The band is huddled in the back of their tour bus, having just arrived in New York from Montreal with a few hours to kill before tonight’s set at the United Palace Theatre in Washington Heights. “Our songs come from a very ego-less place,” Lindberg says of Warpaint’s hypnotic, guitar-heavy sound and Cat Power-reminiscent vocals. “Performance is about being vulnerable, putting yourself out there, and not being concerned with the outcome. That, to me, is the highest state of being.” Kokal, alluding to the title of their new record, adds, “Making music is also about playing the fool. We’re all kind of like Forrest Gump. We don’t know any better, but we’re being real. And, ultimately, if everybody operated on this level, life would be really blissed out.”
Source: Black Book
At some point, it seemed, which was strange, at least this is what I tell myself, in between chatting with JLS and meeting McFly, as if I was playing a poor version of myself in some sort of musical, I meet up with an act signed to Rough Trade, Warpaint, who happen to be four girls in a group, and who happen to sound like they are pupils of Gertrude Stein and John Prine as much as the Raincoats and Low. Lord above, if you think about it. If Warpaint are in a musical, then it is one directed by Vincent Gallo. Or Lukas Moodysson. You might have noticed Warpaint, if you pay attention to what you must pay attention to if you want to know where pop music has reached according to those who still consider that pop music is reaching out, beyond its own history, at the same time as being buried inside that history. If there is still some sort of fashionable one thing leading to the next thing story being told, then, for the moment, as a combination of one thing that goes well with another thing, and with a look that is just the right side of not yet completely copied on the high street, Warpaint are ones to watch, the next thing, the latest buzz, the story continues.
We are in a pop period that you might care to call The Aftermath, where everything has been done, and pop music is fizzling out, but where everything can now be done again, in a new order, following new rules, inside new spaces, creating new echoes, new skins, and new excitements. In The Aftermath, you can blend and bleed together genres so that you can imagine what a post-rock group would have sounded like if they had been formed before rock'n'roll, or the sound of a country group that fancies dub production, or the sound of an electro pop group inspired by Webern, Bacharach and Orbison. Warpaint are very Aftermath, in that they can conjure up for their fans, in much the same frail, suggestive way as their hesitant, shrinking and contemplative sub-cousins the xx, exactly the assortment of fluttery, eddying, squinting references, shadows and antecedents, the discreet arrangement of obscure personal passions, plain truths, stories within stories and nervous anxiety, that make them seem nicely familiar and comforting and yet a little bit novel and freshly enchanting. Such groups have no qualms about repeating, or refining, certain sounds, styles and sounds. We are all always experiencing the same story, with infinite variations. You can hear in Warpaint, as with the xx, exactly what you want to hear – so that if you want you can think, lord above, again, this is what I have always secretly desired, a group, of girls, who use music to leave messages, that sort of hang in the air and then disappear, leaving little trace, who sound like a dissolving, diffident combination of the Passions and Yes, or Chris Isaak and Seefeel, or Juned and David Sylvian, or Help Yourself and the Wake, or Windy and Carl and Fleetwood Mac, or the Ronettes and Julee Cruise, or Swell Maps and Fanny, or Taylor Swift and Brian Eno. Like the xx, Warpaint retreat, into themselves, and their scattered versions of the past, nostalgic but unsentimental, moving through a spellbound backwash, relishing their own melancholy tenderness, and this is extremely refreshing to those listeners suffering in a world that is obsessed with rampant self-publicity, thick self-confidence and aggressive self-advertising. Oddly enough, the way Warpaint withdraw into their own private universe, where there are just four minds making sense of each other, wallowing in their unique relationship with each other, as though no-one else matters, and they're alone in their own world, waiting for something, or nothing, has ended up creating a sort of alt. world hype, and the sort of publicity that draws attention to their poised, disarming flirtation with absence and how they have developed in solitude.
Whereas the brushed up boybands chat with the smoothness and fluency of experienced politicians, and display a gallant, smarmy dimension of tenacity and incorrigible sunniness, the sleepy, distracted Warpaint are far less interested in appearing coherent, charming, persuasive or revealing. They come across like they have only just agreed to participate in the world, according to some vague law or another, and they are going to do it in their own laconic way, in their own mysterious time. Whatever they've got on their mind, whatever they are feeling, they prefer to pass deep into their music. Their minds wander, into and all over their witchy, watchful songs, which leave embers and an impression, not of life's surging power, but of the evanescence of its heat.
I watch them play a song, finely building up their faintly determined music with the languorous, chaste tact of hands arranging flowers, while rain beats on window panes. Expressions on their faces as they sink into the spindly mingling nooks and crannies of their sound suggest they feel a little insipid but they are not unhappy. Their songs tend to wander a little more than the xx's, there are a number of sub-plots, because they know of Yes, because they're not quite sure of a suitable ending, because they like the way they feel when they play together, which combines loneliness with togetherness, and are reluctant to stop, because maybe to stop is to go mad. They're a work in progress that may not actually ever get anywhere.
I wonder what JLS and McFly would make of them, how they might try to appeal to them, because, after all, they are girls. I consider acting as some kind of matchmaker, bringing them together. Then I decide not to. In a funny sort of way, Warpaint, for all their slender force, their embroidered slightness, their dry, exacting, forlorn sensibility, would terrify the boybands.
The tight bond between twentysomethings Kokal and Wayman has been essential to the dream-pop group's survival. Warpaint was born at a 2004 Valentine's Day jam session in L.A. (where the two moved after a post-high-school sojourn spent kicking aimlessly around New York City) with another close-knit duo they'd befriended, bassist-singer Jenny Lee Lindberg and her drum-playing sister, actress Shannyn Sossamon. But while recording 2009's Exquisite Corpse EP, mixed by ex-Red Hot Chili Pepper John Frusciante (whom Kokal dated), Sossamon left to focus on acting.
The group then began an almost comical hunt for a new drummer. Fill-ins ranged from new Chili Peppers guitarist Josh Klinghoffer to a drum machine to a guy in drag. "He wore a muumuu and a wig that looked like Kurt Cobain's hair, but green," Wayman says. "It was amazing."
Warpaint finally found stealthily funky Aussie drummer Stella Mozgawa just three months before they recorded their full-length debut, The Fool (Rough Trade). The disc boasts layers of gauzy melodies over crisp guitar lines, a moody combo exemplified by "Undertow," which adds loping bass and mesmerizing harmonies, and spacey opener "Set Your Arms Down."
While The Fool includes breakup songs, Wayman says its darkness stems from living in L.A.'s slowly gentrifying Echo Park neighborhood. "There was a drive-by shooting and a marijuana dispensary got robbed at gunpoint," Wayman recalls of a recent period. But the title reflects the idea of embracing uncertainty. "At certain times you think you know what's going on," she says, laughing, "and other times you don't."
Ladies, things are going well.