Emily Kokal, Jenny Lee Lindberg, Stella Mozgawa & Theresa Wayman
'Stranger Things? Oh my god it was amazing.'
I have to admit, I wasn't surprised that Stella Mozgawa was a Stranger Things fan, what I didn't anticipate was that we'd have a full-on five minutes of fan girl repping about it – something that endeared the 30-year-old Australian-born drummer to me immediately. That, and the fact she's one fourth of Warpaint. To this day, one of my favourite bands ever.
Bringing their dreamy brand of sensual psych-indie to the masses following the release of EP Exquisite Corpse in 2008, Los Angeles quartet Warpaint have since become one of the most respected live groups performing today, and no, not because they happen to be four girls that can play instruments (something Stella and I discussed at length, much to her chagrin – 'It’s no longer a novelty, it just kind of ‘is’) but because they are just really, really good.
From Emily Kokal's haunting lead vocal, Theresa Wayman's guitar hooks, plus bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg and Stella, making up one of the best rhythm sections gigging right now, Warpaint are the commanders of their own destiny. Oh, and they happen to have a new album out — Heads Up — something Stella was keen to talk about with me from a hotel room in Belgium, ahead of their Pukkelpop slot back in August. Apologies for the hour delay Stella, I got my time zones mixed up.
So, congrats on the new album. How did this all come about?
'Making this new album we definitely followed a different process to our last record (2014's self-titled Warpaint) where we'd gone away to the Joshua Tree for a month, and you know, it was quite a long pre-production process. We didn’t really have a period of time where we were fleshing things out together in a room like we did for the last album.'
Interestingly, Heads Up only took four months to record – the quickest process in the band's history.
'This record was built from demos that individuals had made,' Stella explained, 'or you know we worked in duos, that everyone then got to elaborate on in the studio. It was definitely done in a more modern way, but also like, a new way of doing things for us that actually really worked. Everyone was able to spread their wings a little bit.'
Heads Up definitely sounds a lot more dancey than the last album. I've heard Janet Jackson was an influence…
'I grew up listening to Janet Jackson! Whether it was music from our childhood, or something more current, our influences maybe infiltrated the album a little more than it did on the last record, that's for sure.'
And as I fan, I have noticed Warpaint's slight departure from the hazy, sexy darkness of their previous offering. I asked Stella about the vibe, and how it differed.
'It fluctuates a little bit,' she said after a few moments consideration, 'it’s more like a daytime vibe. It’s a little bit sunnier. Not thematically or lyrically, but the sound of it – it got a little bit brighter, which is exciting for us. It’s not as overcast as our last album.'
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I have to admit that your last album was a bit of a break-up album for me (mortified admitting that…). Let's talk break-up songs. Do you have one?
'We've heard that so many times about our albums,' Stella said reassuringly, probably sensing my embarassment. 'Alternatively, people also got together and got married around those times too. I guess we bring the emotion!'
'Personally, I’ve never had a break-up album. I’m more about bitter sweet melancholic music. I’ve actually never been broken up with.'
*insert gasp from me* Really?!
'Believe me, it’s not as impressive as it seems! More for me, love or break-up records are more about the melancholoic aspect. For me it’s that Caribou record, Swim. Big one for me going through a period of let's say, fluctuating romance. I associate that record with that particular relationship.'
I know that you like to spin a few tunes yourself. What is your very bestest song to save a dying dancefloor?
'Shit, that's hard.'
*A few murmured expletives*
'One of the favourite tunes I always end up playing is You Can Call Me Al by Paul Simon. Everyone has a very sweet, nostalgic response to that song rather than some ripping, modern dance track you know? That song is more like dancing in your living room when you’re ten years old.'
'My closer is usually I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston. It works. I grew up listening to The Bodyguard soundtrack and so did all of my friends so it holds that particular place for me. Hugs, kisses, crying… lots of pointing at the DJ. Awesome.'
I always wonder what touring must be like in terms of planning/packing/staying sane. Are you organised when it comes to touring, or is it a case of chucking all your gear into a bag and hoping for the best?
