Theresa Wayman on the band's pursuit of the new...

Warpaint have never been squeamish about embracing the new. Whether it’s ditching guitars to dive deeply into their second album’s icy pool of trip-hop or making a startling break for the mainstream on their third album’s dance-savvy ‘New Song’, they’re a band constantly on the hunt for fresh sounds and new sensations. Their most recent came in the form of what might be the first ever mosh pit at one of their concerts last week, courtesy of the good people of Manchester.

"I realised for the first time that it is possible to go there with our music,” singer and guitarist Theresa Wayman explains, “we played ‘Love Is To Die’, ‘New Song’ and ‘Disco/Very’ all in a row and people were moshing pretty hard! But we did the same set in Edinburgh the night before and it was completely the opposite, so I don't know what the secret is really."

Theresa is speaking to me from the set of BBC Two’s ‘Later... With Jools Holland’ where her band will shortly go on to showcase few tracks from their new album ‘Heads Up’. Though Theresa is happy to be back on the road touring the new album, she worries that their current tour setlist offers a similarly slim selection of cuts from the record. "Right now we only have five new songs in the set, which doesn't feel like enough! But if we wanted to play more new songs and deep cuts and old singles, well then we would be playing for hours."

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I realised for the first time that it is possible to go there with our music...

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For the band this arbitrary selection process has always been a challenge. “I don't want certain songs on this album to become neglected in the same way that those from our past albums have,” she explains, “It’s like ‘Lissie’s Heart Murmer’ from ‘The Fool’, which we've never managed to play live. And I love that song! I would love to play the new album in full, but if we could just get ‘By Your Side’, ‘Dre’ and ‘Don't Wanna’ ready that’d be great."

One song from ‘Heads Up’ that’s definitely not lacked for exposure compared to its siblings is the instant earworm ‘New Song’, which even elicited a rare remix from ex-Beastie Boy Mike D. When asked which other artists she would like to hear reinterpret Warpaint’s music Theresa’s response is immediate and emphatic: "Aphex Twin!” she exclaims, “but he doesn't do remixes, I don't think. Having Rihanna cover something would be beyond flattery, I would die of happiness."

Over the course of our conversation Theresa makes repeated references to other musicians whose work enthuses her, which is unsurprising given that Warpaint’s last two albums have each featured tracks named after her favourite rappers (‘Biggy’ and ‘Dre’ respectively). Which rapper will receive the honour of a song title on LP number four you ask? Theresa is yet to make up her mind: “Maybe... RZA? Actually GZA. Actually RZA/GZA with a slash inbetween!”

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It’s a happy miracle that Theresa is able to discuss the future of Warpaint given that the band very nearly didn’t have one, coming incredibly close to calling it a day at the tail end of their 2015 tour. “We almost weren't a band anymore!” she remembers, aghast; “We thought that even at best we would need substantial time before we got another album together. But that was because we had a really gruelling tour schedule, and ultimately it was just that: we were really tired and needed a break."

What followed could be described as the world’s shortest hiatus, a yearlong spell in which the band pursued some much needed ‘me’ time. Bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg released her solo effort ‘Right On!’, co-frontwoman Emily Kokal collaborated on an EP with folk musician Paul Bergmann while drummer Stella Mozgawa played with Regina Spektor, Kurt Vile, Cate le Bon and seemingly every other musician under the sun.

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We were really tired and needed a break...

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For Theresa this much needed holiday presented an opportunity to break down her expectations of how recording in a studio should be done. Hooking up with Dan Carey for his Speedy Wunderground project, she was persuaded to make music within firm parameters. As a member of BOSS (which also featured All We Are bassist Guro Gikling and Hot Chip drummer Sarah Jones) she was only allowed three takes for each recording, one opportunity to add an overdub and was required to keep the songs she’d co-written that day to an inflexible three minute run-time.

“I wasn't sure I'd be able to write a melody and lyrics on the spot like that and it turned out I could!” she explains, “It was a very good exercise and I learnt a lot about myself."

Warpaint retained this newfound willingness to work apart for the collective health of the band when they reunited for the LA-based sessions that would result in ‘Heads Up’. Theresa is more than happy to admit that this time around the band weren't necessarily jamming out all the material together in a room, “We were pairing off and experimenting either on our own or in pairs in the comfort of our own home studios, having as much time as we needed without deadlines looming.”

Choosing to record right near their respective homes on Los Angeles’ terra firma allowed them to create an environment in which most writing and recording could be done outside of the studio, bypassing the challenge of retaining a demo’s original spark across repeated recording sessions.

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We almost weren't a band anymore!

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Long-time friend and producer Jake Bercovici was still on hand to help polish of the finalised tracks, a safety net that Theresa and the others appreciated greatly, “We'd gotten a point where we can each mix a lot of these songs on our own and they're totally fine. But then it was also nice to have someone who does a lot more studio production but who knows us all and has a relationship with each one of us, someone that we trust. Musically I completely trust Jake’s ear so it was a perfect arrangement."

This period of fragmentation and creative couplings turned out to be remarkably fertile, resulting in fully formed songs after an unhurried incubation period of approximately nine months apiece: “There's no stress, you feel like you can experiment and make things that just feel really good,” a buoyant Theresa exclaims, “It's nice to know that we can keep changing and evolving with each other even when we've been working together for so long."

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There's no stress, you feel like you can experiment...

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This dichotomy of the needs of the individual being intrinsically linked to the health of a group can be heard throughout the album’s lyrics. Tracks like ‘Don’t Let Go’ and ‘Don’t Wanna’ plea for space in which to be left alone while the likes of ‘By Your Side’ and ‘The Stall’ conversely focus on the strength that can be drawn from a circle of supportive friends. "That wasn't an intentional theme at all! That concept of expressing those two opposing needs (of both the group and the individual) being expressed,” Theresa admits.

“But it actually sounds pretty accurate for where we’re at. We need that independence so that we can express our own voices, and doing that actually helps us to come together and realise the value we place on what we do together, how great it is that we have each other and all that good stuff.”

Generally Theresa doesn’t tend to overthink what hidden meanings listeners could draw from the band’s lyrics. "I don't really think about the listener that much in that sense,” she admits, “I don't imagine songs in a specific situation because I can’t predict when it is a song's going to work best for someone. I know how I like to listen to them. I like to listen to music when I'm cleaning the house, or hanging out in my room writing. Weirdly, I really love listening to dance music and cleaning. So yeah, ‘New Song’ should be listened to while scrubbing your bathroom or cleaning your toilet!"

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We need that independence so that we can express our own voices...

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Having taken a collective step back from the brink and rolled away some of the intensity that living a life on the road brings, Warpaint now seem content to continue exploring their own unique musical identity from a more peaceful platform. Between those two extremes of inter-band relationship dynamics: the unavoidable necessity of living in one another’s pockets in the early years and the temptation to start travelling on separate jets like Kings of Leon later down the line, lies a perfect balance of self and sisterhood. From the optimism Theresa exudes it sounds like Warpaint might finally have found it.

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Warpaint's new album 'Heads Up' is out now.

Words: Josh Gray

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