It’s easy to get the wrong impression about Warpaint. The band’s studio albums (including their most recent full-length, 2014’s Warpaint) tend to emphasize moody atmospheres: gauzy keyboards, hypnotic harmonies and sinister grooves. In concert, however, the Los Angeles quartet—vocalist/guitarist Emily Kokal, vocalist/guitarist Theresa Wayman, bassist/vocalist Jenny Lee Lindberg and drummer/keyboardist Stella Mozgawa—pair this moodiness with bumped-up tempos and sinewy beats.
Of course, confounding expectations has been part of Warpaint’s m.o. since the band formed in 2004. And so when the band convened to make their third studio album, Heads Up, they shared a common goal: to make a faster, dance-oriented record. “We’ve always had this really jammy, high-energy live show compared to some of our records,” Kokal says. “We all love to dance. We didn’t want to take away from the emotion or the core feeling of what our band is all about—which I don’t even think we could take out if we wanted, because it is who we are—but we wanted to bump the speed up and have a little bit more fun.”
“We definitely pay attention to detail—and there is a lot going on in our music,” Wayman says. “Especially with all of our brains wanting to contribute to everything. The songs can get really full right away.”
Warpaint spent only four months in the studio making Heads Up, the quickest they’ve ever made a record. “We have a tendency to over-marinate on certain ideas,” Mozgawa says. “There wasn’t a great deal of laboring over things or doing things a million different ways and overdubbing for months.”
In another switch, Warpaint tended to work one-on-one or in pairs with producer Jake Bercovici (who produced their EP Exquisite Corpse) in the studio. “The doors were a little more open in terms of what was accepted and what wasn’t, because we were sharing ideas so rapidly between us,” Mozgawa says.
These looser vibes and individual experiences ensured that once Heads Up was complete, even Warpaint themselves were surprised—in a good way—at how the album turned out. “We’ve been on tour, and we’ve been around each and other,” Lindberg says. “But you need to take a break from that sometimes to get a fresh perspective, and to be excited and inspired about what you’re doing. I feel like we did that.
“I feel really proud of what we made—almost surprised and shocked,” she continues. “When we were making it, I was like, ‘I wonder what this is going to sound like? How’s this going to come together?’ I love the way that it came together so nicely. I feel so proud of it, and like it’s an evolution of our band. It sounds like a mature version of Warpaint.”
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