Warpaint on Safari
The dream-pop quartet talk songwriting (and cavort among stuffed bears)
“Iiiiiiiiiii swal-lowed a fly,” sings Warpaint co-leader Emily Kokal, to the tune made famous by Sugar Ray. She’s staring into the American Museum of Natural History’s vaulted ceiling, her peculiar chorus bouncing back down at her, as a pair of stuffed, glass-eyed moose are poised for battle to her right and water buffalo lazily idle to her left. Tourists with cameras quietly navigate around her to snap photos of the beasts frozen in time — needless to say, Kokal is easily the most animated mammal in the room. Though a moment later, drummer Stella Mozgawa runs up behind her to join in on the warped hook, which, in a matter of seconds, has devolved into a chant that the girls yelp in unison: “Fly! High! High! High!”
What prompted this burst of energy is a mystery, but given the decade they’ve spent together, it’s no surprise that the women of Warpaint are both oblivious to strangers and readily available for impromptu band sing-a-longs. Not to mention that they’re easily distracted, especially by each other.
The girls’ impulsive natures coagulate in a similar way on their second, self-titled album of sexy, glossy-sheened love songs. While their music has always relied heavily on a ghostly, melancholic ambience — the kind that settles over even the more joyful tracks — it’s easy to spot the inspired evolution on Warpaint, as Stella, Emily, fellow singer Theresa Wayman, and bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg push beyond the broad, atmospheric crooning they’re best known for. This time, it feels like they’ve got something to say.
Each Warpainter plays her part, too: “Biggy” builds around an essential bassline, “Love Is to Die” relies on a lovelorn vocal nonchalance, and “Disco // Very” is a freestyled jam session that flaunts a distinct we-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude. Released on Rough Trade late last month, Warpaint is also their first go at writing independently of each other before coming together as a whole: “We each took on any or all of the roles of the band at any given time,” explains Stella, whose percussive influence is prevalent throughout. “We would write alone or branch off in a pair, and then bring it back to the group. We all have a song on the album that feels distinct to us.”
In fact, keeping track of the foursome in person is a feat in itself. As we wander through the museum, surrounded by gigantic displays of taxidermied bears and replicas of rabid raccoons, at least one Warpainter is lost and then quickly found at any given time. Theresa wanders off at the sight of a family of mountain goats; Stella and Emily pause to investigate a glass panel of beetles. Meanwhile, the tribal yell that opens The Lion King’s “Circle of Life” is the Marco Polo rallying cry that leads us to Jenny, who took a left when everyone else went right — we find her jokingly opening her arms in embrace of a display-case jaguar, acting as the Rafiki to her newly discovered Simba. The girls are always aware of each other, at least, functioning as an amoebic unit as we walk; when one band member pulls away, another inevitably follows. No one wanders far enough to get truly lost.
“We’re all in pretty heavy relationships with each other — we have a sense of one another,” says Theresa the next day, talking between bites of the sushi-and-oyster lunch they’ve snuck in before performing at a radio show in the Bronx, an early test for their new material. “We’re in romantic relationships as well. But our relationship with one another goes deep and can be just as intense.”
We spoke to the band a few days prior to Warpaint’s release, and tagged along as they went sightseeing, performed at KEXP, and gave an intimiate release show at Brooklyn’s Union Pool. Read interview highlights and check out our photos above.