The finished product of songs finally worked from the ground up by the band’s current lineup – the longest time they’ve stuck to the same bandmates – Warpaint’s sophomore is their embracement of millennial pop aesthetic. Opting for a more minimal and synth-y sound, they’ve cranked up the subtler elements of their previous releases and lessen the guitars, amazingly without sacrificing the band’s ethereal atmosphere. Their live performances now sound exactly as how they are on record, that sonic choice proved to be the right one. JUICE spoke to all four members of Warpaint – Emily, Theresa, Jenny, and Stella – before their maiden show in Kuala Lumpur. Suffice to say, it was almost comedic in execution. In a failed attempt at delving into serious discussion, we were ignominiously reduced to intern status early on as we stammered our way through the interview. At one point we were even described as ‘cute’, which was less faux pas and more like the highlight of the year for us in reality. But we salvaged the interview regardless – manoeuvring topic to topic adeptly, from the supposedly more electronic sounds of the new record to the ease of their freeform jam sessions.
Usually self-titled releases are debut albums, but yours is a sophomore. Is this a way to present Warpaint in its definitive incarnation, what not with it being the first time Stella worked on the songs from the ground up?
Everyone Pretty much!
Jenny Kinda feels like our first album in a way, and this is the strongest Warpaint has ever been, I think. We have the current lineup longer than we ever had before.
Stella We’ve really come into ourselves.
It’s been more than 3 years since The Fool. What happened during the interim?
Theresa A lot of it was just scheduling and touring, we were waiting for [producer] Flood to be free.
Warpaint has always been about shared vocal roles, but on the sophomore, Theresa is more vocally active (stammers slightly)…
J So cute… asking all the questions! (Laughs)
(Laughs) Well, this is awkward… was there a reason why your role was bigger as a vocalist this time around?
T I’m not sure…
J … it was just the way how it went down – she was writing more songs at the time.
You guys were also inspired by hip hop and r’n’b, according to one interview with Emily. What instigated that genre inspiration? It’s a bit on the left field side of things for Warpaint…
T We’re still inspired by a pretty eclectic range of music and there had always been r’n’b and hip hop that have influenced us as well as other styles of music [before]. I think when that was said, it wasn’t really known that we were influenced by [those genres], and that’s been jumped on now in that people thinking that it’s happening more – we’ve always liked those types of beats. It has always been on our music
Could it also be due to the more electronic influence of the new album that people are jumping on it?
J I think the record is just more minimal. You can hear it on the last record – the same elements were used but you can’t really hear it as much cause there were more things going on; lotsa guitars and other happenings. With this album, we made a conscious decision to strip back and make space for one another, it’s bass, keyboards, and drums-heavy…
T Or guitar when it’s really atmospheric.
J Yeah! But guitar isn’t very prominent. Everything else that is going on is more obvious on this record than the last one.
T Probably makes it sound a lot more modern too cause that’s been happening a lot in pop. Pop music is a lot less guitar-driven now, it’s more beats-oriented, synth-y, and minimal.
There is still a balance of the traditional Warpaint sound and the more obvious minimal side to the band. Was that a conscious decision to not alienate fans of the previous album?
Emily It’s just part of who we are. It’s all what comes out of us naturally, we made a lot of different songs and when we finally narrowed down what was going into the album and what we want to put our energy on, that just happened to be the songs chosen. I think we opened up our palate of what we use and what we play because when we toured, Theresa and I just played the guitar and sung, and Jen played bass and didn’t sing that much. There was a pretty limited amount of instruments considering how many sounds we were interested in, so we just opened up ourselves to playing more instruments.
J I think it was a natural evolution of our band as well. Because with the last record, in order to play the songs live, we had to strip back a lot of instruments and simplify so that it would translate live. When we went into the studio this time around, the way we were writing, we had a minimal, stripped back sound in mind so that we don’t have to do that for another record. In order to execute those songs live, we don’t have to pull things out, so basically when we play this record now, we’d play it as it is – if anything we’re adding things. Subconsciously when we were writing the record, we wanted to start small as opposed to start big and peel things later on.
T Conducive for going faster as well (laughs). Putting so much stuff in there is a lot more time-consuming to arrange.
