The Good Fight
By Simon Weedn
It’s hard to believe that nine years ago, on Valentine’s Day, four young ladies, Emily Kokal, Theresa Wayman, Jenny Lee Lindberg and Shannon Marie Sossamon fell in love with their music and came together for the first band practice of what would become one of the hottest burgeoning acts in contemporary indie rock, Warpaint. Five years later, they released their first EP and added a killer permanent drummer to its group. The band crafted and honed its sound during those five years, and even more after. Its sound draws from a variety of influences and weaves them together to form rich, lush and moody sonic landscapes of the highest levels of quality. Now, not only are they one of the fastest rising bands in the indie world, but they would also have one of the strongest, most anticipated full-length debuts in recent memory. It’s been almost four years since the group last officially released recordings and although the ladies have been staying busy with shows, thankfully, earlier this year Warpaint confirmed that a new album is in the works. Its current headlining tour will give fans some of their first tastes of the new material they can look forward to getting their hands on in the near future, and the Weekly got a sneak peek at what’s got these girls inspired and what we all can expect from them in the future.
Once Upon A Time
For those unfamiliar with Warpaint, the best place to start is at the beginning of its catalog. For Warpaint, this means turning your ears towards the band’s dark and shoegazey 2009 EP, Exquisite Corpse. Although it had taken the girls five years to build up to this release, most would agree that it was very much worth the wait. The record featured six songs of some of the dreamiest, ethereal indie rock to come out of Los Angeles in years and was a dynamic first release for the group. The record featured appearances by the band’s first drummer, actress Shannon Marie Sossamon (Wristcutters: A Love Story, The Rules Of Attraction) as well as later drummers David Orlando (most well known as DJ Boss Harmony at local events Dub Club and Punky Reggae Party) and Josh Klinghoffer who now plays guitar for the world famous Red Hot Chili Peppers. In addition to their array of talented percussionists, the record also featured an incredible mixing job by former Chili Peppers guitar player and incredible solo artist John Frusciante.
When asked what they felt they took away from working with Frusciante so early on, Kokal muses, “His attention to detail and warmth, the way he listens to music and the way he feels music.” She continues, “I always call him ‘The Defense Attorney For Music’ because he just represents music. I think that his integrity and that beautiful relationship and respect for music was a powerful thing for us to see, experience and be around. We definitely still try to retain that same kind of integrity and respect for the value of what we’re doing,” she says.
Although there is a certain sparseness in the production of Exquisite Corpse, that would be filled out in later recordings, the EP still continues to stand as a testament to the band’s prowess from their earliest points.
As good as Exquisite Corpse was, Warpaint saved their real power for their official debut, which came in the form of 2010’s, The Fool. Where Exquisite Corpse, at times, seemed to catch a band in the midst of transition through an array of drummers and composed of songs written at various points in the band’s formative years, The Fool was a focused musical statement that captured the true vision of the band with all of the necessary production to make its idea fully formed. With drummer Stella Mozgawa locked in as a permanent fixture of the band only weeks before recording, Warpaint finally had the solid rhythmic foundation in place to truly perfect its sound upon. Soundscapes and textural sonic webs permeated all nine tracks with a warm base that seemed to wrap you up like a comfortable, hand-knit blanket. The dusky, shadowy energy of their first release was still there, but subtler and a bit more evolved than on the EP. Most noticeably of all, the full breadth of the album was astonishing with a near perfect song order that gave the record ebbs and flows as natural and perfect as the ocean’s tides.
While many of their peers in Los Angeles were building sounds more connected to the bright, endless summer attitudes of many in their city. Warpaint’s The Fool established the band as ones drawing on the city’s feel after the sun has gone down. There’s fun and free-spiritedness in the record, but there’s also and underlying darkness, that’s as haunting as it is captivating, much like the city’s streets at twilight.
One might be able to gauge just how strong Exquisite Corpse and The Fool are as records, by how long it’s been able to sustain them. It’s been almost three years exactly since The Fool came out and Warpaint, without having released another piece of music, have only seen its reputation and fan base grow and flourish. However, something that all new and old appreciators of the band’s music are looking forward to at this point is the promise of a new record.
