Last month, Warpaint played a sold-out show at the 2,000-seat O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London. That’s a milestone for the Los Angeles–based band, which is still hitting the small-club circuit on this continent. Maybe Warpaint does so well in the U.K. because its label, Rough Trade, is based there. Or perhaps the English just have better taste than we do. Whatever the case, the all-female quartet also made the front page of NME in November, not long after its trip-tastic debut album, The Fool, was released.
Warpaint is building a buzz on this side of the Atlantic too, even if a Rolling Stone cover shoot has yet to be booked. Guitarist-vocalist Theresa Wayman assures the Straight, however, that she and her bandmates are taking all of the recent attention in stride. The group formed in 2004, which means it has hardly been an overnight success story.
“It’s been building, and that makes it feel all right,” Wayman says, reached on her cellphone as Warpaint is boarding a bus that will take it to a gig at California’s Mammoth Mountain. “I think attention and hype can be really fleeting, and you have to always be aware of that and know your roots. And we know our roots pretty well because we’ve been a band for so long. I think that’s going to give us longevity. In a certain way we’re a really old band, and in another way we’re really new.”
What Wayman means is that although she, singer-guitarist Emily Kokal, and bassist-vocalist Jenny Lee Lindberg have been together since the start, drummer Stella Mozgawa has been in the fold for just a little over a year. Before that, Warpaint’s drum stool was occupied by a rotating cast of percussionists. Wayman notes that the group’s first recording, the 2009 EP Exquisite Corpse, features no fewer than five drummers.
The Fool benefits greatly from having a solid lineup. It’s often a dense swirl of effects-treated guitar and reverb-drenched vocal harmonies
(as on the pink-opaque vortex of “Bees”), but sometimes the fog lifts, revealing something as spare as the haunting lament “Baby”. What ties it all together is the depth of feeling Warpaint brings to everything it does, and that’s the factor that Wayman thinks accounts for the quartet’s rapidly growing fan base.
“I loved Björk a lot when I was younger, because I felt like she was emotionally relating to me and my life story personally,” the guitarist says. “Which is really funny, because I’m sure a lot of people felt that way. But it was like, ”˜Oh my God, she’s singing to me. How does she know that I feel that way?’ And that doesn’t mean that it has to always be moody or dark emotions, but maybe those things are unexpressed. People don’t feel as comfortable to express those feelings daily, because while you’re operating in your daily life, you don’t want to just be a sad, depressed bummer. You kind of have to put on a happy face, so emotional music is a safe haven for people. It gives them a place to feel those things that you can’t always feel.”
And sometimes it isn’t just the audience that finds release in the songs. “I actually had an experience the other day playing a song I wrote,” Wayman reveals. “I really did almost start crying, and that never happens to me. It was a really, really powerful experience, and it’s the kind of experience that as a musician—or as an actor, probably—if you appear on-stage and you feel emotions strongly, you realize why you’re doing this, because you get to live powerfully in one moment.”
Warpaint plays the Biltmore Cabaret on Saturday (March 19).