J It was also where we were… we were on tour for two and a half years. We were playing the songs [off The Fool] differently – they are so different live – so that was just a natural progression of us as musicians I guess.
The whole synthier, electronic side of Warpaint as it is now, is that a one-off thing or the direction for future efforts too?
T I think our album sounds organic, there are a lot of live drums in there and the bass isn’t bass synths.
S Everything is played. It’s not like a traditional organic-electronic record where you have that hybrid, because there is no programming necessarily. It’s not like, oh, there’s a drum beat track on Ableton and everyone is just playing over it. It’s all just substituting for the elements and sounds we’re already used to.
T The only straight-up electronic beat on the record is ‘Hi’, and that’s played live as well!
E It’s not just like I’m playing my Jaguar with these same pedals for the last 2 albums. We’re getting matured as a band, growing up naturally you’re gonna start exploring different instruments.
And that evolution also comes with your acceptance of pop music? There was a previous interview where you stated you shunned pop…
Everyone Who shunned pop music?
T Yeah, I actually did. I detested it as a whole, especially current pop music. I was thinking about it differently – that it was shallow and vacuous, there was nothing to go for there. I think differently now. A lot of pop music is really that way, generic, but then there’s stuff that’s really adventurous and brave. I like how clear the songwriting and ideas are, nobody is hiding.
Just curious, what pop music do you like at the moment?
T Beyoncé and Rihanna, but I don’t like all of their songs. I like Drake, I think his Take Care album was really avant garde in a lot of ways.
Do you bring that embracement of pop to your songwriting process now? There’s a vague quality to your previous self.
T I always wanted to obscure things, sometimes out of a sonic choice, sometimes out of not wanting to be seen. I think pop has inspired me to be a little bit louder with my personality, and I’m still figuring that out – we all are obviously.
Speaking of which, what is the Warpaint personality as a whole?
S Schizophrenic (laughs).
E We have multiple personalities – we have four.
J There’s probably more… another four personalities within each of us (laughs). Sixteen personalities!
(Laughs) Okay, let’s rephrase that another way. Is there a convergence point where all of the different personalities meet on the same wavelength?
S Hmm, that’s a hard one. I think it’s the cherished moments when we all agree on something musically. Sometimes the unexpected; I’d play something but I can predict that person isn’t going to be into it, then there are moments where we surprise each other and we come into a centre. It’s hard to describe what that is.
T I think a lot of times we just jam, actually. There’s no idea or rules. We just get into a room and start playing, there’s that freedom there, a place where we draw a lot of strength from.
J Why we were drawn to one another from the very beginning is because we were all very different – the way we approach music is very different individually. When we come to that point when we agree, it’s that moment when we allow one another to be ourselves. We respect and appreciate that. It comes alive most when most of our personalities are acting at the same time in the music; my personality comes out in the way I play bass, hers in whatever she’s playing, etcetera, and somehow it magically fits. It’s the best when we allow ourselves to be individuals.
That was how the album was conceived, wasn’t it? During jamming sessions? How do you decide what goes into the album when playing freeform?
E To write the album, we went to [recording studio] Joshua Tree, it was time to jam, but it was limited time.
T There were three weeks to be there and to start writing. We actually did it quite gracefully in the sense that we allowed ourselves the time and space to start exploring and playing together, quickly shaping things into songs really fast actually. We wrote most of the album, at least the skeletons of most of it, in that three weeks.
E We’ve gotten really good at getting together and jamming, and finding parts we like, then taking them and going, “Oh, that’d be the first, this would be the second, let’s find how to transition to that second and get back to the first.” That process is pretty familiar to us.
T “Remember what we wrote four years ago? It would go great on this part.” There’s a huge reservoir of… I don’t want to call it Warpaint graveyard because they weren’t totally dead ideas but…
J Library! (Laughs)
T … because we play so many countless hours of freeform improvisation, and hit a lot of moments – points which improvisations are really for – where you’d get somewhere really special without trying for it. There were a lot of those moments when we were able to go back to and create songs around.
Brought to you by Soundscape Records, Warpaint played live at Bentley Music Auditorium on Wednesday 12 February ’14.