All 4 One and One 4 All
When asked about the title for the record, Emily Kokal teases, “The title is . . . not quite yet, I think we know what it is but I’m not quite sure so . . . I won’t say that yet.” However, when it comes to the release date as well as how the new material is going to be debuted, things are bit more definite, “The release date, I think, is January 20th,” says Kokal. “And a single, and some other stuff is going to be trickling out between next month and the end of the year,” she says. To further sweeten the pot, the ladies of Warpaint enlisted none other than Flood aka Mark Ellis to produce the new record. With credits to his name as big as U2’s Zooropa, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ The First Born Is Dead, Depeche Mode’s Violator, Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral, The Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, and several PJ Harvey records, one cannot stress the potential of the new Warpaint album being nothing short of a masterpiece.
“He’s made amazing albums while preserving the integrity of the band and the sound,” explains Kokal, “he’s not somebody who puts his very specific way of doing things on an album and we’d heard that. Just based on PJ Harvey’s last two albums and the fact that she’s evolved so much through her career and he’s been along the ride with her; if we were going to work with anybody, we wanted to work with somebody who had those kinds of values.” In addition to employing Flood to produce, the new record marks another milestone in Warpaint’s career thus far, the new record will be the first that all four members of the band work on from start to finish. With previous records, especially when it came to the drums, most songs, except those with Shannon Sossamon, were recorded by drummers playing or re-interpreting a previous drummer’s material. The new record will be the first with same drummer present during the writing of the songs is also present on the recordings. “When Stella joined the band, she joined the band thirty days before we made The Fool,” explains Kokal, “and so as much as Stella had joined the band we were ‘a band,’ we had never really written with her.” In an effort to make sure that the newest member of the band was fully included in the writing process, all four girls secluded themselves in a dome house that they converted into a demo room in Joshua Tree for several weeks to write. “The goal was just to go for three or four weeks and just write, jam out and feel what comes,” says Kokal. She continues, “we had some ideas we were working on and we just wanted to get away from everything and be together.” The inclusion of Mozgawa was important as it’s become clear that her presence in what made the band whole, Kokal explains, “We’ve really learned to play together so much from being on tour, we became a band, more-so, after The Fool came out than before. We wanted to take advantage of all that time we’d spent together playing those songs, doing the little bits of writing we had done, and becoming a cohesive unit.”
Outside of the good fortune of being able to write together, without a final product to listen to, it’s hard to speculate as to what type of evolution the new Warpaint album will capture. However, Emily stresses that one of the big differences will be a specific attention to the subtle sounds and instrumentation in their recordings that add up to make a tune even more lush and expansive, “We all listen to a lot of hip hop, R&B, electronic music, ambient music, and all of these kinds of subtleties of sound and soundscapes. So one thing that did happen, was that naturally, there were a lot more synthesizers and drum machine type instruments brought into the scenario and we kind of got away from the two guitars, bass and drums vibe and we have a lot more dimension to the instruments being played and the sonics that are happening.”
Brightness and Contrast
With a new album almost in the bag and a huge tour underway, there are a lot of things to get excited about. Fans attending its headlining shows, like the one at The Glass House, should be even more excited as the band promises a longer set than their festival engagements. “For Pomona and the El Rey, those shows will be longer than the festival so they’ll probably be about 40 percent new and 60 percent old; maybe a bit more old,” Emily thinks aloud, “We might try to re-learn and go over some of the stuff we’ve just written, a lot of the songs we’ve just recorded we haven’t necessarily figured out live so we might try to throw a couple more of those in.” One thing’s for certain, although the band’s music has always been beautifully dark, the future for Warpaint seems to brimming with brightness. Those lucky enough to catch it on this tour will only be getting a small taste of what’s in store.
Warpaint w/Cate Le Bon at The Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona, (909) 865-3802; www.theglasshouse.us. Fri. Oct, 11. 7pm. $18-$20. All ages.