For a bunch of women from Los Angeles, Warpaint sure sound like a bunch of guys from Brooklyn. The kind of guys from Brooklyn who down-tune their guitars, hunch over their instruments, and make the sort of murky dream-pop that falls somewhere among "artsy," "pretentious," and "totally fucking awesome."
On their debut album, The Fool, which came out in October, the four women in Warpaint — singer-guitarists Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman, bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg, and drummer Stella Mozgawa — make a pretty, soothing racket that waits until your guard is down before landing an intense punch to the gut. Strong stuff for a bunch of girls.
"We're musicians, and we just happen to be girls," says Mozgawa (pictured, front). "It's a factual thing, we can't get upset about it. But those clichés — Oh, I've never seen that before — tend to change as different versions of bands and sounds and aesthetics are presented."
The dreamily chaotic sounds on The Fool sound like they were born in a deep, dark, cold place, not in sunny L.A. The songs drip with an icy chill that forms jagged layers over surfaces. In the album's first single, "Shadows," Wayman sings about Los Angeles: "The city I walk in, it feels like it swallows."
"We're all influenced by the things that occur within this city," says Mozgawa. "But that's natural — you get that everywhere, even suburbia. But it's totally amplified in the city. You're going to be expressing a level of that frustration you feel day to day. L.A. is a pretty weird place to live, no doubt, but it's a universal thing. We're not trying to reimagine the California sound. We're just making music in a city, which happens to be Los Angeles."
The songs on The Fool lean toward art-rock. There aren't too many hooks here. The album is more about mood — building it and sustaining it. And then peering through the sludgy darkness. "When we went into the studio, it was very scary and very exciting, because we didn't have a huge idea of what we were going to do with every exact moment," says Mozgawa. "It was such an experimental process with the recording that a lot of the takes that you hear on the album are the first times we figured out the arrangements."
Warpaint came together in 2004. Actress Shannyn Sossamon (who was in A Knight's Tale and The Rules of Attraction, and who also directed Warpaint's video for the song "Undertow") was a member at one point. So was current Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Josh Klinghoffer. They released an EP, Exquisite Corpse, in 2008. A year later, they were joined by Mozgawa, who's Australian.
Though she came a little late to the game, Mozgawa says all four members contributed equally to The Fool's style and sound. "A lot of things changed when we started playing together," she says. "They let me do whatever I pleased. We all trusted one another."
The Fool created lots of buzz when it was released. For a period last fall, Warpaint were all over indie-rock blogs. But now the band is getting down to the nuts and bolts of promoting the record on the road. Mozgawa sounds a little tired, but recent shows have been ideal showcases for the band's music, which tends to open up and breathe more onstage.
At the very least, touring motivates the women and gives them something new to write about. "We're inspired by the force of the four of us, the things that occur naturally when we're all playing music together," says Mozgawa. "There's a communication that occurs. We're exploring that more and more, and trying to harness it."
The long summer on the road should prove way inspiring. Warpaint will be playing some festival shows, overseas dates, and occasional club gigs for most of 2011. In between, they'll write and hopefully record some songs for their next album. "We've been performing a lot of jams, and we're trying to come up with new songs based on those," says Mozgawa. "We're definitely not going to make a concept album, or at least one that I'm aware of. There really are no rules with the band."