The L.A. band Warpaint still hasn’t released a full-length album, but they’ve already become one of the most buzzed-about young bands in the country, with performances at Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza this summer, spots at the Reading and Leeds festivals in England coming up later this summer, and an opening slot on the xx’s North American tour this fall. On the strength of a single EP, released last year, they were signed to the prestigious indie label Rough Trade, which will release their debut album, The Fool, in October.
Given music-business stereotypes, you might be tempted to attribute all that attention to the fact that the band is made up of four very attractive women. But Warpaint—guitarist/singers Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman, bassist/vocalist Jenny Lee Lindberg, and drummer Stella Mozgawa—has more going for it than its collective looks, and they’ve paid their dues since forming in 2004. They went through a battery of drummers before settling last year on Mozgawa, and worked consistently around L.A.’s club scene before entering the studio in 2007. That two-month session resulted in the six-song EP Exquisite Corpse, mixed and mastered by ex-Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante and released in 2008. (Frusciante’s replacement in RHCP, Josh Klinghoffer, plays drums on the song “Billie Holiday.”) So far that’s the only recorded testament of the band—six songs of intricate, interwoven guitar and haunting harmony vocals.
Lindberg credits the band’s impromptu and collective songwriting for the loose arrangements and ethereal atmosphere on Exquisite Corpse.
“We don’t have any sort of formula that we go on, and we never have,” Lindberg says. “We just sort of started playing with each other. And I think maybe being women, there’s an intuition that comes that makes the writing process pretty fluid. We write based mainly on feeling; we’ll go in a room and work on a line and we’ll just jam it out for as long as we want to, until we get sick of it, and we usually don’t get sick of it for a while and then it sort of turns into something else. So the song sort of writes itself, which is really cool.”
Early reports on the Internet about The Fool indicate that the band’s headed in a different direction on the album—tighter songwriting, the incorporation of electronic elements and keyboards. The origins of some of the songs date back to the band’s beginnings, but the three years between recording their EP and the album have given them plenty of new material to work with.
“There are some songs that might be old, but just as ideas, not the actual songs themselves,” Lindberg says. “They’re definitely transformed. There are a couple that were ideas but they’ve definitely been added upon and have changed. The rest of the songs are fairly new.”
Lindberg’s tight-lipped about the details—“I don’t want to give too much away,” she says—but she does say that having Mozgawa behind the drums permanently and full-time has made a significant difference. (Four different drummers appear on Exquisite Corpse.)
“It’s not drastically different,” Lindberg says of the upcoming album. “It’s still indicative of our style and the way we play music. But I would say there’s a little bit more consistency with it just because Stella plays drums on the whole album. The EP was like a medley of drummers, all with really different styles. Not that Stella just plays in one style, but there’s more consistency going on. We went in the studio and recorded all the songs with all four of us.”
The hard work of the last few years has intensified this year. The band has been on the road off and on since February, and they’re headed to Europe to support The Fool after their tour with the xx. After that they’ll probably be on the road again to promote the album in the U.S. As much as she’s enjoyed the last few months, though, Lindberg says she’s looking forward to getting back together in a room with her bandmates to write more songs.
“It makes a lot of room for creativity and for people to be able to express themselves that way, which is why we all play music,” she says. “So it’s really sweet to be able to do that with each other.”