'Well, I used to rock sweatpants on the plane but now I have ‘comfy jeans’ so I don’t look like I’m homeless or about to go for a run! I go through phases where I bring a lot of stuff so I won’t buy things on the road, like healthy things that I may not have access to. But I always try and leave a little space, especially if I know I’m going to London or New York where I’ll want to do a bit of shopping before a show.'
'It’s hard to switch phases on tour, when you are jumping about all over the place – sometimes don’t unpack at all except to do laundry. So essentially I move clothes from a smaller bag, to a bigger bag. You’re just resigned to being in ‘that’ phase for the time being.'
A chat about unwinding on tour inevitably moves on to podcasts, box sets and yes, Stranger Things.
'It was amazing,' Stella enthused, as we shared a total fangirl moment. 'The top three things I loved most about it? The return of Winona Ryder. The soundtrack, SO John Carpenter-esque. And lastly, the care they took. They combined several very nostalgic things, but it wasn't corny. It was really tastefully done.'
I inform her about podcast My Dad Wrote A Porno, which after a few WTFs she agrees to download.
'I’m a big podcast queen,' she admitted, after much hilarity about the premise of My Dad Wrote A Porno. 'Right now I'm listening to WTF by Marc Maron, and have been listening to Invisibilia. Serial was very good also.'
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Do you still get nervous?
'I don’t. I stopped getting nervous a while ago. I mean, there are moments when someone you respect is in the audience or your friends are there when you might get nervous, and become a little more aware. I don’t feel the same amount of nerves I did when I first started out. You know, that fear of fucking up is so intense, but the more you fuck up you realize that its not a big deal. You get over it, and once you relax you perform better.'
And do you still get star struck, I mean, you must meet a crazy amount of famous people?
'I was very, very nervous to meet Björk. That was a really big one for me. I wasn’t in the greatest state at the time, it was like, five minutes before a show, and she kind of walked into our green room with mutual friends, and it was like 'oh god I wish I didn't know Bjork was here'. So between meeting her five minutes before going on stage and then playing one of the weirdest shows that we’ve perhaps ever played, there was definitely a moment where I felt that I didn’t want to talk to her unless she talked to me. It was a pretty stressful and comical experience, and a much longer story…'
'Another time I was nervous to meet Nick Cave when we went on tour with him, but he ended up being one of the warmest, sweetest, accommodating people I’ve ever met on tour. He seems very intimidating but he’s a very sweethearted man. It’s always such a relief when you find that out about someone your respect so much.'
I know it's probably really annoying to keep talking about this as it really shouldn't be an issue, but do you feel any unnecessary pressure being a woman in the music industry?
'I felt it growing up because there wasn’t a large number of female drummers out there,' she admitted. 'So whenever you showed up at a gig, especially when I was a lot younger, I felt that prejudice from sound men and the like. The generation before ours had particular prejudices about women playing music, and I think that’s been squashed by way of the frequency of female performers.'
'The more that something occurs, the less fringe it is and the less it becomes a talking point. It’s no longer a novelty, it just kind of ‘is’. There are bands with women, there are bands with men, there are bands that have both – now it's enough of a mixed bag now that we don’t have to put something on a pedestal, or really frame it in a context that these days seems a bit irrelevant.'
And finally, what advice would you give to anyone thinking of becoming a professional musician?
'You need to work hard. The novelty of being a girl can be both a hindrance and/or a help, but disregard all of that kind of that stuff. Disregard what’s going on in the music industry, what the trends are, just learn your craft.'
'And take it seriously. If you do all the hard work, then you will eventually start to see the pay off and have some fun. Now, I feel so lucky that I was obsessive over music when I was younger, because now it affords me to relax into different phases, and it allows me to enjoy myself rather than stress myself over the work I should have done back in the day. And it’s so much more enjoyable when you're younger. It’s magical sitting in your room learning to play that one song, or play with your first band, you know, ride that first wave of enthusiasm. And also don’t be intimated by people telling you theres a right way of doing something. Carve your own path.'