There are now so many more bands. It’s a very dangerous time to be a new band at the moment, which is a good and bad thing. Impact: What are you opinions about Spotify? You have your latest album up there at the moment.
Jimmy: I think the more people that can hear the album, the better. We sell, as it appears to us, a lot of records, but in the grand scheme of things we really don’t and so I guess it is an odd concept. The majority of fans aren’t really going to buy our records, so I don’t care. It’s good that they can hear it online like that. The more people hear our stuff; the more they’re likely to come see us play live and then probably will buy our CD’s anyway. It’d be lovely it you got properly paid for it though, of course. Impact: Do you think you will ever revert back to or want to play some smaller-scaled gigs, even at, say, Oxford’s ‘Truck Festival’?
Jimmy:We’d love to. We always prefer smaller shows, for the sound quality and everything. Bigger venues are almost a novelty. I don’t like the way that they’re not crammed full and there’s always a smell of dry ice (laughs). I think most people prefer smaller shows. Impact: What are the band’s musical influences? You certainly have a Talking Heads sound about you.
Jimmy: Yeah they’re a massive influence and you know we grew up listening to a lot of Math Rock, although saying that everyone calls us that and we’re not that. In fact, only a very small number of bands are ‘math rock’ and most of them don’t exist anymore. Impact: It’s hard to pigeon-hole your sound.
Jimmy: Yeah, that’s good. That’s an aim of ours. We’ve been called minimalist pop, which is crazy. That’s the exact opposite of what our live shows are about. Impact: If you had to label yourselves, could you or would you?
Jimmy: (laughs) I don’t know. Something like ‘Space-Jam Rock’. It’s difficult, but journalists have to do it. You have full permission to call us that or make something up. Impact: Are there any artists you could recommend to our readers?
Jimmy: Well the bands that are supporting us are all great. Crystal Fighters, Toro Y Moi, Trophy Wife and Pet Moon. Impact: Your new album was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize this year. How did you feel about this?
Jimmy: It was fantastic! If not a little political, but I’ve got to watch what I say…Anyhow, The xx totally deserved it. Impact: In the light of our earlier comments, what’s in store for fans in months to come?
Jimmy:Yeah riffs are starting to come together during sound checks for new songs. Impact: Do you have acoustics lying around that you jam on?
Jimmy: Yeah we do. We try to do that but it’s really hard to do it on tour. As weird as that sounds, when you’re hanging around the venue all day. We’re taking the whole of January off and we’re going to Australia to record with a friend there for 20 days or so and also play a roaming festival tour around the country and briefly stop off in New Zealand. Impact: Are you going to do anything wildly different on your next album?
Jimmy: I think we’re just going to see how it goes. It’s really exciting.
Published online for 'Impact Magzazine' on 17th November 2010.