This article originally appeared in NARC. Magazine.
“Probably like a peregrine falcon would be good…” Stella Mozgawa muses. We’re talking about spirit animals. In November Mozgawa said she’d probably have a seagull as a familiar, but I figured that might have been a bit of a joke. “I think it’s one of my least favourite animals,” she ponders. “Another bird would be good, definitely, but something a little more…luscious, and rare, and interesting.”
A bird of some nature would probably be an appropriate familiar for the Los Angeles-based band, comprised of multi-instrumentalists Mozgawa, Emily Kokal, Jenny Lee Lindberg and Theresa Wayman. Over the course of ten years, the four-piece have had numerous changes in line-up and have never stuck entirely to one particular sound. Their first full-length effort The Fool was a sometimes meandering, often beautiful piece of laid-back psych-rock, while last year’s eponymously titled sophomore effort saw the band working with Flood and focusing more on rhythms, tighter instrumentation and, dare we say it, a poppier sound. In other words, the women of Warpaint have never been particularly attached to a certain sound, instead spreading their wings and going wherever the vibes take them.
Their unattached nature came to a head late last year, when a photograph surfaced of the band playing with rapper Earl Sweatshirt and urban artist King Krule in Jonti’s studio in Australia. The group were constantly pressed on when the collaboration would emerge, misunderstanding the nature of the get-together. “That whole collaboration was so overhyped,” Mozgawa says, almost regrettably. “You know it was so unofficial and so relaxed that I don’t even think that there’s a real track that came out of it. We were just faffing about.”
The incredibly relaxed nature of the band’s attitude toward the collaboration – and the lack of importance Mozgawa attaches to it – sums up the way Warpaint as a group works better than anything. They’re a collective who enjoy making music, but never feel pressured to do anything in a specific, defined way in the studio. It’s all far more casual than that. “Everyone kind of shares the creative responsibility. It’s weird because the more I think about it the more I see it as a kind of art collaboration,” Mozgawa explains, “each of us operate in our own creative universes and each of us do things on our own or with other people. In a way, there’s a freedom to playing in this band, because you can make your own demo or whatever and bring it to everyone and eventually it’ll become something else.”
Live, it’s become a bit of a different story. For a while, Warpaint were known for their hyper-extended versions of album songs and being semi-improvisational with their live sets. “For a long time on tour we had this feeling that we were kind of like a jam band,” Mozgawa remembers. “We would have nine to eleven songs that we would put in a show and the rest would be improvised, but it’s all turned out quite meticulous now. We’ve turned very serious about learning songs verbatim, or at least as best as we can. Rather than just turning into a cult of laziness.”
It never occurred to me that their wig-outs mid-set were a symbol of laziness. “We just played – and this is just my perspective on it – I think we played a few shows where we were like, ‘yeah we’ll be fine and we’ll just do this, and we’ll change this up and we’ll play this song that we haven’t played in three years but we’ll just rehearse it backstage and we’ll be fine’. Then we’d get up on stage and it’d be like, you’re so out of the moment. You’re not really enjoying it. It takes the real joy out of playing live when you’re so on your toes like that.
“We’ve now toured with bands that are incredibly organised and seeing them every night playing pretty much the same set, they talk to the audience at the same points, you know, all that kind of stuff,” Mozgawa muses. Considering their laid-back attitude, keeping to a tight formula seems a bit out of character. Mozgawa partially agrees. “We realised that there are elements of that that are really good but in watching we realised that we could never be that. There’s something beautiful about watching a slew of bands operate on an intimate level. We’d like how they do things but as a whole that doesn’t really represent where we’re at. I think we’ll get a better understanding of what we’re like over time.”
It’s almost difficult to believe that even after ten years – and five since Mozgawa joined – the band are still a little unsure of where they are. To the outside world, they’re a tight unit who know exactly where they want to be. Like the peregrine falcon though, each band member has something of a migratory nature. Dispersing and reforming on a periodic basis has helped to form something of a scattered and multi-faceted personality to the band, one that they themselves are still getting to grips with. But that’s what makes Warpaint so luscious and interesting: you never know where they’re going to go next.