Indie Rockers Warpaint Followed Their Intuition on Their Latest Album

Heads Up, the latest effort from the Los Angeles-based rock act Warpaint, finds the quartet embracing a bit of everything.

Songs such as “Whiteout” and “New Song” feature dance-inducing electronic beats and evoke the R&B and disco sounds from the ’70s. With its synthetic drum beats and wispy vocals, the moody "By Your Side" possesses a Portishead vibe.

Singer-bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg says the band didn’t intend to make its most eclectic album yet. It just “happened.”

“Anytime we set out to do something, it always takes a turn, left turns and right turns,” she says via phone from her Los Angeles home. “We just follow the mood and instincts and intuition and what feels good. If we want to make a slow love song, we end up making a hard metal song. It’s almost like we want to rebel whatever we set out to do. There’s no point. We just make music that feels good to us. That’s the only rule. We just have to love it and that leaves room for all kinds of things.”

Since forming more than a decade ago in Los Angeles, the band, which also includes singer-guitarist Emily Kokal, singer-guitarist Theresa Wayman and drummer/keyboardist Stella Mozgawa, has gradually evolved from local act to national act. Unwilling to abide by trends, the band stood out in a city teeming with indie rock acts.

“I think when we first started, we played a lot of shows in L.A.,” Lindberg says. “People thought it was interesting. People thought we had potential. We were skilled, but we feel like we’re still getting better. There’s always room for progress. Back then, it was such as a special sound. I hate to say it, but there weren’t a whole lot of girl bands. I don’t think that’s the thing that brought us the most attention by no means. But it was like, ‘Oh wow. How does this work?’ It wasn’t your typical girl band. In the ’90s, it was a more poppy punk thing. That’s not at all what we sounded like. We didn’t sound girlie. It was more on the masculine end.”

The band’s full-length debut, The Fool, received great reviews when it came out in 2010 and launched the group as a national act.

“That was our first LP and [drummer] Stella Mozgawa had joined the band and we settled into ourselves,” Lindberg explains. “Making that record was really fun. Stella had just joined the band right before we made that record. Right before we went into the studio, I called her to see if she wanted to make the album, and she wanted to do it. That was interesting and fun. We had never really played with her before. The band came alive, and I loved making that record.”

After touring extensively in support of The Fool, the band took a much different approach on the follow-up album, 2014’s Warpaint. A trip to Joshua Tree, the national park located outside of Los Angeles, inspired the laid-back approach.

“We were hanging out and writing in Joshua Tree, and it was very quiet,” says Lindberg. “I think your surroundings have a lot to do with your state of mind. It was very peaceful and introverted and insular. [With The Fool], we didn’t allow a song to be. There is more of that on our self-titled album and even more on Heads Up. We just want to allow things to be the way they are. We wanted to make a decision and own it and move on. That’s how we’ve matured as people and as musicians and as a band. It’s a natural progression. You get more confident and it’s not such a creative battle.”

After the self-titled album came out, band members worked on solo and side projects. When it came time to record Heads Up, they kept that mentality worked one-on-one or in pairs with producer Jake Bercovici, who also produced the group’s EP Exquisite Corpse.

“I think it’s important to explore other creative avenues when you’re an artist or in a band,” says Lindberg. “If that’s your only outlet, it leaves room for tension and indecision and insecurity and competition. If that’s all you have going on, the room for disappointment is so vast. We have all grown and experienced new things and learned many things from just not doing the same old thing but from working with each other and it’s about putting yourself into the unknown and then bringing that into the group setting. In the past, it would be a battle. There would be conflict there. Now, it’s okay that we’re not on the same page. We all have our own shit. If someone doesn’t like a song, we have our own projects.”

With its hushed vocals, “Today Dear” features a Cat Power-like vibe and stands out amidst the electronica heavy other tracks on the album.

“Emily wrote that song when she was 18 years old,” says Lindberg when asked about the inspiration for the tune. “She wanted to record it and be done with it. It’s a nice thing. The record has lots of movement and keeps going up and up and up. That song is just Emily recording. I think Stella might have done something on it.”

Lindberg, who was in the process of creating a “music room” in her home when we spoke to her, says she’s not certain if the band will adopt a similar strategy for its next album.

“We’ve started writing some songs,” she says. “That’s why I’m getting my music room going. I want to be able to write and record at home. We feel like we’ve just gotten our feet wet. We’re all in agreement that [Heads Up] is our favorite record and our best record. We want to keep on that track and keep writing. The stuff we are writing is really dance-y, so I think that’s probably where we’ll go. But who knows with us?”

Warpaint, deafmute, 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 7, Beachland Ballroom, 15711 Waterloo Rd., 216-383-1124. Tickets: $22 ADV, $25 DOS,

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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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