In 2004, Emily Kokal, Theresa Wayman, and Jenny Lee Lindberg came together to form the audacious indie rock group Warpaint. Five years later, after releasing their debut EP, Exquisite Corpse, they were joined by drummer Stella Mozgawa, who helped them release their debut album, The Fool, a critically acclaimed record that exemplified the style of restrained, ambient rock for which they have become known.
Their latest album, Heads Up, is a step forward and finds the band at peak confidence, tweaking their sound, and experimenting with dancier grooves and euphoric beats, as heard on the record’s lead single, “New Song.” We recently caught up with Mozgawa about the new record, dealing with expectations, and why the current state of the music industry allows for more creative freedom.
Let’s talk about the current state of the music industry. What it’s like being a working musician in 2016? How does it compare to, say, six years ago?
There’s definitely been a great shift in the music industry, but I think it’s mostly been positive. It hasn’t been positive for everyone, but, then again, now anything is possible. I think that mainstream artists like Beyoncé and Rihanna are taking more risks, that you would only commonly see before in a more underground kind of scene. They can take the risk because they’re not scared of losing money—they’re just doing it for the love of it. The mainstream has always been this monster with a lot of money behind it, and when you strip away that funding, then you have to get creative. People are starting to get creative now. There’s always a bad and good in any specific moment in music history, and right now that balance has been struck for sure.
What are your thoughts on streaming? What’s it like putting out an album knowing most people will listen to it without buying it?
We actually made an album designed for a vinyl release. We actively thought about side A and side B. Even if it’s not relevant to someone else, it still gives you a framework and limitation. There’s never been a point where we consciously manufactured our music to be more modern. We never settle on a mix because we think everyone’s just going to listen to it on their computer or on their tiny Apple headphones. We’re still living in what now feels like an analog world.
What were your influences for the new record? I noticed the new material is more high energy and even, at times, seems influenced by disco.
I don’t think there are any bands or artists that really specifically inspired us to make this record. We didn’t start in the studio on day one and say, “This is our disco record, pick up the pace.” It’s just a natural thing that happened through touring our last record, which had a lot more of perhaps ambient moments.
How does making an album, as a successful band, compare to making one when you were first getting started? How do the pressures and expectations differ?
I think every record of ours develops a few more fans and a few more people who are aware of us. It never goes into the stratosphere to the point where we need to really shift the perception of what we’re doing. It all feels very manageable in the progression between albums—especially looking at it in the chronology of the three phases. Nothing’s really changed in that period of time. Our situations in life haven’t really changed that much. We don’t have a lot more money. We’re not all of a sudden buying really expensive cars and houses. Our lifestyle hasn’t changed, so it’s difficult to measure that.
Over the last two years, you have been busy working on other projects. How did that influence the process of the new record? The new record feels very uplifting with themes of self-actualization.
It’s scary to make that change, in a way, because it’s an adjustment. At the same time, doing other projects, allowed certain people in the band to spread their wings. If you make an album that you’ve been able to realize from start to finish, and you’re proud of it, that gives you more confidence as a person. It makes you more open and satisfied. You’ve achieved something, so you can come into a group situation, which is something that can often challenge your insecurities, happier and more open. You can help someone else with something instead of being like, “Oh, I have to get out all of my creativity in this small window of time with these people.” That can be quite frustrating.