Warpaint interview: 'The second tour almost ruined us – there's a better balance now'

The LA-based band talk new songs, opening for Harry Styles, and how they've found a new stability after the tour that almost broke them

Roisin O'Connor
Friday 28 July 2017 13:12 BST
Warpaint: 'We don't really talk about what the "path" we're taking is'
Warpaint: 'We don't really talk about what the "path" we're taking is'

Warpaint cut their latest record, 2016's Heads Up, without thinking of the limitations they could face when translating the material into a live show.

It made for an intriguing – rather than daunting – prospect when they set out on tour, and they've found themselves able to "elevate" the less conventional parts of the album, their third, in the live arena.

Drummer Stella Mozgawa and vocalist/guitarist Theresa Wayman are explaining this at NOS Alive festival in Portugal, where they are performing alongside artists including Depeche Mode, The xx and The Weeknd.

"We’ve actually played a lot more songs [from the new record] than I imagined we would, at this point on the tour," Mozgawa says.

"I think we made a point to do that," Wayman adds. "We’ve been playing our old songs for quite some time now, so it felt really good to refresh it with this new thing we were doing.”

"It’s actually been more technically challenging to execute this," Mozgawa continues. "We made a point of making the record that we wanted to sonically. So there was a lot of stuff we had to deal with – certain challenges after the fact – rather than limiting ourselves to using certain instruments or certain textures because it would be difficult to recreate it live."

So when it comes to their show, you see Wayman playing a part from "Heads Up" on her guitar that was created using a synth on the record – the title track of a record that only took about four months to put together – "pretty fast for us," she observes.

They're making more new music, although they don't quite know what it's for yet. Something Wayman says she learned from Nick Cave is to try and create something each day: "If you try, you're sort of honouring the Muse," she says. "Not forgetting her. Chipping away at whatever resistance comes up. But that said, some of that gets left behind on tour. It takes a concerted effort to stay in the creative mode."

On all of their records, one of those Muses has been their hometown of Los Angeles. On the song "Shadows", from their debut album, The Fool, you hear Wayman sing: "The city I walk in, it feels like it swallows," evoking that sense of being lost or that you don't quite belong.

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"I actually feel really differently about LA to when I wrote that song," she says now. "I think a lot of it has to do with travelling, seeing other parts of the world and having different cultural experiences, then getting back to LA and seeing what its worth is.

"There’s something special about it, but if I wasn’t travelling I think I’d miss the type of deep-seated culture that you get in other places. Being in Madrid for three days, walking around these old streets, you know that people have been doing that for so much longer than anyone in America. I find that automatically inspiring. It fuels me in ways that are maybe unexplainable."

"I think that LA and London are quite complementary to one another," Mozgawa suggests. "If you live in London it’s great to visit LA because you’re cleansed of some of the boundaries – it’s so open. Then sometimes you need a little bit of structure and history… make the circle a little bit smaller, which is what I think big cities like London do. My dream is to spend time in both because they complement each other so well."

It was recently announced that the band would support Harry Styles on his debut solo tour. In a subsequent interview Warpaint said they were pleased their music would be heard by an audience who are likely unfamiliar with the band. Some One Direction fans claimed they were being patronised.

"It wasn’t intended that way," Mozgawa says. "I think also Harry is expressing his taste, and he wants to share that with his fanbase, like 'these are the bands that I like and I endorse them'. And the bands he's chosen are wildly different: from Kasey Musgraves to us to MUNA...

"The variety is really fascinating and I think that maybe a lot of his fans have heard of those bands, but some are of a generation that maybe hasn’t been exposed to that wide a variety of music. I know when I was that age I had a very particular taste. So I think it’s a wonderful gift for him to be like, 'this is what I’m listening to, I hope you like it too'. I think it’s really cool."

On the new album it became even more clear that the band draws on a huge range of influences, from rock to jazz to hip-hop and everything in between.

"We pull from everywhere, that’s what I really appreciate about us as well," Wayman nods. "Sometimes people don’t understand that. There are two camps: people who like a band and want them to stay and be that one thing, and people who like a band for everything that they are, and their evolution, and are OK with that change.

"I’m in that last camp. I don’t understand why musicians do the same thing for the rest of the careers; it doesn’t make sense to me. I love that we’re all writers, we’re all collaborating and coming from so many different angles. There are things that are Warpaint and will never change. But I also like to think we have the freedom to explore."

Their track "New Song" is distinctly poppier and more straightforward than anything the band had done before: a beautiful, upbeat yet slightly eerie jam that sounds different to anything they'd done before.

"That’s been the hardest one I think," Wayman says. "People love it but there was a little bit of a backlash, like ‘what are they doing, are they going in this direction now, is there a sell-out thing that’s happening?’ It’s harder for people to accept.

"We like to experiment, do really off-kilter, dissonant songs. But for us it’s really fun to be more straightforward because we’d never really done it before. We’re exploring these new territories and avenues. It’s nice to not be in a box."

Too often reviews seem eager to draw needless comparisons between female bands. Warpaint are often compared to Haim in the first paragraph of a review or feature, or lumped in with other female-fronted bands as different from one another as Savages and The Bangles.

"We love and respect those bands but it’s just strange that they can’t go like ‘well maybe compare Savages to Fugazi or Joy Division’ where it’s a little more open, not just a fellow female-fronted band that exists in contemporary music," Mozgawa says.

Warpaint are heading out on tour with veteran synth rockers Depeche Mode this autumn.

"They do a real leisurely, day-on day-off tour, so it’s 30 dates in nine weeks," Wayman enthuses. "If we could do that more often I’d be happy: touring show after show can be quite a grind. Sometimes it’s nice, you get to a good flow doing three or four shows in a row. But I wouldn’t mind more breaks than we get," she adds with a grin.

"Depeche Mode are always working with new, interesting electronic producers and collaborating with people. They’ve got amazing taste," Mozgawa says. "That can sustain you through so many different trends. They’re challenging themselves, their fanbase, new listeners."

Left to right: Stella, Jenny, Theresa and Emily (Robin Lanennen)

Talking of challenges, the success of the band's second, eponymous album almost caused them to split – and after months of relentless touring they needed to take a breather.

"We were tired and around each other way too much," Wayman says. "When you’re weakened by other things like lack or sleep or nutrition or exercise, lack of alone time… it was nearly impossible to be a good person to be around. We just needed space, and it didn’t take that long for us to start writing again together and come up with a new album."

"It almost ruined us, as a band," she adds after a pause. "For a moment it seemed that dire. There’s a better balance now. Our touring situation is a lot better, we’ve made sure of that."

"You can love someone endlessly but if you’re around them all the time and that’s your job and your social life, and you’re under duress, that can be a pretty nasty cocktail," Mozgawa says.

"We tried to compress the tour into a year; the last one was very long. It felt quite extensive, every time we thought we were done there were more offers, and the boundaries weren’t really set."

Their tour manager Robin Laananen has compiled a beautiful book of photographs, Us / Then, which features never-before-seen photos of the band on tour. It's a moving tribute to what they've been through as a band.

"It’s pretty incredible that she has all that documented," Wayman says. "Some of it feels like yesterday but really it was a while ago and I’ve changed a lot. It’s interesting to see that change so vividly.

"It’s nice to see what we’ve been through together. Even though it can be difficult sometimes, we stick it out, and try to understand each other."

Warpaint are supporting Depeche Mode in North America from 23 August – their album ‘Heads Up’ is out now. Robin Laananen's book ‘Us / Then’ is available now via Setanta Books

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